I once read a quote, “The hardest thing I ever had to hear was that my child died, the hardest thing I ever had to do was live every day after that.” That is the best way I can describe what it feels like to lose a child.
On November 23, 2014, I received a call that my only son was dead.
My beautiful 24-year-old boy was gone. I could barely hear the words from the other end of the line, my cries were drowning them out. I was given the news while driving. I remember pulling over to the side of the road to call my ex-husband, my son’s father. How I made it home that day without getting in a wreck is a mystery to me. I can only think I was guided home by my higher-self, to inform my daughter, Julian’s sister, of his death.
Two months prior, we had placed Julian in a mental health facility in Long Beach, California. He was placed there on a 5150, an involuntary psychiatric hold, and then later, a 5250 (14-day hold), then finally, to a long-term hold.
Our son Julian, diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia at 17, had become suicidal while off his medication and hooked on a powerful substance-meth. He was referred there through LA County’s Department of Mental Health, which allocates a certain number of beds to these facilities. The county facilities lack proper oversight by the California Department of Health Care Services and are often in violation of neglect and falsifying records. This particular facility had numerous deaths on their record and was, in-fact cited for neglect and falsifying the records of my son, resulting in his death. The deaths and violations of the facility are swept under the rug so that many parents have no knowledge of the facilities history.
The websites of these facilities paint a hopeful picture and claim to “deliver recovery-centered services, that enable people to live their lives in a more hopeful, healthful, fulfilling way that is in line with their hopes and dreams.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Our LA County facilities often lack programs for recovery; doctors on site; proper medication oversight, and sadly, an empathetic staff.
Like that of many parents with children who have mental health issues, we want to find help for our child, our children who suffer from a horrific illness for which there is no cure. With proper medication and therapy, living a viable life is possible. We had hoped that our son could withdraw from meth in a safe environment, get back on his meds, and within the year–he would come home– alive.
My son was the light of my life.
Julian was a gifted artist, a writer, and musician. His art had been displayed in several galleries depicting various topics from the inadequacies of our correctional and mental health system, racism, love, childhood, and self-portraits of a beautiful but tormented soul. He was insightful, compassionate, and tolerant of all, traveling the world, always in awe of its beauty. He could light up a room with his lovable smile and zest for life. Julian desperately wanted to live.
Unfortunately, my son’s dreams will never materialize. Julian will never get married or have children. His paintbrushes will never touch another canvas. We’ll never have long talks about life, love, and the universe again. No more road trips with his sister, Paris, and I, laughing amongst silly arguments, all the way to our destinations. Never to hug or kiss my little boy again. I struggle every day to find answers, how does a parent recover from such a loss?
I told my sister I could not go on without my son and I was ready to take my life. She said, ‘then give it away.” I was confused, what do you mean ‘give it away’? She answered, “…since you don’t want your life, give it to someone who does.” So I did just that.
I have made it my mission to continue the fight for mental health reform, as I had always promised Julian I would do. I am fighting to ensure better care and monitoring in mental health facilities. Julian’s art and his words will live on and continue to inspire children and young adults that suffer from addiction and mental illness.
Julian’s art studio, Stone Art, is now transformed into a center for those like himself, to express themselves through art, because, for many of them, words aren’t sufficient. We accept anyone and everyone, from the homeless, the mentally ill to the “addict that still suffers.” I know this is what Julian would have wanted. He gave me the greatest gift known to man, unconditional love. I once asked him, “What is God?” “God is love. God is everything,” he replied. After Julian’s death, I asked my sister, “Why my son?”
“Because this is the one case that will not be sweep under the rug and Julian’s death will help save the lives of many.”
The homeless people I give my life to every day are not my students or clients, they are my friends. They breathe life into me and now every morning I wake up and know that I have a purpose, a reason for being. Their unconditional love is worth more than any of my five world titles, it’s something money can’t buy. Boxing was my passion for over 20 years, but it was simply the vehicle to take me to my true destiny in life, helping others. My son gave this gift to me. He had a great compassion for the homeless and those suffering and I am grateful to be able to carry on his message of love.