ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — He reached out last month, a shellshocked father reacting to a column about a grieving Albuquerque mother and what she wanted to say to the two people who had sold her son the fentanyl-laced pills that killed him.
Bernadette Miller’s son Chuckie had seemed an unlikely victim of drug addiction, as my Dec. 3 column explained. He had doting parents, a comfortable life, a happy childhood and dreams for the future, and yet he was dead at age 21, despite his parents’ efforts to save him once they learned he had a problem.
My friend cried when he read the column because his daughter, a high school freshman, had a problem, too.
He cried because he feared that some day his daughter might die just like Chuckie.
“I just read today’s column with tears in my eyes,” my friend wrote. “We are losing our fight (so far) to save our daughter.”
Like Chuckie, his daughter has enjoyed a good childhood and a comfortable life. She is popular and pretty and smart, and his Facebook page is filled with photos of her sailing, skiing and hiking with the family, her arms outstretched, her mouth wide in a fearless smile.
But around the time she turned 14 in the summer, things began to change. The girl’s mother, my friend’s ex-wife, told me she started noticing that her daughter had stopped dressing nicely, often wearing the same unkempt clothes for days. She started leaving the house and not coming home. She skipped school. She hung out with friends her parents disapproved of.
“It got her so quickly,” my friend wrote. “This is new ground for us. And we don’t know what to do.”
He thanked me for letting him vent, but all I had done was listen as another parent battle-scarred by the same war in which drugs and death seem to be winning. In 2017, I lost my son in that war to heroin. He was 23.
Late last month, the war claimed two more lives when bodies found on a remote mesa in Sandoval County were identified as those of Collin Romero, 15, and Ahmed Lateef, 14. The two boys, best friends since middle school, had gone missing Dec. 16, about the same time a Snapchat video going around was rumored to show the boys in a remote location, being beaten, bloodied and with broken bones.
Authorities called their deaths a “drug deal that may have gone bad.”
My friend called their deaths too close to home – those boys were about the same age as his daughter.
“So you basically had a couple of kids making stupid choices with some very bad people,” he wrote. “And what’s being described happening in that video shouldn’t happen to any teenager. But this is so screwed up. They were just kids. It just breaks my heart. No kid deserves to die the way they did.”
No kid deserves to die. But they do. No kid should indulge in substance abuse or commit crimes or carry firearms for illicit purposes. But they do.
Despite everything we parents do – the nurturing, the nagging, the consequences, the grounding – it is sometimes not enough to save our children from themselves.
I spoke with my friend’s ex-wife, who offered some strategies for what she hopes will help them save their daughter.
When her daughter takes off, she patrols the locations her daughter is known to frequent – a Starbucks, the mall, a friend’s house. She gets phone numbers of the parents of her daughter’s friends. She gets to know her daughter’s friends, especially those she has concerns about.
“I know we cannot choose her friends for her,” she said. “But I can sure try to let them know I’m keeping an eye on them.”
She inspects her daughter’s social media – a resource she says too many parents don’t avail themselves of because they feign technological ineptness.
“I learned how to do Snapchat and all that, and you would be amazed at what you see on there,” she said. “It’s a powerful tool, and parents need to know how their kids are using it.”
She is a strong proponent of counseling, for parent and for child.
“Sometimes my daughter will say I don’t understand, that I’m too emotionally involved,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with my daughter talking to somebody else, so I give her that opportunity.”
And she keeps talking to her daughter. More importantly, she listens.
They can’t say yet whether their efforts are working or whether the deaths of Collin and Ahmed will be a turning point for their daughter.
“But it’s our job as parents to hang in there,” the girl’s mother said.
And so they do.
My friend wrote to tell me their daughter is in counseling. She is still running away but coming back after a few days. Best of all, she is still talking to both of them.
“I know we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” he wrote. “But our daughter is worth the fight.”
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.