Thursday, December 17, 2009


The body of my son Luke, ravaged by drugs and alcohol, was consigned to the flames last week in a South Boston crematorium. There was no funeral service, and his mother will keep the ashes until she can scatter them over the waters of the Pacific Ocean that Luke loved so well. About the same time, outside Wat Lahan in a suburb of Bangkok, Nan and I bought flowers and an orange bucket full of practical goodies to donate to the monks, and we sat with one in a small room while he chanted, blessed us with water and accepted our gift which included a small piece of paper with Luke's name on it. This was a tamboon ceremony on Wan Phra (Monk Day, the Buddhist sabbath) and we "made merit" for Luke and all sentient beings. In San Francisco his friend Jennifer donated 2000 coats to the homeless and poor and dedicated this gift in Luke's memory. In California next Jan. 3rd, the Feast of the Epiphany, my friends Jerry and Sylvia have arranged for a mass to be said for Luke at Holy Cross Church. A Jewish friend in London has lit a candle for him. That Luke was not religious is unimportant. What difference do theological arguments make when your son has died and the event defies meaning?

How could someone commit slow suicide with vodka and pills when he was loved so much by so many? The response to my blog last week about his death and to posts on his Facebook page and mine has been overwhelming and heartwarming. Friends from high school, from his work at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), and from his recent years in Bakersfield and Boston have sent comments and stories to me. "You are ingrained in memories of my youth, from Sonoma to San Francisco," Lisa wrote. "I will always remember you, a kind heart, distinctive laugh and a sweet spirit." Jon told of "long crazy nights" as also of climbing Mt. Lassen with Luke, "the fine person that you are, always one of my dearest and truest friends." Others recalled "such a dear and special man" who "loved the outdoors and had a great sense of adventure." A woman who was 15 when she fell in love with Luke writes that he was "loving and playful, compassionate, never judgmental, kind, always willing to listen and comfort, full of energy, and yes, even full of life." Another friend from high school, one of "the 'young punks' we all were," compared him to James Dean, and writes that he knew Luke "way back...where it all started, the partying...the drinking...the drugging...the pain." And a woman who went to her prom with Luke, "one of those life long friends from Sonoma," says "I suspect Luke knew he was loved and yet chose the 'lone wolf' side of himself and slid into the abyss to meet it."

Friends in Santa Cruz, where Luke came often to visit when he was in high school, recalled him fondly. Acacia told me, "I remember that cute little boy." And Jess, his close friend from that period, wrote that "I have lovely memories of his smiling freckled face I will hold forever." What a "tragic waste of a young life," wrote Shirlee, echoing messages from her daughter Diana and granddaughter Marina who all knew Luke as a charming young man.

Luke's coworkers at ILM remember him as a good and kind friend who liked to laugh and have fun. One, who "worked with him through tough times," also got to see "how he was able to help others through their difficult times." Elle said Luke "touched us and we enjoyed and commiserated, and laughed, and worked hard side-by-side. The darker side of Luke's struggle never erases the good times that we shared with him." Pete, who was hired by Luke for commercials, said working with him "was always an adventure." Another who worked closely with him said many of those who loved him "wished/hoped, as you did, that he could find a way to stop destroying himself. He just couldn't do it."

The pain of waiting for "The Call" struck a chord for many of Luke's friends. "I, too, wait for the call," wrote a co-worker from ILM. "It is my brother, in my case." Another wrote that "many of us around you are all facing similar challenges with a loved one in our lives." Perhaps there are a few other parents out there, said a commentator to my blog, "who will take your recount of events and use all of that to help themselves resolve similar difficulties with their sons or daughters." Sharing his story "will help others through their own demon chasing," said a commentator. "We all live with demons to some degree," my friend Virginia wrote, "and we all die. Choosing the healthy path all the time is difficult. Patty, who has been sober for 25 years, lost her brother "to the evil disease." Mark who teaches art in Santa Cruz said he would give my account of Luke's life to a high school student "who is on the same path as Luke was and whom I can only hope your storytelling may reach."

Many of the remarks I received spoke about the incomprehensibility of alcoholism. "It's absolutely a mystery why some people get sober and others never manage it," wrote an anonymous commentator to my blog. "Blame and talk bout responsibility are simply pointless -- it happens, or it doesn't, and there's no knowing why." Elle, who writes that she's lost many friends to suicide and crazy accidents involving vehicles, booze and drugs, has "come to realize that sometimes there is no solution, no answer to 'why.'" Another wrote that "psychological pain and its effects are sadly unpredictable, leaving everyone feeling helpless." Janet said, "It's a disease and far too many die from it." Someone who knew him when he lived in Bakersfield said his friends "could never understand the excruciating pain Luke experienced each and every day." Anita wrote about her small children, "and the thought of any one of them dying makes my heart ache." There is "no rhyme or reason to this," write a friend from Luke's ILM days, and he added, as did many, his hope that "Luke is at peace."

I haven't mentioned the many comments and emails I've received through the miracle of Facebook and Twitter that allows one to collect in virtual space nearly all the friends one's ever had from a long and scattered life. Whether they've lost a child, or someone else to the slow death of addiction, they offered the comfort of just listening and caring that so many people have been touched by Luke's short life and his sad end. Friends from high school have sent messages, people I knew in Europe before Luke was born, a number of acquaintances from the music business and my time at GPI Publications, and finally from many close friends in Santa Cruz and in Bangkok. I think about Luke every day and go over in my memory the times we were together, the sound of his voice, and the joys and the sorrows that we shared. I'm still angry, even hostile as one commentator put it, about the many bad choices he made and the constant refusal of offers of help. But in the end, it was his life, and I could not live it for him. I only hope that he is at peace now and that learning what happened to him might help to change the lives of others who are sliding into the abyss.


Anonymous said...

joy, unspeakable joy, life and death converge in pain and longing, you touch us still, my dear sweet Luke

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!