My Son, My First Child, His Story
by Faith Bierbaum
My son, Don, was born in 1965. I knew from the beginning that he was "different". He didn't know how to suck, he didn't know when he was hot or cold nor when he was hungry. He didn't sit up on time, or crawl, or walk. However, his smile would light up a room, and full sentences would come out of his mouth at 15 months. He loved music and sang like an angel.
When he got into school the real trouble began as he didn't act like the other little rough and tumble boys. He was frail, tall, thin and very awkward. Unless the subject was science or English he was totally lost. He tried so hard to fit in with his classmates, but was bullied by students and some of the teachers. At 13 he started smoking thinking that would make him look "cool" and fit in with the "in group". It didn't work. After years of tears and trying, he eventually graduated from High School.
After High School he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, but 23 days later they discovered that he was bi-polar and not suitable for military service and gave him a medical discharge.
He drifted for the next 12 years, living on the streets of Miami, eating at Missions, sleeping under bridges and finally he moved into his late grandparent's abandoned home until Hurricane Andrew hit. Don called me on a pay phone before all communications ended to tell me where he was and that he loved me. My older brother found him 3 days later living under some wood and part of the roof of his grandparent's house. He was wet, hungry, thirsty, and filthy. Everything he had (which wasn't much) had been destroyed. My brother brought my son home.
Don quickly found out that he couldn't hold down a job due to his mental illness. He increased his smoking to 3 packs a day. He went on disability and unfortunately found a doctor who would give him pills to make him feel better. Pills that he quickly became addicted to that had nothing to do with his mental illness. He sat, stoned, and smoked 24 hours a day.
He got tired of me trying to help him get off the drugs and cigarettes and took off to parts unknown. Occasionally, I'd get a phone call from him, but usually I had no idea where he was.
Finally, he found someone who would overlook his dark side of drugs and cigarettes, and let him move in with her. I think it was the happiest time of his life. He had someone to love him and support him. He found a doctor who helped get him off most of the drugs so his personality came back. I'll always be so grateful to his girlfriend and his doctor.
In June of 2011 he called me and told me that he had Stage IV COPD. He previously had been diagnosed with MS and Diabetes II. With all the medical and psychological problems, Hospice stepped in to give him regular care. His girlfriend continued caring for him at her home to the best of her ability. However, she had a full time job and was often kept up all night by his medical problems.
In February of 2012 I moved 1,200 miles to be near him and to evaluate the situation. For 3 months I lived in a motel, caring for him and working with Hospice to find an Assisted Living Facility that would take a smoker. In May we found a place. It wasn't perfect, but it would give his girlfriend a much needed break. He was happy there with a lot of help from Hospice.
October 1, 2012, while a Hospice volunteer was visiting him, my son took his last breath. He was 47 years old.
I'm grieving. Grieving for the difficult life he had due to his mental illness and eventual physical illnesses. I'm grieving for the brilliant mind who could write beautiful music and stories. I'm grieving for the dreamer who had no common sense for daily living, but could make me smile and laugh with his one-liner comedy act. But, most of all I'm grieving for the loss of my precious son. I hear him tell me "I love you, Mom" everyday. I remember holding his 90 pound body as he was dying.
A memorial service will be held on his sister's boat, and his ashes will be placed in the Gulf of Mexico sometime Thanksgiving weekend. Our family will be together one last time.