Gavyn Alvarado - Forever 17
Updated: May 23
"We believe your son died from an accidental overdose."
As a parent, what do you say to that? I've been at a loss for words, mostly. This Sunday is Father's Day, marking the fifth week since Gavyn passed away. I'm writing to all of you, hoping it will help me process my intense thoughts and feelings.
Many warned that this nightmare becomes more real about a month later, especially for those who have lost children. It's when everyone goes back to their normal lives, leaving us with a vast emptiness, trying to embrace the tremendous change that has cascaded into our present and altered our future direction.
Every day is different, with dark and light moments, but the morning always reveals the truth. As soon as I wake up, reality hits me like an unexpected wave. Thoughts, feelings, and experiences rush over me, often filled with sadness, heartbreak, guilt, and shame. The question, "My son, how did we get here?" plays on repeat, bringing tears to my eyes even now.
While the world around me seems to be picking up pace, my world is slowing down. Our family's new reality is taking root in our homes, minds, and soul, leaving me in disbelief. I sometimes feel emotionally numb, with raw nerve endings exposed from the painful rip of loss.
Though I have better moments now, anxiety creeps in, leading to anger. I'm angry that my seventeen-year-old son is no longer with us. I'm upset that Gavyn ran away repeatedly in the past year, causing us to miss out on being there for him, guiding him, and helping him over the past seven months as much as we would have liked. Reflecting on it now, I've been grieving the loss of my son for some time. There have already been many sleepless nights filled with terror, and now my greatest fear has come true: losing a child.
I'm angry that despite dedicating the past seven years to preventing addiction, overdose, and death, my son died from the very thing we worked tirelessly to combat in the community. After pouring my lived experience, knowledge, education, and skills into my son for almost a decade, I sit here as a parent, advocate, coach, and leader, wondering how to move forward, overwhelmed with sadness.
Seconds, moments, days, weeks, and years pass, mostly one step at a time, and I understand that no one can truly comprehend what it's like to walk in my shoes.
Today, I'm in the early stages of finding forgiveness and compassion toward those who may be partially responsible for my son's death. I will seek justice for him in the healthiest way possible. I believe those who sold to him should be held accountable. If they are selling pills mixed with fentanyl or similarly life-threatening substances, I pray that law enforcement can stop it promptly. Overdoses have surged locally, and I dread seeing more families endure the same pain we're going through. Now, more than ever, I hope our communities adopt a more effective public health approach to heal our broken neighborhoods and find innovative ways to collaborate. These changes will save lives and empower families to do the same.
I know it's okay not to be okay, and I acknowledge that this righteous anger must not be ignored.
After everything we've been through, maybe this is the greatest lesson of all. We're learning during these significant times. This year has changed us all, whether we recognize it or not. Over 120,000 people have died from COVID in the U.S., millions are unemployed, and riots have erupted in cities everywhere.
When people ask how my son died, I tell them it was a little bit of everything. It's the world's weight on a young man's shoulders in today's society. It's the brokenness not only within our country but also within his heart. It's clearer now that people are hurting, upset, and feeling unheard.
This year may be one of the greatest lessons of all, whether I like it or not. Our choices will determine whether we turn tragedy into greatness, loss into gain, and pain into joy.
What I know is that the fears I once held pale compared to what I'm facing today. Because of this, I choose to embrace this grief and dive into the messy emotions. I choose to embrace the sacrifices and commitments necessary to show up for myself, so I can continue to show up for others.
I am, face down in this bloody arena, still a father, ready to fight for my beautiful daughter, my family, and the life that remains. I am resilient, and I will survive.
I am deeply grateful for everyone supporting us during this time. Because of all of you, we're learning to stand, smile, and heal repeatedly. Thank you for helping us feel less alone.
I love you all. Happy Father's Day.
Instead of offering apologies, hold your children and loved ones a little tighter today. Look into their eyes and tell them how much you love them. Do that for me, but more importantly, do it for them.