August 9, 2022

A Mother’s Love

By Cammie Wolf Rice

Life has a way of placing us on paths we never imagined… forcing us to wrestle with giants we were never prepared to fight. I am in that phase of life right now. Facing the future with real purpose. My sweet Christopher is with me. I feel him. I hear him… each and every day.

I was the one who discovered him. On the bathroom floor. My eldest son. My Christopher. Dead. In the aftermath, I was sucked into a black hole of shock, horror and grief that, honestly, I didn’t know if I could survive. But I did survive. Joining a distinctly American sorority – a mother who has lost a child to opioid addiction. Opioids? Addiction? My Christopher? My most important learning experience over the last 20 years is that this didn’t have to happen.

Christopher’s passion was helping people heal. He did so his entire life, with his warm personality, loving aura, and infectious smile. As a kid, Christopher was an avid leader. Inquisitive and intellectual, his pre-occupations always seemed to revolve around solving people’s problems. There was just this natural instinct for helping others. As he grew older, this sensitivity settled into something more profound. His warmth, his smile, his freely given hugs. Even in the briefest encounters with him, people would leave feeling better about themselves or their situation. He was a man who reached out and connected. His passion and mission continue on although his physical presence has moved on. I am certain without a shadow of doubt, that even now… his spirit lives.

Christopher was strong, but for many years, he fought a courageous battle with Ulcerative Colitis (UC). UC is an inflammatory bowel disease in which the immune system attacks the colon. This horrific condition causes chronic abdominal pain, diarrhea, bleeding and weight loss. It weakens bones and ravages the immune system. Having this disease leads to a life full of painful and potentially humiliating experiences, and a dependency on medications with unpredictable effectiveness. The medication that was prescribed to deal with his acute physical pain, became the very real demon he’d go to war with until his passing.

Colon removal surgery lead to a 70-day hospital stay, which included a morphine drip. Think about that. An underweight, 17-year-old minor, saddled with a chronic disease, was prescribed one of the strongest narcotics on the planet – for 70 days. This was followed by four successive 90-day regimens of Oxycontin, a relatively new drug at that time. At no point, did any of his doctors discuss the pain management plan with me. Nor did they express caution or concern about the potential for dependency. It will surprise no one reading this to learn that after the prescriptions ran out, Christopher like many others turned to the streets to manage his own pain. Anyone who knew Christopher would never have predicted this. In the face of crippling pain, even the strongest can grow dependent. Over the next decade, we went through wrenching rehab, recovery, then relapse. He worked hard in the programs. SO HARD… and never lost his belief that he could beat this. Rehab Counselors would tell me that Christopher spent much of his time helping fellow addicts. An empathetic ear, an encouraging word, a freely given hug.

What sets Christopher’s story apart and made his struggle even more difficult was the UC. A flare up would send him to an Emergency Room. And based on what is considered the normal course of treatment in American hospitals today — given opiates to deal with the physical pain. Our family encircled him with unwavering support and unconditional love. Because it’s Christopher. Because we could not imagine life without him. I could not imagine life without him. How could we ever stop believing in him and his capacity to defeat this? What I want everyone reading this to know and remember, is that Christopher fought this. He fought with everything in him until his body could no longer house the pain. His last words to me were, “Thank you, Mom, for always taking care of me. I love you.” I find solace in knowing that Christopher felt my love for him every day and knows now that I will continue to take care of him and his legacy, as he does me.

While Christopher’s journey on this earth has ended, his life’s mission of helping others continues. I’m in the passenger seat and he’s driving. Together we will do everything we can do to help prevent opioid addiction. It feels like a crusade, because it is. Christopher’s legacy, like so many others affected by addiction, deserves our boldest actions. This requires a movement. I founded Christopher Wolf Crusade without an MD or PhD after my name, but I do have the love and passion that comes with being a MOM.