Note: Cindy Doucette’s daughter, Candice, was sure she could defy the odds and survive as she continued her drug addiction. This excerpt from Chapter 3 of Cindy’s memoir is a mother’s lament:
The shock I had first experienced at hearing of Candice’s death had given way to overwhelming sadness. I had lost my daughter, my daughter in whom I had placed so many hopes when she was a baby and a little girl. Then with time, that sadness gave way to anger. How could Candice have chosen to ignore all the good advice we had given her? Why didn’t she pay attention to the countless articles about the risks of drug addiction I had passed on to her to read? And how could she not learn from the death of her friend, Joey? I was angry, too, that she had thrown away the long life she might have had, thrown away her chance to become the singer she had said she wanted to become or the chance to use her drawing skills to become a graphic artist or a fashion designer. Her entire future had been thrown away—all for a few minutes of feeling high.
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All of this was a waste because of senseless, stupid drug addiction.
How could he have missed her drug addiction?
That anger manifested itself shortly after her death, when I got a call from the doctor who had treated her at the psychiatric hospital. He was surprised to hear how she died.
“I had no idea she was using hard drugs,” he said.
He even double-checked the blood test results the hospital had done.
“That was the reason she was put in the hospital in the first place,” I said. This was the same conversation we had had when she was released. “I even heard the police at the emergency room discuss her drug-test results there, and they confirmed what she was using. And they told me her heart rate was beating at 155 beats per minute.”
That’s when I learned that blood-test results aren’t shared between facilities, and that no test results are forwarded to the state, even when a person has been pulled over for driving under the influence. Right then and there, Candice ought to have had to pay the consequences for her erratic behavior, but Candice never did—until the end when the consequence was unchangeable.
“I just want you to know how upset all the patients and staff were when they found out about Candice,” the doctor said. “She got to know everyone in the short time she was here, and they all enjoyed her very much.”
“Thank you for telling me that. She was a friendly young girl,” I said politely. What I was really thinking was, Thank you for calling, Doc, but I think it’s about five weeks too late!
Her Drug Addiction Was Candice’s Responsibility
But, no, I can’t blame him, or anyone else. I have to hold Candice responsible for the consequences she had to pay. She was an adult and she ought to have known better. She had suffered tremendously when Joey died—why hadn’t she learned from that? Then there was the hospital stay, which could have been a second chance in life. Why wasn’t it? It was a warning sign to learn from her mistakes. She had the lesson but she threw it away. She didn’t believe the bad stuff could happen to her.
And I never thought “the bad stuff” could happen to our family!
Candice was gone, but parts of her life continued—sometimes, to my dismay. One day, the cap and gown she had ordered for her graduation arrived. Then, came the announcements I had had printed for her graduation. In the crush of events surrounding her death, it hadn’t occurred to me to cancel these.
But, the toughest reminder was her yearbook. As I turned each page, I thought about how Candice was alive when the book was put together. I found her senior picture. Her life’s ambition: “to come back when I’m famous and show everyone who doubted me that I could and did do it.”
Her favorite quote was, “Peace be your journey.”
She had been so determined to make something of herself, but she had let drugs rob her of her future and of her life. Drug addiction sucked away all her ambition to do what she used to feel was important. She had been cheated out of everything she was now going to miss, and I felt I was cheated, too, out of these things. I don’t understand why she would let this happen.
Looking through her yearbook
As I turned each page of the yearbook, I anticipated the section where the seniors put in their baby picture. The seniors were to choose the picture themselves, and parents had been asked to send a written message to their son or daughter to be placed underneath that baby photo. The seniors would not be allowed to read their parents’ message until the book came out. I remembered what I had written underneath because it was a message I always wanted her to think about in her life. It was a simple message a woman had said on a television show, what I had repeated to Candice after Joey died: “Life’s deepest sorrow can be your greatest purpose.”
I was eager to see the baby picture Candice had picked out. I turned the pages and then there she was, my baby girl, innocent, smiling, with her whole life seemingly ahead of her—but it would only turn out to be 18 years. Written underneath the photo was my message, one she never saw: Dear Candice, As you enter into the next phase of your life, look ahead and focus on your future. When you look back, think of everything you have learned and how you’ve grown. Always remember, life’s deepest sorrow can be your greatest purpose.
After the gown, the announcements and the yearbook, there were to be other reminders of Candice, too. My daughters and I had a long tradition of going to the high school on the night of the prom to watch all of the couples be introduced. Since I was the hairdresser for so many of the girls, it seemed only fitting for me to be there to share their happiness. We had gone since my daughters were young. But on the night of the prom that year, I didn’t want to participate. I was sure Chelsey wouldn’t want to either, but she did. She came downstairs that evening, ready to go.
“I don’t know if I want to this year, Chelsey,” I said.
Her face dropped. “Come on, Ma,” she pleaded, “we go every year.” She wanted everything to remain as normal as possible for us since Candice‘s death.
“I know it’ll be sad, but I want you to go with me like always. Jordyn’s going to the prom, and I want to see her introduced.” Jordyn is Chelsey’s closest friend, and so she came closer to me and pulled my arm.
I let myself be talked into going. At the school, we entered the auditorium and found a seat with all the other family members. It had been only two months since Candice had been in the school herself, roaming the halls, sitting in this very auditorium. It had been just a year since I was there for her own prom. She had been slated to sing at Senior Night. Now I thought, she would never get the chance to sing there.
Brushing the thought aside, I watched as each couple was introduced and waited for Chelsey’s friend Jordyn and her date to parade on stage. I had forgotten that it was also Eliza’s junior year, and when I heard her name announced, I was very glad that Chelsey had convinced me to come. Eliza stood beaming under the soft lights on the stage in front of us, waving her hands while everyone clapped and cheered her on. Right then, I missed Candice terribly. I pictured Candice sitting beside us, excited to see Eliza so happy.
Unanswerable Questions, Once Again
“Candice, why?” I asked again.
“Why couldn’t you have realized how much you had to live for? Why couldn’t you overcome your drug addiction?”
After all the couples were introduced, we followed them into the gymnasium. There the music began, and we watched the couples dance to their theme song.
Eliza danced with her date. I walked over and stood near her until I got her attention. When she noticed me, she waved and she kept looking at me. When her father noticed someone had her attention, he looked to see who it could be. Then, he walked over to me.
“Hi,” he said, “I’m Eliza’s dad.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” I answered, as I shook his hand. “I’m Candice’s mother.”
We both stood and watched Eliza. Then he said, “Do you mind if I share a little something with you about what happened to Eliza the week Candice passed away?”
“I would appreciate it if you would.”
“Eliza doesn’t lie and she doesn’t make up stories,” he said. “She came home from school the first week going back after Candice died and said she couldn’t eat her food because, every time she looked down at her salad, all she could see was Candice’s face. She couldn’t concentrate in class because she kept seeing Candice.”
“Out of everyone, I wouldn’t doubt it would be Eliza that Candice would appear to,” I said to him and looked over at Eliza, dancing with her date. I had learned that Eliza was the only student who had sought the help of the special-grief counselors the school provided to help the kids deal with Candice’s death.
“Candice probably thought it would be Eliza who would need to see her the most.”
“Eliza has asked me if she could visit your home sometime.”
“I would love that,” I said. “Bring her over any time. Candice has a lot of mementos in her room, and I would love to give something to Eliza.”
A Visit from Eliza
Within a week, Eliza’s dad called to make arrangements to bring Eliza over. When he came over, David and he talked while I took Eliza to watch a video of Candice singing. I wasn’t sure how she would take to seeing her on tape. The video came on, and we could see and hear Candice singing. Eliza got up and stood in front of the television and lifted her hands up towards the screen and touched Candice’s face.
“Oh, Candice,” she cried. “I miss you, Candice. You are so beautiful.”
“Eliza,” I said, “why don’t I take you up in Candice’s room. I would like to give you something of hers.”
She clapped her hands together. “Yeah, let’s do that.”
The collages we had made for Candice’s wake were still scattered around her furniture. Again Eliza’s hands went up, as if she was desperately pleading for Candice to come back.
“I love Candice, Mrs. Doucette. I miss her so much.”
The desperation in her voice matched the sorrow in my heart, but her innocence allowed her to express her feelings any way she felt.
“Look,” she said excitedly, pointing to a framed picture of Candice and her at Candice’s “Sweet 16” birthday party, two years earlier.
“That’s the picture I gave to Candice. I have one, too.”
She picked up the picture. “Candice,” she cried, “why did you have to die? You are so beautiful. I miss you.”
“Eliza,” I asked, “how would you like to have something of Candice’s? Choose what you want.”
She immediately turned to Candice’s futon, which was covered with a huge pile of stuffed pigs and other animals.
“Pick out the one you want,” I told her, feeling she would like to have one of them.
I watched her study the pile. She noticed a red pillow slightly sticking out of the predominately pink pile of animals.
“Can I have that one?” she asked happily as she pointed to it at the bottom of the pile.
“Yes,” I said laughing, “you can have any one you want. Pull it out to see what it is.”
She yanked on the red pillow. Attached to it was a monkey.
“Look,” she chuckled, “he’s holding the pillow, and it says, ‘Friends forever.’” She got even more excited. “I want this one,” she said, hugging the monkey. “Candice is my friend forever.” She sat down on Candice’s bed and thought for a moment.
“I can sleep with this now and think of Candice,” she said.
“I see her, you know. Sometimes it makes me scared. I can’t sleep when I think about Candice dying.”
“Eliza,” I said, “don’t ever be afraid where Candice is concerned. She’s okay. If you think of her, think of her as being happy, smiling, looking down on you.”
A big smile spread across her face.
Parting thoughts on Candice’s Drug Addiction
I wondered again if Candice really knew how much Eliza thought of her, if she knew how much she had affected just that one person. But if she did know, it didn’t change her ability to think about other people instead of herself, to change the selfish decisions she made. If only she had realized while she was living how many people loved her and enjoyed her as a person, maybe she would have had more confidence on the inside, more strength to fight off the evil that lurked her in, the wickedness that hides in drug addiction.
There is no answer, I suppose. There is now for me a mother’s loss that will never go away.