What Happened to Parker?
Erica joins me to answer some tough questions.
Tomorrow will be 15 weeks since Parker’s passing, and Erica and I have wanted to share more details about his life and death for a while now. We decided to post this in a Q&A format because it’s an easy way to share details, add stories, and keep things moving. All of these answers are from both myself and Erica, speaking together.
Q: When did you guys find out Parker had passed away?
A: Bryan was the only one in the house when he found Parker passed away in his bed sometime just after 10:30am on the morning of November 23rd. Kylie was away at school and Erica was at work.
Q: How exactly did Parker die?
A: As most of you have heard, Parker passed away from an accidental overdose. The official cause of death on the death certificate is “acute fentanyl toxicity.” Lab tests showed a lethal level of fentanyl in his system, which is what ended his life.
Q: Was the fentanyl mixed with heroin?
A: Yes. There were also opiates in his system. The heroin that he put into his body was laced with some amount of fentanyl, which is roughly 40x stronger than heroin and 80x stronger than morphine.
If you want to learn more about why drug dealers are lacing heroin and other drugs with illegally-made fentanyl and how fentanyl-related deaths are skyrocketing into an epidemic, you can google it. Sadly, you will find story after story after story about people of every age passing away because the powder or pill that they put into their body was laced with fentanyl.
Q: Were you worried about Parker doing heroin?
A: Unfortunately, it was not on our radar as a possibility. We had many conversations with him about weed and alcohol, and occasionally we talked about how a life can be derailed by harder drugs, but we never talked directly about opiates with him.
Q: Did he inject the heroin?
A: No, he did not. There were no needle marks at all on his body and no paraphernalia was found. He likely ingested the heroin through his nose, which is consistent with most people who are new users of the drug.
Q: Do you think this was the first time he did heroin?
A: It is very possible it was the first time, maybe the second time? We have no way of knowing at this point. Those investigating the case believe he was a new user, and that he had likely only done it once or twice before, if at all. He had no needle marks, was gaining weight recently (not losing it), and was showing no other signs of someone developing an opiate addiction.
Q: Had he tried other drugs?
A: Yes, he had smoked weed off and on probably from the time he was around 14. We were adamant from the moment we found out about it that we wanted better things for him. We wanted him to grow and flourish emotionally, physically, and spiritually during his critical teen years, and explained why smoking weed was a habit that we felt would stunt his development in all of those areas.
Q: Did he get the heroin from the same people he got the weed from?
A: Probably not, but because the investigation is still ongoing it’s not something we can speak at liberty on. We have our theories as to how Parker came to possess the heroin, and we are fairly confident he put them into his body with very little understanding of the risks he was taking. We are hopeful that those responsible for making it easy for a minor to get the substance that took his life are held accountable for this, but we are letting the authorities handle all of that.
Q: Was he smoking weed all the time?
A: Not really. There were good seasons and bad seasons. In the good seasons he would go months at a time without smoking. We know this because we randomly drug tested him for it. In the more challenging seasons, he was probably smoking a few times a week for a few weeks before we’d catch him or he would stop on his own.
Q: I had no idea Parker was into that. Did a lot of other people know about this?
A: Not really. If he smoked with other friends, they obviously knew. But sometimes he smoked alone because he just liked the high. In fact, he kept the smoking from many of his closest friends, including his girlfriend, as much as he could.
We confided in close friends about the struggles we were having with him, but it didn’t really affect other areas of his life so it would have been hard to know. He always treated everyone well, was fairly responsible, was very active, and was always fun to be around. One more example of how you never know what’s going on with another person or another family.
Q: Did his girlfriend and her family know that he smoked?
A: Parker kept it from her (and them) as much as he could because he didn’t want to disappoint any of them. But at the same time, he loved her and hated hiding things from her, so it is something they talked about occasionally.
We kept her family in the loop with almost all of it and they were wonderful about it. They loved Parker so well, and wanted nothing but the best for him. Sometimes this meant embracing him when he disappointed them, sometimes this meant forcing her and Parker to take a break from seeing each other.
The four of us parents were on the same page through all of this, wanting nothing but the best for the two of them, whether that was a future together or not.
Q: Was the weed why you sent him to a smaller Christian school for his junior year?
A: It was part of the reason, yes. We had talked about private school off an on for years, even before we found out he was messing with weed. We felt like the change would help him in a bunch of areas, including academically, and we hoped that getting him away from certain influences and environments would have a positive effect on him.
We never saw it as a magic bullet to the issues, and we let him know that. He was still going to have to make wise choices no matter where he spent his school days. And we always reminded him that eventually he would be an adult on his own where he’d have to be making these wise choices without our close supervision.
Q: Did he push back when you told him he was changing schools?
A: Not really. He told us he’d prefer not to, but that he understood why we were doing it. That was typical Parker. Respectful, understanding, and kind, even with something as life-changing as moving to a new school in the middle of your high school years.
It didn’t take long for him to make good friends at the new school, and he was really thriving there. We were very excited about the direction he was headed in.
Q: If he was full of life, had good friends, and didn’t want to disappoint you guys, why did he keep looking to get high?
A: We had that conversation with him many times. For the most part he didn’t smoke to escape a bad life or because he was pressured into it by friends. He just really liked the feeling of being high. He was honest about that with us. He loved his life, wanted to be a good son and a good friend, and wanted to follow Jesus, but he also loved feeling high, and it was a pull that he struggled with for the last few years of his life.
Q: How did you handle it as parents?
A: We just tried to figure it out as we went, but it wasn’t easy. Communication was the most important thing to us, so we never shied away from having hard conversations with him. We felt he was usually honest with us about how he was feeling, though looking back now we wonder if he was hiding just how strong the pull was for him to get high.
We’re not sure he ever looked us in the eyes and explained just how strong his desire was to get high. Maybe it was so strong that he feared we would have overreacted to his admission? We like to think as parents that our kids’ default is to be honest with us, but looking back we feel that while there were some times when he broke down and truly wanted to change, there were other times where he probably hid the totality of how he was truly feeling.
He lied plenty of times about if and when he was smoking, as you would expect, but we were able to catch him in those lies sometimes. We randomly drug tested him for weed off an on over the last 2.5 years. Sometimes he would pass, occasionally he would fail, and once or twice he admitted to smoking before taking the test so we wouldn’t even have to administer it.
Punishments for smoking included loss of privileges like hanging with friends, being on certain apps, making him pay for his own car insurance, and being grounded from his phone altogether. We also tried to educate him on the perils of weed and alcohol abuse, took him to a couple sessions of drug counseling, went through bible studies and devotionals with him, and set him up with mentoring. We put a lot of energy and effort into trying to help him stay clean and make wise choices.
He always accepted his punishments with a broken and humble attitude, and never pushed back in rebellion. He hated that his desire to get high conflicted with what we wanted for his life. He hated disappointing us and the others who loved him.
Q: Did he actually tell you that?
A: He did. On more than one occasion he was broken and emotional about the struggle to honor us and make wise choices while battling this pull to get high. In fact, in the spring of 2019 he wrote some things in a journal while he was being mentored by his youth pastor.
Regarding what he valued he wrote,
“I value making my parents proud of me. I value my girlfriend and her looking at me as a potential good husband maybe, or someday father. I value trying to live for God, even though it is hard.”
Regarding experiences he’s had in his life he wrote,
“I’ve been caught smoking weed a few times. I’ve have great godly experiences at youth camp. I’ve been baptized and have given my life to God, but I have also disappointed so many people I love.”
Regarding what he wanted in his life over the next 10 years he wrote,
“I hope to be a great man of God that is consistently seeking God, and everyone that knows me can tell that I am a follower of Christ…I hope to still be dating or married to my girlfriend, who is a great girl. I hope all my friends by this point are good influences and followers (of God)…I hope to stay in shape and be healthy. I hope to stay off drugs that can be very unhealthy and damaging.”
We are so thankful that we have these journal entries and this window into his heart and mind.
Q: Are you guys plagued with regrets and what-ifs?
A: Anytime something bad happens in your life, it is human nature to look back and wonder what you could have done differently. That is how we learn and grow as people. This situation, however, is a whole different thing, and we have tread carefully in this area.
Of course there are regrets and what-ifs. We wish we had been better educated. We wish we had had a few more conversations. We wish we could change a few decisions that we made that could have led directly or indirectly to circumstances surrounding his death. We acknowledge that those thoughts are there, but we choose not to be consumed by them.
We both know that we loved Parker well and held nothing back as we parented him. We know that we tried our best, and that we were committed to loving both he and Kylie as hard as we could for as long as we could. We believe in each other and can lay our heads on our pillows every night knowing we were good parents who loved Parker well. We pray for each other that the truth of that never gets distorted.
Q: So, what happened to Parker?
A: He was trying to follow Jesus in a broken, messed-up world, and he made a poor choice that cost him his life. For most of us, the worst mistake we ever make in our lives is something we can look back on and hopefully learn from. For Parker, his worst mistake cost him his life here on earth, and it feels like it was way too soon.
We will all follow him into eternity someday, and hopefully when we do we will leave behind a legacy of faith, joy, and kindness like Parker left behind. He professed faith in Jesus and tried to serve him. He was an amazing son, brother, nephew, cousin, grandson, and friend. His absence here on earth has left a gaping hole in our hearts.
Q: And then what happened to Parker?
A: At some point after midnight on November 23rd, Parker’s soul left his body. That body that we loved so much; that we cared for, snuggled with, and loved to be in the presence of. The body that made him such a great athlete, and the body that desired the pull of getting high. In an instant, his soul was no longer there.
It wouldn’t be for another 10 hours before Bryan found that body, but we take comfort in what happened in those 10 hours. We believe what it says in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, and ultimately, that is the true home that all our souls desire. In fact, in Psalm 84:10 David goes so far as to say that one day of God’s presence is better than a thousand elsewhere.
So we did the math.
If a day in his presence is better than a thousand elsewhere, than 10 hours in his presence is better than a year elsewhere. So by the time we learned of his passing, Parker had already experienced about a year’s worth of God’s goodness in His presence, packed into those 10 hours. That’s how we like to think of it, and we are comforted by that.
Parker left us way sooner than we (or he) ever thought or hoped. Not having more time with him here will always make us sad. But we grieve believing that when he left us, he was embraced by the one he had professed faith in and was trying to serve.
And Jesus wiped away the tears, healed the pain, and said, “Welcome home, my son.”