by Jude DiMeglio Trang with John M. Trang /Published by the author. $29.99.
John Leif, known to family and friends as JL, was smart, charismatic, fiercely loyal — and addicted to opioids. When he died of a heroin overdose at the age of 25, his anguished parents sought some relief by keeping a journal in which they wrote letters to their late son. Holding nothing back, they shared their confusion, their profound despair, and finally their hesitant steps toward acceptance. Their journal provides the framework for Jude DiMeglio Trang’s memoir, a book as timely as it is heartbreaking. Trang begins with the horrifying discovery that JL, at age 15, was using black tar heroin, obtainable in his high school in their affluent section of Tucson. The ensuing years saw her son in and out of rehab in an endless cycle of sobriety and relapse while the family endured a decade of false starts and dashed hopes. Information about opioid addiction was scant (even the high school, aware of the problem, kept parents in the dark), and luck was in short supply — two of JL’s relapses coincided with medical procedures that put him back on prescribed painkillers, and during one stay in a sober residential facility, he secured drugs from the resident manager. Trang bares her soul in this moving book, explaining how she and her husband worked through the stages of grief, but more importantly, she shares what, in trying to make sense of her beloved son’s death, she discovered about opioid addiction. From brain science, genetics and inherited family dysfunction to the international drug trade, the staggering cost of treatment and the complicity of Big Pharma, Trang offers an honest and clear-eyed view of a public health crisis that became a family tragedy.
— Helene Woodhams
Bereaved parents explore the drug addiction that led to their son’s death and plumb the many layers of grief in this debut memoir.
A vivid, emotional diary of the shattering effects of drug abuse and a child’s death on a family.
Johnathan Leif Trang was only 16 years old when his parents, Jude DiMeglio Trang and John M. Trang, made the
stunning discovery that their bright, charming son was using black tar heroin, known on the street as BT. Ten years later,
after many confrontations, discussions, and interventions, JL, as he was known to friends and family, was dead of an
overdose only days after his release from his latest rehab program. Beginning with a foreword by his sister, Johanna
Trang Schumacher, and interspersed with letters to JL written by both parents in the months after his death, the book
attempts to understand his life and character and the nature of the addiction that led to his fatal overdose. Agonized by
their loss and the frustration of their hopes for their beloved son’s future, the authors were determined that JL’s life not be
defined by his drug problem or his lonely death. They found support in embracing their Christian faith and reading views
on death by writers likes Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Joan Didion as they navigated their own family dynamics,
“complicated grief,” and efforts to remember, uncover, and honor JL’s deeper self. In the process, they exposed layers of
pain, from the loss of their own posterity to a pervasive anger directed at everyone from drug cartel leaders to, as Jude
writes, “myself for failing you so, at God for allowing it to happen, at you for being gone.” The raw immediacy of the
narrative will sweep readers into a parent’s worst nightmare, in which sadness is compounded by disbelief that the crisis
of drug abuse could step out of the headlines and into the heart of a middle-class family. Although parts of the memoir
delve into the political aspects of addiction, including the “astronomical” cost of treatment and the history of the
international drug trade, it is most memorable on a personal level, as in the stories of JL’s friends and fellow struggling
users that end the work on a hopeful note.
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