John Perkins, Jr.
Liz Perkins was thrilled when her first child was a boy. She named him John after his father and grandfather. He was an adorable, active baby who climbed out of his crib early and managed to get into everything. That amazing store of energy never left him; John always pushed to do a little bit better, run faster, jump higher. He did well in school and was the life of the party.
When John got to college, a series of stressful events lead him to begin experimenting with drugs with friends at “pill parties” (various kinds of drugs are tossed into a bowl and taken at random). He began using opiate pain relievers like Percocet and Oxycontin.
Liz and John had a close relationship and she was shocked when she found out that he was addicted to drugs. “He was smart and had his whole life ahead of him,” she said. “I couldn’t believe this was happening to us. I felt scared and alone.” She spent every waking minute trying to get him help and educating herself about the disease of addiction.
Reading the book Beautiful Boy by David Sheff changed her life. Previous to reading it, Liz thought she was alone in her struggle to try and help her son. “I remember thinking, ‘How is it that my kid seems to be the only one in the world with this problem?’” she said. Sheff’s story about his own son’s journey helped Liz realize that “this road was much harder for John than it was for us...” and gave her hope that they could get through it. The road was difficult and the cycle devastating; John would seek treatment, stay sober for a while and then relapse.
During a period of sobriety, John came home one night upset because someone had hit his parked car. Liz tried to calm him down, but he was inconsolable and went straight to his room. When she heard his car pulling out of the driveway minutes later, her stomach sank. The next morning John said, “Mom, I fucked up again.” Despite being furious and terrified, Liz held him and told him that she loved him and that he would have to fight this for the rest of his life. She was right there with him.
“When I lost John my life lost all of its meaning,” said Liz. “If I didn’t have another child and a husband I wouldn’t bother.” Losing a child to a drug overdose is made all the more difficult because the sympathy that most parents receive after going through such a loss is too often replaced with judgement, accusations, and silence.
After losing John, Liz realized she couldn’t keep quiet about her experience. In writing John’s obituary, his family was open about his struggles with addiction. Liz and her husband played a vital role in the passing of the Good Samaritan Law in Delaware and continue to tell their story and fight to end the epidemic: “We’ve got to come out of this as one voice. We’ve got to bring it into the public consciousness.”
“I will be a childless mother of my son until the day I die,” said Liz. “That’s pretty permanent.”
The quote on John’s gravestone reads: “Our tears fell in the ocean. The day you find them, we will stop missing you…”