Inside a single box, a lifetime of memories: keepsakes, favorite clothes and pictures of the happiest of times.
Three years later, that’s all that is left to bear tribute to 25 years of life. Addiction stole another life, a young man full of life and with a future full of promise, silenced forever. A family devastated.
Prior to living the story that we will share a little about, our first thoughts would probably have been, what kind of troubled home did this person come from? How did such a young person become a drug addict? Why didn’t the family intervene with love and discipline to prevent this? We probably would have looked at the situation and family through naïve and judgmental eyes.
Today, because of our experiences, our perspectives have changed.
Travis embraced life and went at everything full speed ahead. He was the kid that showed up to Kindergarten already knowing how to read. He excelled and thrived academically.
A few years later, we agreed to the school’s recommendation of skipping grade three and moving Travis from grade two to four. He had no difficulty excelling and maintaining his high marks in grade four even though he was the youngest one in the class. His real challenge was fitting in socially as the youngest person. He soon learned that if he was disruptive in class there was a group of “not so model” students that would accept him and include him into their social circle and activities in and after school.
Reed Tand, an expert on chemical addictions, has spoken on the topic of addiction several times in Swift Current (thanks to the SC Drug Task Force), and he often speaks about the deep human need for acceptance and love. We still don’t know with certainty what caused Travis to try drugs or alcohol or even when he tried them the first time, as parents we were quite naïve about drugs, but we first noticed a change in our son Travis’ personality and behaviour at home when he was in his early teens.
Over the next few years he spent more and more time with this group of friends and had less interest in playing sports or wanting to spend time with our family. We always purchased golf memberships for our sons and Henry would often arrange for a round of golf with the boys for when he would be home from work. Increasingly Travis would bow out at the last moment and choose to spend time with his friends instead. We were unaware he and his friends might be drinking or experimenting with drugs.
Between the ages of 15 – 25 Travis was admitted to detox and treatment centers across Western Canada more than 10 times. Each time he went to treatment we would get our hopes up that this time he would discover some breakthrough to successfully overcome his addiction. When he was released from the treatment centers, he did become the kind, loving Travis we knew again for a short while until the claws of addiction pulled him back into their control.
At one point, our son moved away to a smaller southwestern community about 2 hours from Swift Current to work and attempt to get away from all his friends that were using. Changing geographic locations and jobs didn’t help, there were drugs available in this town and at his workplace and before long he was using regularly again. He talked to the HR Director at the workplace to let him know that his life was again out of control, who then called us to say he was bringing our son to Swift Current to meet with us and try to find a way to get Travis the help he needed. We agreed that we would all go to the hospital and try to get Travis admitted so he could detox and we could look for another treatment center.
Over the years that we tried, and Travis tried to get help, we discovered there are many gaps and obstacles within the healthcare and treatment centers' systems. This particular time, the doctor told us they wouldn’t admit him because he wasn’t suicidal or didn’t appear to be harmful to others, and seemed disinterested once he learned Travis had been in treatment before and relapsed.
Our son was asking all of us to find him help. At the time, we had limited options as locally and provincially there are limited resources when it comes to long term addiction treatment. He was not eligible to access our local mental health unit, and he did not want us to send him to the same provincially- funded treatment center again, as this is where he was first offered and tried using cocaine. The other treatment centers in the province had an all-too-common three week wait; we made the decision to admit him to a center in B.C.
We paid many thousands of dollars out of pocket for a 45-day treatment stay as opposed to their common 30 days in treatment. Our son managed to stay drug-free for a short while when he came back, then relapsed again. He would get back on track, relapse again and continue repeating this cycle. In hindsight, it seems he needed longer term care than the 30-45 days most treatment centers offer.
As parents, we hope that one day there can be changes made to the current resources and treatment centers available within our province. Every life is valuable and every person deserves every chance to get healthy and become all they are capable of being.
We referenced Reed Tand earlier; in one of his presentations he mentioned most addicts’ brains will recover and heal from chemical addiction if they abstain from use for three months. They still need to learn how to live successfully with the challenges life brings without going back to their familiar crutch of using chemicals to cope. It seems to us, a transition house where people receive coaching in life skills when released from a treatment center would be helpful to successfully integrate back into society. Without that, recovering addicts usually rely on chemicals again when feeling overwhelmed with the life challenges we all have.
At about 1:00 a.m. the morning of May 4th, 2014, we were awakened by two policemen at our door to deliver the news. Our son Travis was found face down, deceased in his apartment from what appeared to be a drug overdose. They said the lead detective was attempting to determine whether foul play was involved and they wouldn’t release him until their investigation was completed.
As parents and probably for siblings, living with a son or sibling that has an addiction has been a lonely journey. You listen carefully to the people that you associate with and decide whether you feel safe speaking about the daily trials and challenges of living with and trying to help an addicted family member. Many people in our society still see the disease of chemical addiction as a moral failure instead of a disease. The truth is it’s a disease that crosses all social and economic boundaries and adversely affects the entire family.
Since the date of Travis’ death our family has been on a slightly different journey, overcoming the shock & grief of losing a son, brother, grandson. Throughout the years of having a son that was struggling with addiction, and now after his death, our Christian faith has been our greatest source of strength and comfort in our loss.
When we lose a child, we not only grieve their loss, but the loss of the future; the future daughters or sons-in-law, the grandchildren we’ll never meet. All the normal milestones of life. To move on, we need to accept this reality and allow ourselves to grieve all that could have been. For our family, this journey will last a lifetime. We have coined a phrase that has become our words to live by: “there is no shame in tears and no guilt in laughter.” We need to shed the tears grieving requires and we must allow ourselves to experience joy and laughter again without feeling guilt.
We have found it very therapeutic to speak about our loss with each other and others we feel safe sharing our journey with. We are also facilitating a group “Hope after Heartbreak.” This is a group hosted at our church, East Side Church of God for parents that have lost a child. It’s a place where they can share their struggles, find hope, healing, and learn to enjoy life again.
We hope that in sharing our story honestly, that perhaps even in death Travis can make an impact and save a life. - Henry & Kendra Klassen
In loving memory of Travis Daniel Cloutier
April 7, 1989 - May 4, 2014
Help is available.
If you or a loved one have been impacted by addiction,
please call 1-887-329-0005 for help or visit http://swsaskconnect.ca/resources/addictions/.
A very special thank you to Henry + Kendra for sharing wholeheartedly. Thank you to Candace Schwartz from Bumble & Vine Photography for donating her time and talent to capture their story.
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