It’s not very often an obituary goes viral. A Baton Rouge mother is overwhelmed by the response to her words after getting hundreds of emails from around the country.
The first two weeks of 2016 have been a blur for Gwen Knox. She shared her story while looking through several pages of new emails on her laptop.
“You don’t know me, and I don’t know Brian, but I read the obit several times, and I just want to praise you,” she read aloud from one of the messages.
Knox spent the last three days answering over 300 emails from every corner of the United States and even one from London. The subject lines include “Deeply moving” and “From one mom to another.”
“Dear sweet woman, I am an addict of 14 years,” Knox read from another.
Knox’s son Brian fell into the cycle of addiction as a teenager. His story is not unique, including the way it ends.
“He was just a good guy who made some mistakes in childhood that he couldn’t recover from,” Knox said. “My son lived life full-throttle. Everybody saw this fun-loving guy, but I saw him when he came home.”
Brian died from an overdose on December 30th. The toxicology report is still pending. He was just 40-years-old and had been evicted from his mother’s home five months earlier. Knox said it was the hardest decision she ever had to make. As she sat down to write his obituary, a lifetime of emotions spilled from her fingers. She submitted it to The Advocate newspaper after four days of editing.
“I got an email back that said $519!” Knox recalled. “I was like, ‘Ok this is not going to happen.’”
At just over one 1,000 words, the paper graciously agreed to publish her tribute in its online edition. Knox credits Advocate employee Tiffany Davidson with helping to share her touching message. The obituary takes the reader on a journey from a bright childhood to the depths of her son’s despair. She also offers the advice she wishes she had gotten sooner:
“Love your addict. Know that they are sick, but don’t let their sickness make you ill.” she writes.
Also included is a poem from an unknown author called, Let Me Fall All By Myself. Knox said she hopes other learn from her mistakes.
“I think it’s going to come from parents,” she said. “If we can catch our kids early enough and let them fall. Brian didn’t fall, because I protected him. ‘I’m here. Fall on me.’ I did the best that I could do with the knowledge that I had. As I acquired more knowledge, I changed. I had to think about myself.”
Knox included her email address at the end of the obituary for friends and family. She never expected to get hundreds of stories like her own.
“For two days I sat at that laptop and cried like I never cried for the death of my son, because there was so much pain,” Knox said.
One message came from a current addict who wrote a letter as if Brian was speaking to his mother.
“I am now at peace, and I pray the same for you,” the email said. “This one gets me,” Knox said with a tear in her eye.
There are several letters from Brian’s childhood friends, letters from addiction counselors, and even one from a man who’s struggling in his marriage.
“When I get home, I will let (my wife) read about Brian and hopefully repair some of the damage I have done,” Knox read. “Thank you for sharing and helping me with my closure.”
She responds to each note with Brian’s urn sitting directly above her computer. Knox’s own closure is now within reach, thanks in part to the stories of strangers.