In eternal memory of my beloved son.
“The most painful state of being is remembering the future, especially one which you know will never come.”
― Søren Kierkegaard
Christopher Lee Dreher
A few minutes after midnight on April 24, 2017, my beautiful and much-loved son took his life with a single shot to the head from a .44 caliber handgun. Christopher Lee Dreher was 20 years old when he died. His death left a large gaping hole in his sister, his mom, me and others. The last text I got from him on April 23 at 11:41 stated simply, “I’m ok. I love you so much.” We had texted that night because he was having a hard time. I was trying to make sure he had taken his medications which it turned out, he did not. Apparently, Chris took a walk outside by himself and concealed the gun from his roommate on the way out. I received a call from his roommate shortly before midnight telling me I should come over. Unbeknownst to me he had already called 911 as he heard multiple shots. Chris walked to a dark field behind a Salvation Army facility near his apartment, shot a few shots into the ground and then, the fatal wretched shot. I arrived at his apartment a little after midnight. When I got there, I saw a lot of sirens near his house. I drove to them and immediately knew what had happened. The police were there with an ambulance. They would not let me go into the field as they told me it was a crime scene. However, I was able to get from them that it involved a deceased person. Chris died immediately.
I went to his apartment and waited with his roommate and a friend along with another police officer. We waited for the detective to arrive. I tried calling his mom many times, but she had the phone in a place where she could not hear it. After a while, I had a policeman sent to her house to get her up and call me. I will never forget the conversation I had with her to tell her what had happened. There was nothing but tears and absolute horror, tragedy and heartbreak. For weeks I wanted to the world to stop turning and let me off or let me go back to the morning before time should have stopped but mercilessly kept spinning out towards the most painful of futures.
Chris was born on November 25, 1996. He was a beautiful Thanksgiving baby. The name Christopher comes from the patron St. Christopher who was thought to have carried the baby Jesus across the river. While Chris said he did not believe in God he certainly carried my heart and his mom’s heart across the river with him. The name Lee was my mom’s middle name.
Chris had a long history of anxiety and at times depression dating all the way back to his infancy. We have reports from therapists dating back to his kindergarten days. Chris had therapist, counselors, psychologist and psychiatrists. I was against his using therapeutic, psychotropic drugs for a long time but eventually I gave in to try to bring him some relief. He was really bad about taking the pills he was supposed to take which often resulted in worse problems. His mom and I told him to exercise, eat and sleep many times. I even worked out with him as much as I could. He had really bad sleep issues and an obsession with the internet. At the end, the very dangerous drugs he was taking were all messed up because he would take too many or too little. He also appeared to have a young and almost delusive crush on a young girl which he appears to have used that fateful night to stoke his lifelong obsession with suicide resulting in his death.
Chris also was obsessed with guns for quite a long time. He did not like the NRA but told us he really liked target shooting at the shooting range. We never encouraged him to use guns and he knew I really did not like them. He was prohibited from keeping them at our house. When he started college and had his own apartment, we found out that he had bought a shotgun in addition to the pistol he had without even telling us. We took them away for a while. His long-time psychologist also recommend that we take the guns away. He was persistent about getting them back and he was of legal age to purchase another gun without telling us as he reminded us. As we had no other choice, we decided to give them back on the condition that he keep trigger locks on them which I bought and installed myself. I kept the keys. I trusted him to keep the locks on. He gave me his word but did not keep it.
Chris had all the love and support anyone could ever ask for. His mom, myself and Chris would hug and kiss often and acknowledge our love for each other on a regular, daily basis. He was a really great kid. He was not violent or angry. He was not big on illicit drugs or drinking. He did not appear to have anxiety or depression often, but it did get worse towards the end. He was very sweet most of the time. He related to adults better in many ways than kids his own age which he though often acted in a juvenile and boring fashion. He was smart. He accumulated an incredible and impressive knowledge of anything he was interested. He was into heavy metal and picked up guitar rather quickly. He took guitar lessons and was getting very good. Chris had a hard time growing up. He told us often he never wanted to grow up and he had a great childhood. Chris made sure he did not grow up. He will always be like a Peter Pan figure to me.
Early in the morning on that horror filled night my wife and I finally got into the car to go home. The radio was on, but the volume was down. However, the name of the song playing was clearly displayed on the console. As soon as we started the car the name of the song playing was, “I’m Sorry”. The next song that displayed was named, “Use Me”. To me, that was Chris in some inexplicable way telling us he was sorry, but he did not want me to give into the abysmal pain. He wanted me to use his life for the rest of my life and his mom’s life to somehow turn it towards a more fulfilling end rather than what it really feels like; a living death in my soul. It is inevitable that as we all get older death takes its place in our being as parents and loved ones die but I had always told the kids that I planned to die before them. I watched my kids like a hawk, maybe too much, and always made sure they were safe. I told them it would kill me if anything bad ever happened to them. It is rare that a parent must live through his child’s death and especially with a suicide…so senseless and in that horrible moment so terribly stupid.
I feel anger at times over what Chris did to us but even when he was alive, I could never just be angry with him because that anger always came with hurt and pain. The unconditional love a parent has for a child is so different from any other love. It is such a life changing love that romantic love which fascinates youth so much pales as more self-indulgent than concerned with the other. Once, you know unconditional love you can never really return wholeheartedly to obsessive and youthful infatuation. The love a parent has for a child already removes one from much of youth and pop culture. What is more, after this incredibly unfair hell his mom and I must deal with, I feel even more removed from many worldly, noise-filled occupations. Chris’ death has motivated me work out intensely six days a week and do yoga one day a week. I physically feel great despite of bad knees. I am playing guitar again regularly and writing more songs which I will soon begin to record in my magnificent studio. I also write music software seven days a week which I always find very fulfilling. Where else can you get logical stimulation and immediate feedback if the logic is flawed resulting in a bug. I also want to get back to reading and writing philosophy and politics as I have much more to think through, learn and digest with writing. My wife and I have a really good and satisfying relationship. I have been retired since 2000 and she has been mostly retired for a while although she still does some real-estate work. My daughter needs the dad she has known and loved for so long. I cannot and will not let her down as I have the same unconditional love for her that I had for Chris. I am determined to make the last message from Chris, “Use Me”, a reality.
Looking back, his mom and I have absolutely no guilt about what Chris did. I think there are few parents that could ever truly love and support their kids like we did for Chris. We gave our all to him as we also do for our daughter. If a parent does that, they can sleep with a restful conscience no matter what. Now, I see fathers with their son and feel several feelings strike me like I got ripped off being a father to my son and denied the future which is essential to being a human father. I also hope they know how fleeting this moment we call life is. Being a parent means you are more heartbroken than any lover ever was when your babies must grow up and you must help them become happy and functioning adults. There is much sadness and much joy along the way. I can’t image the human experience without this tidal washing of the soul. When I was Chris’ age, I experienced a strong sense of meaninglessness and anxiety as he did for a number of years, but I was determined to make it through and find life again, to love; the simple, bewildering, complete human way of being. After ten years of work, I finally made it back and was able to feel love, hope and meaning again. I can tell you that even this pain I have with the death of my son is so much better than absolute emptiness. I truly believed that Chris would find his way out too and maybe he did but the shot that ended his life also rang through his mom and my being. Life will never be the same, but we can and must find our way back to the light only this time with pain and love.
When we are young, we think and sing so jubilantly about love, joy and satiate ourselves in our young hormones. As we get older, we recognize that there is no love without tearing, tear-ing, crippling pain. That is the price we must pay for something much bigger than us to light our paths. Even that pain carries a fullness which testifies to the truthful saying that it is better to have lived and loved than never to have loved at all. I hope that in these socially divisive and anger filled days others will find what I call ‘the wisdom of the earth’ and the path that leads to a life filled with grace in the face of demise and death. There are two ways out, with emptiness and horror or grace, pain and love. We choose with every moment of every day whether we can be fully human or just a shell of a mortal. If there is anything after death, after my last breath, I will find my son and have an eternal cry with him as we rise for all timelessness to the highs and lows of a singular moment, we shared in a wisp of an all too human moment of being.