Grieving father: ‘It takes a village’

Local Voices

By Paul Johnson

On June 3, 2016, my son Dennis Paul Johnson died of an overdose. He was addicted for at least 15 years.

I tried everything I could to help my son recover. Major Richard Kuhl, former director at Salvation Army Adult Rehab Center, told me of the possibilities of many relapses that could last 15 years. He was correct.

I am writing this as a parent who did everything I could to help my son. We lost the battle. It would be so easy to allow guilt, shame, regrets and critics to cause me to shrink into silence.

However, I believe silence is the greatest enemy. I strive to be involved in my community. I try to be knowledgeable about issues. I need to confess right now that through 15 years of trying to help my son it is only recently that I have really understood the battle my son was fighting and the battle his preacher father didn’t have the answers to.

It’s major news now. It’s at the presidential level now. The opioid epidemic that we were up against was far greater than I ever knew.

I need to thank the mother whose child also overdosed for giving me the book “Dreamland.” A reporter writes concerning the opioid epidemic and backs it up with facts and figures.

The magnitude so great that as I write this letter I realize how blind I was. I know and have seen the local newspaper stories, the mass media stories and the absolute horror of what drugs are doing to so many families.

I do want to speak to all of the families troubled with this epidemic — families like mine who have lost their loved ones, families who are living in the everyday struggles and fears of the addicts in their lives, families who pray every day that those who are in recovery can maintain it.

I pray sincerely for you all.

I pray that you will know that you do not need to be ashamed or feel you failed in any way. I have officiated far too many funerals linked to this epidemic. I wish I really knew the true magnitude of this epidemic and understood the power of opioids on the brain. I know we have tremendous people in our community who are actively engaged in this fight.

The courts, the police, the recovery programs, doctors, lawyers, professional counselors, faith ministries are doing the best they can.

It’s not an overused saying “It takes a village.”

We are the village. We need the support of one another. All of the professionals previously mentioned including city, township, state and national politicians need our support.

As a veteran, a minister of the gospel, an American who truly loves my country, I understand we have struggled before and are struggling now in many ways.

But I also believe in another little phrase “We the People!”

I want to thank those who have given me their support through my son’s passing.

I want to thank the family members who have suffered the same loss and were willing to share their stories with me and the many community leaders and just folks who have helped me to remain engaged in our struggles. No shame, no guilt, no fear.

May God bless you all as I remain a faithful servant in my community and to my Lord Jesus Christ.

(Paul Johnson is the senior pastor at the 18th Street Community Church in Altoona.)