Below is a sheet made available after the Coroners Court. We chose to write this and circulate it in the churches we had worked in, since we reckoned it was better that people knew the whole truth, as much as we had of it, rather than half truths.
Our truth is we felt ashamed and wanted to hide but knew we couldn't do this for a number of reasons, so we 'stuck our chins out'and got on with it. A few years on, and I am sure this was the better thing to do, though it was hard. For anyone else out there feeling ashamed and isolated for whatever reason, our hope is that you can find the help you need from a loving community.
More About our Boy
It is 6 months since our son, Jim, died and needless to say it has been a painful and slow journey since then. We have just attended the inquest and so, at last, all the official business is over and we are grateful for that. The coroner recorded a verdict of misadventure and we now know that Jim died of a heroin overdose which has been reported in the Manchester press.
We feel we want to say more about Jim. There are several reasons for this which we will try to explain.
First of all we want to honour him. He was invited to Hong Kong to 'come and do some good' and he certainly achieved this. We love and admire Jim for his courage and honesty. He knew, and we knew, that he had a battle on his hands in overcoming a pull to cannabis in his teenage years. He saw in the life and work of St. Stephen's in Hong Kong a place where he could find strength for himself and be of help to others at the same time. He worked for his money to travel to Hong Kong and equip himself and then gave away all the surplus that he didn't feel he needed. He chose, at 18 years old, a very hard option. As his parents, we felt torn… this was his own choice… in many ways we would have preferred that he followed a more conventional path but Jim felt that was not for him at this point, so we had to honour and support his decision. It was painful and we missed him.
He soon found that life in Hong Kong was a struggle and we know that he wrestled with his sense of calling, his faith and with temptation. He really battled in a painful, almost physical way… yet, despite all of this he learnt the language quickly and began to build relationships that were very meaningful to him. Things got worse for him before they got better, and the wrangling in his letters was often hard for us to read, but eventually he broke through to a new level of certainty about his faith and his role in St. Stephen's.
In the last year of his life he achieved so much. By now his Cantonese was very proficient and he was able to relate to the recovering addicts in a way few others could. He worked alongside men and boys, seeing them come to faith in Jesus and beginning the long road to health. He seemed to understand and relate to young men who found it hard to build relationships with others. He had an ability to listen and to be 'with' people, to make them feel valued and important. In many ways, as we listened to what people told us about him, it seemed as if he was older than his 21 years in his ability to reach out and understand. To us, there is a mystery in all of this. People there, old, young, Western, Chinese, up and down the social groups, just loved him. We were humbled when we heard how much they loved him.
The end is and always will be a mystery to us. There are things we can't understand and only Jim can answer, so we have to live with this. In his last weeks those who were living with him said he was extraordinary … when he led worship it was as if the hairs on your neck stood up, as he seemed so close to God. But, at the same time, he was battling again with his problems. Knowing Jim, it is painful for us to imagine the conflict he was feeling.
Jim was well looked after in Hong Kong. He said to us he had lots of 'Mums and Dads though we were the best'! One of those couples spent a lot of time with him in the last weeks, and begged him to tell us of his ongoing battle, but in the end they said he couldn't bring himself to, as he didn't want to upset us. We also know he showed them recent family photos we had sent, and told them he would like to come home and be part of the family again. Information like this is a both a comfort and a pain to us. If only we had known, if only we could have done something...But the truth is we will never know if it would have made any difference.
In so many ways Jim was a good boy. Not a perfect boy, vulnerable in many ways and with weaknesses just like everyone else, but a good boy. Like many a teenager before and after him, he 'put us through it' for a few years, but we genuinely believed he was emerging into the young man he was destined to become. We were longing to see him in January 2008, for his 22nd birthday. All of us, Mum and Dad, brother and sisters, miss him like mad. He was such a mixture and so loved. We hold on to the hope that he is with Jesus and one day we will be together again.
There are other reasons why we want to tell people about him too.
We believe that as Christians, we are called to be honest about our struggles. It is in sharing our broken hearts that we can reach out to each other in our various needs. Not one of us is immune from failure, pain and loss. We all have vulnerable, sad bits; parts of our lives where things have gone wrong or where we have messed up. For our part, in telling people about Jim, we hope we can help someone somewhere who is struggling with similar or other painful issues.
We also want to challenge lurking prejudices… our own included. What do we really feel about drug abusers? Can you use drugs and be a Christian? Shouldn't our faith, if it is real, help us to overcome such weaknesses? Should Christian parents be able to do a better job in protecting our children than others? What are our beliefs over questions like these? It is a plea for Christian people to have bigger, more inclusive hearts as God would want of us … not to see ourselves as different or immune. Clearly, using drugs isn't and never will be right, but what are our attitudes to people who do?
None of us can stand as judge over another. Is the person who gets hooked on drugs more to be condemned than the person who uses the office phone for personal business? Just where do we draw the line? We are concerned for Jim's reputation and want him to be remembered for what he achieved in his life and not his untimely death.
If you have, thanks for reading this. We plod on, marked forever by our loss and striving to discover a new normality. We know our struggle is not unique and other people have other battles, so let's keep fighting together, supporting one another when the going gets tough. (Galatians 6 v2)
Philippa and Graeme Skinner