Just last summer, I was finishing developing a meditation program. My husband is the producer, and we were sitting at our table mapping out the 30-day program we had created, as we were about to start filming. I was completely focused on the meditation that had transformed my life. At 9:30 AM, I told my husband Erik that I was apprehensive because each time I ready to launch a big project, something would happen to my son Jacob.
Jacob was 18 years old, and he had battled mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, which turned into drug use, addiction, and rehabs. We had experienced a tumultuous couple of years. Now, he had been sober, and he was signed up to a record label. He was living in his own beautiful place in Los Angeles. Things were stable.
Erik said, "Not this time. He will not derail this. Don’t worry."
Erik left for work and within an hour of this conversation, I got a call from Jacob’s girlfriend. Jacob had been found unresponsive and was rushed to the emergency room. We needed to come right away.
My name is Judy Salgado Thureson, and this is my Kintsugi story.
We gathered the family, packed, and started the six-hour drive from Arizona to Los Angeles. Little did I know, the meditation practice that I was so excited to share with the world was the exact tool I needed to get through this time.
One of the gifts of the practice I teach is the gift of being present and in the moment. I have the tendency to get anxious. Then, I blame myself and have guilty feelings, shame for what my son was going through. No one was giving us any information. This was his third stint in the ER, and we had no idea if this was more serious than previous times. All we knew from the doctors was that we needed to come right away. I had to control the anxiety and pain I was feeling.
The Unwanted Reality
Upon our arrival, we were told Jacob was in a coma. We did not leave his side for a full two weeks. On the 27th of June, Jacob returned to his creator. These two weeks were true gifts, and they were precious. I needed to use every tool I taught as a grief counselor and as a meditation instructor. Everything I passed on to others for the last 15 years was now at my disposal. I had to use every technique and tool to survive the pain of losing a beloved and only son.
In 2017, the latest stat of opioid deaths was at 72,000. There is so much stigma and shame behind overdoses and mental health, and I decided immediately that I would not hide what had happened. I would speak about it loud and often, to ensure that your kid is not next.
I am getting so many community leaders reaching out to me because their children are struggling, too. This openness is connecting people, and it is helping them feel less alone.
One year to the day of the passing of my son, I launched my book, Beautiful Tragedy. I was not planning to author a book, but Jacob’s spirit told me that I had to write it. I wrote the book within three weeks. The story poured out of me. I am not afraid of tears and emotions, but there are so many others who don’t have the tools to deal with tragedies like mine. They bottle up or hide their pain, resulting in a much deeper hole of pain.
When we grieve, we want to get out of the state of pain. We do that through so many different distractions like shopping, Netflix, ice cream--whatever will take our minds away from the painful situation. We are not taught how to grieve and aren’t equipped to grieve. In reality, we need to go through the pain. It gets worse before it gets better, but this is the holistic way to healing.
There are all kinds of feelings, and there is room, and there are reasons for each. We want to be joyful, but pain exists. We can’t run away from the pain to achieve joy. We need to go through the pain to get on the other side.
I hope that people will see that we are in pain, but we chose to live. We chose to have a purpose and to help others with our story.
I strongly believe that everything happens is as it should be. I am not angry at God; I haven’t been at any point. I believe we come to this world to fulfill a purpose and some fulfill theirs faster. That doesn’t make it easier for those left behind, but this is what I believe.
Living with Purpose
Some people fulfill their destiny in 18 years, some in 80. The real question is what we are doing with the life we have! Jacob taught me to live my life wholeheartedly, authentically, without caring what other people would say.
I never thought I would write a book, not that I didn’t want to be an author. I think we all deep down have a book to write and many of us dream of becoming an author. I also wanted to write, but I didn’t have the courage to do it. I believe my son gave me that courage. At 18 years old, he taught me more lessons than anyone else. I turned 50, but his wisdom was way beyond his years.
The book I wrote is essentially the mindfulness practice I used in real-time while I was going through Jacob's overdose. Every day that I was in the hospital, I was practicing, and I explain the process. So, in essence, what I was going to teach in a video series became my book. The 40 chapters are divided into the 40 intentions I used during Jacobs's journey; Jacob didn’t derail it. He propelled it forward.
I had to learn to forgive myself; bitterness happens when we don’t release this anger.
Grief is an undelivered communication of an emotional nature. When we don’t communicate that pain by dealing with the pain and by being honest with ourselves and god and those around us, we can't release that pain either.
During the two weeks, we were in the hospital with Jacob, there were nine overdoses; the doctors were incensed by the senseless body count. They knew these children did not have to be there, and they were projecting their anger. They were upset with us, the parents, why didn’t we do something? We asked them what could we have done? Jacob had been in rehab, we saw therapists, psychiatrists: what else could we have done? Short of locking him in the room? Even when we did lock him in at home and homeschooled him and took him to church three times a week, he still had an overdose.
The Freedom to Choose
I felt that I failed him, my only son. I released myself and forgave myself. I had to go back to my relationship with my creator and my God. God showed me his love by allowing me to make my choices. He allowed me to make decisions. I parented Jacob in the same way. I believe God gives us a choice. At times, he would want a different path for us, but if our choices are what we wanted, he would allow it. God allowed me to make my own choices. I did the same for my son: l set him free and let him live his life to his full potential the way that he wished, on his own terms.
If I didn’t let him, he would not have made music, and he wouldn’t connect with his fans. Today, his fans reach out to us, to me and to my husband, and we have helped prevent six kids from committing suicide with drugs and pills because they did reach out to us and allowed us to step in. This happened because of Jacob’s connection with his followers and raving fans.
These kinds of kids couldn’t connect with their own parents, but they felt free to connect with us because they knew we understood. I choose to see the beauty in the tragedy, and this is the reason for the name of my book; I don’t live in the why otherwise you will go into a downward spiral. We will never survive if we live in the why, but I choose to live in the what. Now what? Now what we are going to do with this situation?
Breaking Boundaries of Shame
Jacob died. I am not going to die with him. I am going to push back those boundaries of shame about mental illness and substance abuse and drugs. I am going to do something good with it. I choose to live. I am going to talk about what people like to be quiet about.
We have to take care of our bodies, mind, and soul otherwise we will regress and default to negative patterns.
Our mind doesn’t take us to good places. In our family, we all grieve differently. Sadly, the statistics don’t look good for families staying together when a child dies. This is where good communication, giving each other grace, and being kind comes in. Sometimes, we just need to push pause and give each other space and honor how we’re processing grief individually. We need to allow each other the time but also be committed to healing and staying together.
You feel 100% when you need to feel it. People are afraid that they will never get out of that horrible, sad feeling. We need to feel in order to spend time in the sadness; it is part of the process that we need to go through. Grief is energy. If you don’t let it out, it will implode and will affect your body and your health. Actions like road-rage or “going postal” are ways that energy that is bubbling up and has nowhere to go manifesting.
At 17 years old, Jacob was signed at Atlantic Records. He was living in a condo that was worth a million dollars, but he couldn’t receive the love that we had for him and that all who knew him had for him. Once a therapist told us to imagine if all your nerve endings were exposed and we didn’t have skin to protect the nerves, and we felt everything--that is how Jacob felt. His heart was like that exposed to pain, but he couldn’t feel the love for himself.
I dreamt about him and in the dream, he walked me to watch family videos from when he was young. He told me, “You see, Mommy? I struggled even back then.”
The enemy picked the wrong mama because I am going to make a big deal and be a voice to this current opioid epidemic. The music industry especially in the rap world idolizes and glamorizes drugs in their music and videos.
I remember being in the hospital and sharing with recording artists, people from the record label, friends, and peers to have a sober look at what the glamorization of drugs in music really looks like. I walked them by the hand to look at Jacob in a coma hooked up to life support. This is reality, not what they see in the videos. I’m going to keep sharing and using my voice to give hope to others. This may have been the end of Jacob’s life on this plane, but this is really just the beginning. Jacob’s memory will leave a powerful legacy.
My name Is Judy Salgado Thuerson, and I am Kintsugi.
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