As readers of this blog know, I am a student of resilience — and more specifically, of resilience derived from advocacy in the face of adversity. Over the past six weeks, my dear friend Margaret has taught me more about this subject than any expert, book, or experience I’ve ever run across.
Margaret is a teacher, by trade and by nature. But the lessons she’s taught me are part of a curriculum no teacher would ever sign on for, lessons no woman or man should ever have to learn the way that she has.
On September 1, Margaret lost her 25-year-old son, Riley, to an overdose. For years he had battled both addiction and severe OCD, and for just as long, Margaret had been there by his side — supporting, nurturing, coaching, and loving him at every step of the way.
So extraordinary was Margaret’s commitment to Riley and others like him that her tireless efforts led the International OCD Foundation to honor her with its prestigious Hero Award this past summer. I was there to witness Margaret accepting her award, and I also got to see the pride on Riley’s face as he watched his mother being feted.
At that same conference, Riley helped anchor a panel discussion about OCD and addiction, sharing openly about his own challenges and offering insights so profound that even seasoned professionals in the room were clinging to his every word. I’ve seen few speakers captivate an audience the way Riley did that day.
Just six weeks later, we lost Riley. And with his passing, the OCD community lost one of its most promising young advocates. His friends and loved ones lost one of the most compassionate and generous individuals they’ll ever know. And, Margaret… well, Margaret lost her only son.
They say there is no greater loss than that of one’s child, and who on earth would blame Margaret if she chose to run away and hide, shutting out the world around her? But Margaret made a different choice. She chose not to run from the pain, but rather to lean into to it, challenging it to fuel her.
In our very first conversation following Riley’s death — just hours after learning of her loss — Margaret implored me to make a commitment to her. “You need to promise me,” she said, “that you will help me continue Riley’s work… that you will help me keep his name alive.”
Needless to say, I made that promise to Margaret, and with this blog post I hope to start delivering on it. Just what Margaret’s new advocacy will look like remains to be seen. But what is very clear is that it will revolve around service. As Margaret and everyone else who knew Riley would tell you, even in his darkest times he would seek out opportunities to help others.
“I know Riley would want me to find ways to help him help others — even now” Margaret told me. “It would be his greatest wish.”
Knowing Riley as I did, I am confident he would have a second wish for his mother: He would want her to heal as quickly as possible. And because Riley, like his mother, believed in the notion that we help ourselves by helping others, I am certain he would encourage her to dive deeply into her advocacy.
Margaret is certainly doing just that.
It’s my sincere hope that you and I can play a role in helping Margaret honor Riley’s Wish, and to that end I would like to offer up three starting points:
- Educate yourself about OCD and addiction. The timing is ideal, as this week is OCD Awareness Week, and the International OCD Foundation is offering a variety of educational talks, discussion forums, and online resources.
- Leave a Message of Hope for someone who needs it. With Margaret’s help, The A2A Alliance and Life Vest Inside have launched a powerful new campaign called Project Hope Exchange. And through it, you can help change lives in just 30 seconds. Leave your Message of Hope!
- Do “something.” At Riley’s memorial service, his close friend Tim Blue put out a powerful challenge to all of us in the packed church: commit to doing something to help someone in Riley’s name. Just that simple. Because that’s what Riley would have wanted. Fortunately, Tim turned his talk that day into a blog post, so the whole world could join in. Read Tim’s blog HERE!
My heart breaks for Margaret. As the father of two daughters, I cannot even fathom the pain she is going through. But I know that in honoring Riley’s Wish, she is walking her talk, doing what she knows in her heart will best get her through this most difficult time.
In the meantime, “Miss Margaret” — as her students affectionately call her — is teaching all of us around her about the mechanics of resilience and what’s possible through the courage and commitment to turn adversity into advocacy.