November 3, 2016


We read about the sobering, indeed horrifying statistics documenting the growing epidemic of heroin overdoses and fatalities. We read about he tragic impact of drug addiction on those addicted and on those who  care for them.

I was confronted personally with the life-upending reality of this trauma by an unpublished manuscript written by my mother a half century ago. I did not even know  she had written it until  my wife discovered the manuscript a couple of years ago in a dust-covered unopened box stowed away in our basement.

The book tells the story of how my mother worked courageously and mainly alone to help my sister, Elizabeth, overcome her addiction to pain-relieving drugs  which she had succumbed to after a long series of operations on her knee resulting from a field hockey accident in high school. 

Through its moving and cinema-like narrative, my mother provides a sorrowful,  chilling description of what it is like for a parent to try to care, moment to moment,  for a drug-afflicted child. She reveals the loneliness of the role; the urgent, often unexpressed need for help and companionship. She reveals the intertwined feelings of hope and desperation, of doubt and frustration, buoyed by unyielding courage, determination and love. 

I decided to publish this book--"The Fourth White Gown"--for several reason.*

I hope that this story will not only sensitize readers to the devastating impact of drug addiction on the lives on those afflicted but on those--parents and friends--trying to help them.  I hope it will encourage us to provide the help we can be to these care givers by better appreciating the extraordinary toll it is taking on their lives and, even if not requested,  their need for support.

I also hope that this story will stimulate further action--in both policy and funding--to address the causes of drug addiction and provide effective treatment to those afflicted. The epidemic of drug addiction and drug fatalities surrounding us today demands greater action. It must be treated as a medical issue, not one a criminal one. 

Personally, the story reveals the depth of parents' love for their children-- in this case my mother's love for my sister and her love for me, her son.  

I had just joined Procter & Gamble when my mother wrote this manuscript.  Over the course of the next three decades, I rose to become CEO and Chairman of the company. 

I was of course aware of my sister's addiction. But I had no idea of its depth nor the deep feeling of aloneness which my mother experienced in contending with it. As she did throughout her life, my mother did everything in her power to help me succeed, including  protecting me from the unsettled conditions in our home. She insisted that I go away to school and to work. 

I can't read this book without wondering--and yes, worrying about-- what more I could have done to help my mother and sister. I know I could have done more. However of this I am sure, I know my mother (ands sister and father too) would be thrilled by my wonderful family. I know my mother would say: "this is what I worked for; this makes it all worthwhile". 

This is what all parents work to achieve. 

This is what my mother and so many parents give their lives for.  There is no greater love. 

Again, I hope that this story will make us all  even more aware of the drug epidemic which surrounds us and touches so many lives, including people we know who are caring for loved ones who are suffering from addiction and whom we can help.

*"The Fourth White Gown", was written by my mother,  Irma O'Conor Pepper. It is available on Amazon and other book sellers. I wrote a Preface and an Afterword to provide a personal context.    

No comments:

Post a Comment