Although the music of the Stone Temple Pilots isn’t on my iPod, the death last week of its lead singer, Scott Weiland, caught my attention. The 48 year-old was found dead on his tour bus in Minnesota of a suspected drug overdose.
Sadly, the ascent and ultimate demise of Scott Weiland strikes an all too familiar ring. From Elvis Presley to Whitney Houston, drug abuse and celebrity excesses often lead to dark places. Of course, the rest of us aren’t immune to the scourge of modern-day vices either. Local law enforcement officials routinely encounter heartbreaking episodes of tragic proportion. According to the latest available statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 40,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2013. Upwards of 7,000 people are treated every day for abuse or misuse of drugs.
What struck me wasn’t simply the sadness of Weiland’s untimely death, but also the reaction from Mary Forsberg Weiland, the singer’s ex-wife and mother of his two teenage children, Noah and Lucy. Writing in Rolling Stone magazine, his former spouse was candid about not only his destructive lifestyle and coarse music but also his fathering, or lack thereof. At one point, she says his behavior was so reckless that Child Protective Services wouldn’t allow him to be alone with the children.
When he remarried, the children were replaced. They were not invited to his wedding; child support checks often never arrived. Our once sweet Catholic boy refused to watch the kids participate in Christmas Eve plays because he was now an atheist. They have never set foot into his house, and they can’t remember the last time they saw him on a Father’s Day. I don’t share this with you to cast judgment, I do so because you most likely know at least one child in the same shoes. If you do, please acknowledge them and their experience. Offer to accompany them to the father-daughter dance, or teach them to throw a football. Even the bravest girl or boy will refrain from asking for something like that; they may be ashamed, or not want to inconvenience you. Just offer – or even insist if you have to.
Ms. Weiland’s final line in the essay cuts deep but rings true, discouraging Scott’s fans from memorializing him with merchandise or flowers and candles, writing, “Skip the depressing T-shirt with 1967-2015 on it – use the money to take a kid to a ballgame or out for ice cream.”
My own father wasn’t a dysfunctional rock star, but he was nevertheless dysfunctional and his sins of both omission and commission wound up casting a dark cloud over my childhood. My heart aches for Noah and Lucy, not just because their father died last week, but because their sorrow stretched out over the course of many years.
Those of us who have been children of a parent who has abandoned us often suffer in silence. Nobody sees the tears or knows of the fears that creep in, often without warning. We so desperately want what is “normal” – which is another way of saying we want that which God intended.
Do you know of children in the midst of similarly tough situations? I would encourage you to prayerfully consider reaching out to them through their mother or father. Yes, it can be a challenging topic to broach, but asking if there’s anything you might do to help is a start. Invite their son or daughter to join your family on an outing. Buying that baseball ticket or ice cream cone that Ms. Weiland suggested might seem insignificant, but don’t ever underestimate the power of a thoughtful act.
I appreciate Mary Weiland’s willingness to be blunt, to go beyond the superficial platitudes that often accompany these type of celebrity tragedies. By doing so, she’s hoping to make a difference in the life of other children before it’s too late.
Indeed, there are difficult but helpful lessons to be learned from hard lives. Unfortunately, Mary Weiland – and her children – know that all too well.