Remembering Luke Cockey

Luke Cockey's Mom advises others to trust their instincts when something seems wrong with their child.

Editor’s note: I recently saw a benefit for the Luke Cockey Memorial Fund on a friend’s Facebook page, and wanted to learn more about his story of struggling with addiction. I’ve found it’s something parents are often embarrassed about, and perhaps if it’s shared more openly, it can help parents cope and possibly prevent tragedies like Luke’s. 

I asked Luke’s Mom, JoAnn, “What was Luke like?” The passage below is what followed.

Luke was a real easy going baby.  He was my third child, my baby boy.  He was very affectionate and loving.  He loved to have his back rubbed or his legs rubbed or his arms tickled, he just loved to be touched.  One day I was on the phone talking, he was less than two years old, he came over and without saying a word he picked up my hand and put it on his head and just stood there waiting for me to rub him.  He loved snuggling.  Even as an adult he would come and sit down next to me on the sofa and pull up his shirt for me to scratch his back.  All of my children were like that. . .wanting a back scratch.

Luke would watch you do something and then attempt to do it him self.  He caught on quickly just by observing.  He had great eye-hand coordination and at the age of eighteen months he removed all the screws from the hinges of my lower kitchen cabinets.  So, when I opened the cabinet; the door fell off completely.

I called for Luke and asked if he had done this and he nodded and I said, okay Luke, where are the screws?  He got them quickly.  I said Luke if you can take them out, you can put them back in….. I put the door back in place and he put all the screws back in.  He loved every minute of it.  He was always like that.  He just knew how things worked.

Luke rode a bike when he was two and a half years old.  This is without training wheels.  I’m serious.  I wanted to call the newspaper when I looked out the window and saw him traveling on the bicycle (yes, two wheels).  He had mastered riding the bike all by himself. . .somehow though he hadn’t figured out how to use the brakes and would just run into the bottom porch step to stop him self.

When I tell you about Luke his face is right in the front of my minds eye so clearly.  He was a happy little boy.

Luke had a few quirks, like we all do.  He had “issues” with his socks.  They had to feel just right.  The socks had to be fitted (no tube socks) and no bumps or seams could be felt when putting on his shoes.  We put shoes on and we took them off until it felt just right.  I can remember getting so frustrated at times that I would say that’s it we are wearing sandals, in a huff.

This sock thing became fun as he got older.  There was never a child as happy as Luke to get new socks for a present.  He would save his new socks until the others just wore out.  He always had a package of unopened new socks.  When my husband cleaned out his apartment he found a package of new socks.  Luke was an organ donor and I have often thought that if there was such a thing as cellular memory, the organ recipients would surely be bothered at times by their socks.  Today, whenever I feel my socks or a wrinkle, well I am sure that Luke is playing with me and laughing.

One of my favorite memories was when a dear friend was coming to visit and have a cup of coffee and I realized that I was out of sugar and said out loud, shoot! I don’t have any sugar for Gail’s coffee.  When she arrived, Luke ran out on the step and said we don’t have any sugar and she leaned over and kissed him in the nape of his neck and said yes you do, I just stole some of your sugar and to that he said can you put it in your coffee?

When Luke started school, he didn’t want to leave me.  He would cry and beg me to let him stay and his stomach would hurt.  It was heart-breaking, but I would push him to go.  I did not realize that what he was feeling was anxiety and probably a little more than the norm.  It was hard for him to be still at school.

One teacher said she had five wild little boys and of course one of those was my Luke.  This went on a few years, first the teacher wanting to have him tested then suggesting that I talk with my pediatrician, all because he was fidgety and couldn’t sit still.  I finally gave in and he began to take Ritalin.  He only took it on school days, never on the weekends or after school.  At least, that was a way for me to not feel so guilty about it.  I never wanted him to take this medication, I never felt like he was out of control.  I will say that the reports from the teacher began to improve as soon as the teacher was made aware that he had begun to take the medication.  What the teacher did not know was that he had been on the medication two weeks before I informed the school.  During those two weeks we still received reports of Luke being disruptive, information for thought.

Luke took Ritalin until the eighth grade.  I do believe it helped him to focus his attention.  Luke was small for his age, so the pediatrician decided that we should take Luke off the medication and just monitor how he was doing in school.  There are two things I’d like to point out . . .the label that goes with taking medication and the label that follows the child for being disruptive.  The behavior began to be expected and I believe we all live up or down to expectations as children.

Luke began to smoke pot by the end of eighth grade.  Was he self medicating as a way to deal with anxiety?  Was he just trying to be like other kids or trying to fit in?  Was he trying to be cool?  As Luke’s mother, I saw a change in him, was it because he wasn’t taking Ritalin anymore?  Is he going through puberty?  His grades were slipping a bit.  His sweet demeanor was no longer always sweet.  There was moodiness, couldn’t get him up in the mornings, we struggled.

I could not believe in my heart that my child could be using drugs.  I mean, this young man still kissed his Daddy on the lips.  A year later, my husband and I took Luke for counseling and that is when we found out about the pot and alcohol.

He began an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) of treatment for drug abuse.  That program included the parents.  We had so much to learn about substance abuse and addiction.  This was a very difficult time in our lives.  The problems with Luke escalated, he began to get into trouble, he had a DUI, and under age drinking charges.  I had to face things I didn’t want to. . .I felt as though I had failed as a parent.  I felt ashamed and embarrassed about my son’s behavior.  I was afraid of being judged by other people.

What I learned in this process is that I have no control over what other people think.  That keeping secrets, or thinking no one will find out, is unhealthy.

I learned that it is okay to be open and honest that none of us is perfect.  I found that by sharing my situations with others, people were more supportive and understanding.  What I learned about addiction was that it is a horrible disease, a family disease.  We all played some part in the disease, whether we were enabling, keeping secrets, lying to avoid the truth, or being in denial hoping that it would all just go away.

Luke loved being an uncle.

Our children learn by our example, we model how to live by our actions and words.  So, when you are on the phone telling a friend that you can’t come to the Pampered Chef Party because Suzie is sick and Suzie is really just fine, Suzie just got the message that it is okay to tell a lie. 

Our Luke really was a wonderful young man that suffered from the disease of addiction.  He had many friends.  He was a loyal and devoted friend.  He was really funny!  Most people tell me how much they laughed when they were with Luke.  He loved Eric Clapton and Dave Mathews; he loved all kinds of music.  He even liked the music that his Daddy and I listened to.

Luke experienced some sobriety in his young adult life and was happier than I had seen him in quite along time.  He relapsed after seventeen months and then again after three months and never found his way back before he died.

Luke died in a horrible one punch accident that left him brain dead.  He was intoxicated.  His Daddy and I had talked with him that night before the accident and said our “I love you’s” to each other…… like we always did.  Luke saved the lives of four people and enhanced the lives of many through organ donation.  He had a generous spirit and a loving heart.  We miss him terribly.

When Luke was about five years old, he said he never wanted to move out of our house and if he had to he would live next door.  He wanted to grow up and work with his Daddy.  He was a very talented carpenter.  He loved working with his hands.  He had taken a night class or two toying with the idea of going back to college.  He and his father worked together as he had wished.  He loved being and uncle and he couldn’t wait to be a father someday.

If ever you think something is just not right with your child, trust that your instincts are right.  And, don’t give up until you get to the bottom of it.  Do all that you can to help your child, including setting limits and boundaries.  Make sure that you know who you are, take a look within and understand why you do and say some of the things you do.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.  Make sure that your children know that you love them no matter what.

It is easy to give the message that we love you only when you do good things and not be aware that is what you are doing.  Our children are our emotional investments, a place where we put OUR dreams and hopes.  Try to support your children in THEIR dreams and hopes.  That awareness makes for happier families.

The event that honors his memory is November 5, 2011, Lukefest. For more information visit McShin Foundation/Lukefest on Facebook as well.