When Nashville Mayor Megan Barry heard knocking at her front door, she figured someone had come to tell her a police officer had been shot.
It was about 3 a.m. on a Sunday — an ominous hour to have news delivered at home.
Indeed, a sergeant with the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department was standing outside with a message. But it was about the mayor’s son, Max.
“He told me that Max had passed away,” Barry recounted this week, according to ABC affiliate WKRN. “He had to repeat it several times because that was not what my brain could hear.”
The 22-year-old had died of a drug overdose nearly 1,200 miles away, in Denver.
Barry said she does not want her son’s death to define his life. But amid a relentless opioid epidemic that appears to be worsening, she urged other parents to talk with their children before it’s too late.
“My hope is that it will inspire other parents out there to have frank conversations with their own children and if that saves one life, that’s a blessing,” she said.
Barry returned to work Monday morning, nine days after her son’s overdose death.
“The last nine days have been pretty — I don’t even have words,” she told reporters, according to WKRN. “The reality of it is Max overdosed on drugs. I don’t know what the combination of drugs was; but I do know, and we all know, that that’s what caused him to die.”
Opioids — including heroin, fentanyl and other potent painkillers — are the main drivers of overdose deaths across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and opioid deaths have been soaring: There were more than 33,000 such fatalities across the country in 2015 — the highest toll in recent history, according to data released by the agency.
As The Washington Post’s Lenny Bernstein reported Tuesday, deaths from drug overdoses spiked again in the first nine months of 2016, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
President Trump plans to discuss the opioid crisis Tuesday afternoon in New Jersey.
Barry, a Democrat, wrote Monday about the tragedy that struck her family at the end of July.
Max Barry, who had been in drug rehab in the past, graduated over the summer from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., and moved to Colorado. He died there July 29 of an overdose, although it is unclear which drug or combination of drugs he had used.
His mother wrote Monday in a column for the Tennessean that when she and her husband learned of his death, “we were crushed by a weight of sadness and grief — of pain and disbelief.”
Now, she said, she is living a “new normal” in which she can never again see her son.
“Over the last two years, I’ve talked with many mothers who have lost children — most often to gun violence. I knew enough to know that I couldn’t really understand how painful that must be,” she said. “Now, I know. Now, I understand. With that knowledge, I must move forward for all of the people in Nashville who are not as fortunate as myself or my family to have an entire city come together and lift them up in their most tragic and painful moment.
“They are families who have lost a loved one to drugs, or victims of crime or gun violence, or simply people who are wanting for the opportunities and pathways to success that children like my son, Max, had available to them.”
“I don’t yet know what that looks like,” the mayor said, but she added that she wants to use her time in office to “return to the community the love, kindness and compassion that we have received in our time of need.”
Barry returned to work by greeting students on the first day of a new school year.
“It was meaningful and special to me, and I’ll tell you why,” Barry told reporters, according to WKRN. “The first day of school in our household was always a joyous occasion. Max loved school and our ritual was that we would always take a picture every day of the first day of school.”
“I was really happy that he continued that tradition for me when he went to college,” she added. “Freshman year, sophomore year, junior year and senior year, he would take a picture and send it back to me.”
— Megan Barry (@MayorMeganBarry) August 7, 2017
Barry will never get to see or speak with her son again.
“I get to get up every day now and I don’t ever get to talk to my son again,” she said, according to NPR. “Max is not going to text me back. I’m not going to hear his voice again.”
An obituary for him said he had an affinity for 1990s hip-hop, baseball hats and his dogs.
“Max was our beloved boy,” his family wrote. “He made us laugh and he made us crazy. We will never hear him say momma or pops again. We will never dance at his wedding or celebrate another milestone with him. But we will remember him for the sweet, sweet soul that he was. The soul that was restless and calm and free and beautiful and kind. Max was the kindest person we ever knew.”
This post has been updated.