ENID — The face of Gail Box bears the pain her heart is suffering.
It's visible. But she describes her late son, Austin Box, as a “silent sufferer.”
On May 19, Craig and Gail Box's son died at age 22. According to an informational copy of a state toxicology report released Monday by his parents, Austin had five different painkillers in his system when he died.
Both parents seriously doubt long-term addiction, and they do not believe for a moment that it was suicide.
What they are absolutely certain of is a deep, deep everlasting love for their son, and that has brought an equally deep pain.
Among that sickening pain, Gail said is the feeling that Austin believed he had to carry everything on his shoulders.
Austin was a pleaser, a leader and didn't complain about anything.
She wishes that is one thing he wouldn't have been so good at. She wishes he hadn't been a “silent sufferer.”
The family said it is with much sadness that they look back and see that recently Austin had turned to other methods of managing his pain. Those are methods they hope if others are using, they will see the tragic accident that claimed the life of their child, not be “silent sufferers” and think about the consequences.
Those consequences were evident Monday as Craig and Gail Box sat in the living room of their home joined by friend, the Rev. Wade Burleson of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, who performed their son's funeral.
Three books were stacked on a coffee table — “life after the death of my son,” “The Death of a Child” and “Beyond tears.”
Yet Gail held only one book in her lap, as well as a T-shirt.
In the case of the latter, they went one day to Austin's apartment to clear out his things. Gail noticed her son had a basket of dirty laundry. Her initial thought was that she would take it and wash his laundry one last time. But, instead, for now, it is a reminder. The OU T-shirt she held Monday has Austin's scent.
It's something many refer to only as dirty laundry, yet it is a sweet connection for a mother whose child was just taken from her.
“This is one of the things that make me feel close to him, for whatever reason,” she said. “I know that as we heal, I won't need that dirty laundry some day, but right now it gives me strength and comfort.”
Although the stack of books was on the table, the only book Gail clutched was her mother's Bible, referring to a verse she goes to daily that speaks in part about finding rest in death, and she believes that her son is with God and has done that.
Asked who Austin was in life, Burleson described him as someone who would pull in rather than push away those facing horrible situations. Burleson noted a time when two members of his church who were very close friends of Austin's were faced “with a very traumatic event.” He saw Austin reach out to those two young men whose world had just crashed. Because of that, the pastor described the Box's son as “a lover of human beings.”
Gail, sitting between Burleson and her husband, responded as tears ran parallel down her cheeks and her voice strained.
“There's too much in a mother's heart to sum your child up in a sentence,” she said, turning toward the pastor.
“And I thank you because Austin, he just had the best heart. I can't say that enough.”
On Monday, Craig said that while his son made a mistake, a tragic mistake, that wasn't Austin.
“You ask who Austin was,” he said, “Austin was my hero. He wouldn't complain about the injuries, he would just work back through it and get himself ready to play.
“I wish I was as nice a person as he was.”
Amid all the hurt, they are so thankful for the support of thousands, including students, teammates, coaches and staff at OU, whom Craig and Gail consider family.
“They have grieved with us and comforted us,” said Craig, who looked often toward his wife during Monday's interview.
In recent days Gail wrote a poem about their son. It, like the pain, traces right back to the mother's heart.
“When I walked outside today, I heard your laughter in the wind. I knew you were in God's hands, and will always be in my heart.”