bittersweet anniversaries

  It is a weird bittersweet sort of day. Ten years ago my father passed away. Eight years ago today my cousin Suzy passed  away. And seventeen years ago today I introduced one of my best and closest friends to her now husband at another friend’s wedding rehearsal dinner. So it’s a bittersweet, memory filled kind of day.

I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since my father left this planet, but it has.  I don’t talk about daddy dying much. Yes, it happened to me too, the loss of him. I just don’t ever want it to be about me, because it was about him. 

And it might sound odd saying that, but since he died I have always felt a bit of a disconnect with my family about this.  I remember first feeling it when I had to go help pick out his coffin.

Truthfully, I did not want to do that, was told I was expected to be there. I remember walking a few steps behind my sister and my mother wondering why I was there. I had no part in the decision and did want to be there. The truth is Catholic or not, I hate open caskets. The person you love is gone, and what is left is a body that is just a vessel at that point. 

  The last time I spent with my father was with both my parents on their wedding anniversary on November 11 of the year he died. I could tell on that night he was ready to go, but he was determined to wait for my sister to come down with her family from New York so he could say goodbye to her and I also knew he did not want to die on his wedding anniversary. 

I remember now oddly enough an expression on his face that reminded me of his mother, my late grandmother when she was dying. I can only describe it as an acceptance and a knowingness.  I remember we watched the original Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. That was one of my parents favorite movies.  I knew that night when I was saying goodbye that I really was saying goodbye. I told him I loved him and kissed him goodbye.

My sister and mother were with him when he actually died. It was my sister’s turn to have time with him before he passed and I did not want to intrude on that.  I remember getting the call from my mother early that evening that he was gone. I went into the city and it is still to this day a very out of body memory. I remember getting to my parents’ apartment and being told to go and say goodbye to him before the funeral home came to take his body. He had only died about an hour before so it looked like he was sleeping.

My sister and my mother were somewhat hysterical which is understandable, but it was like I was just sort of on the outside looking in. I didn’t want to fall apart because I figured somebody had to NOT fall apart. It was like walking around awake in a bad dream.  After the funeral home came for him I changed the sheets on the bed for my mother and did a couple of  loads of laundry. 

After the oddness of picking out a casket that I wanted no part of, and the plans, the discussions of who would eulogize my father began.  At first my mother did not want my sister and I to do eulogies. But as strange as that sounds I had written my eulogy months before, shortly after my father told us he was terminal. I actually discussed it with him because I wanted to write about my father from a more happy place while he was still alive and not from a point of immediate sorrow just after his death.  It also for some reason felt important to me that he should know what I was going to say. Some might say I was seeking approval, I don’t know. I just wanted him to know what my thoughts were.

The following days sort of passed in a bit of a blur. I remember the funeral mass at Old Saint Josephs on Willings Alley in Society Hill being packed on all levels for his mass. It was a bit overwhelming for me and when I got up to do my eulogy and I actually paused a moment. But I then found the faces of close friends in the church so I was able to focus and do a good job and remember my father on that day from a point of happiness and gladness in my heart.

But today 10 years later, I realize that I have mourned him in a bit of a restrained way all these years. At the time he died I didn’t want to lose control of my emotions because the emotions I saw a raging and both my sister and my mother terrified me.  The reaction to death emotions are also exhausting if you let them get the better of you.

And then slowly as I came to terms with his being gone I began to feel this sort of detachment. I loved him very, very  much, but I never wanted to mourn him in a technicolor grief stricken way.  I wanted to be able to let him go but keep the happy memories. The funny memories that made me laugh and brought us all joy.

I think of my father at random times during my everyday life. He like to garden so in the garden I will think of him. He was a great cook so sometimes when I’m making something I will smile and wonder if my father would like that. I always think of him at Christmas because he was a perfectionist about putting up the tree and loved Christmas.  I also think of him when the cardinals flock to our woods, he loved cardinals.

I will close today, ten years later with the poem I read at the end of my eulogy :

  

addiction.

Addiction is an ugly word.  How many of us reach a certain age without knowing someone with drugs or alcohol issues?  To many this post might seem harsh, and in advance, I am sorry for that.  But I feel very strongly about this and decided to write a little bit about it.

If you lived in or around  Lower Merion Township at all over the past few decades you were used to it being home to many sports “celebrities”.  O.k., while nice, they still have to get up every day like the rest of us.  A lot of the sporting celebrities who have lived on the Main Line did it with quiet dignity and not much fanfare.  They were part of the community.  Some were irritating.

Alan Iverson for example.   His drama caused upheaval every time it occurred.  Quiet cul-de-sac roads in Gladwyne became thoroughfares for the curiosity seekers. He left such a bad taste in people’s mouths that when another basketball player went to move in, people sent around anonymous flyers. That was Aaron McKie.  As a matter of fact every time some top name sports anything moves to the Main Line, it is absolutely nauseating the way real estate agents and personal injury lawyers talk it up. (19035 is just a zip code, yo.)

USA Today did an outline of the Andy Reid family drama dating back to 2007.  It periodically made where Reid lives in Villanova off Conshohocken State Road a zoo.  I know that for a fact because for a decade I drove past Reid’s street . (It’s no secret where he lives.) Here is part of what USA Today outlined (and it is just 2007 and a sampling of all that occurred):

Jan. 30, 2007: Any Reid’s two oldest sons, Garrett, 23 at the time, and Britt, 21, are involved in separate incidents. Garrett tells police he used heroin before running a red light in a Philadelphia suburb and striking a car driven by a 55-year-old woman, police say. Britt, meanwhile, in a road-rage incident, points a handgun at another driver, according to police. Investigators recover a shotgun, ammunition, and possible drug residue from the vehicle Britt had been driving, and a handgun from the Villanova, Pa., home where he lives with his parents. Andy Reid and his wife are on vacation.

Feb. 8: Police say Garrett tested positive for heroin after the Jan. 30 accident.

Feb. 15: Garrett is charged with more than a dozen offenses, including assault, drug possession and driving under the influence of a controlled substance. He is released on $25,000 bail, but must complete a drug-treatment program.

July 26:Garrett pleads guilty to recklessly endangering another motorist, driving while under the influence and possession of drug paraphernalia. He is released on bail.

He tells a judge: “I liked being a drug dealer. (But) I don’t want to die doing drugs. I don’t want to be that kid who was the son of the head coach of the Eagles, who was spoiled and on drugs and OD’d and just faded into oblivion.”

Andy Reid took a six-week leave of absence in 2007 to (I guess) deal with this. In 2008 he and his wife Tammy did an interview with Philadelphia Magazine.  Full on Mormons, and they had a child who was an addict dating back to 2002.  I won’t comment further on the article, but suffice it to say I alway felt it had more to do with the parents and their image then troubled kids.

When the news broke Sunday that Garrett Reid was dead, I felt sorry for his parents.  Figured it had something to do with his addictions and that was pretty much what Andy Reid said in his statement the other day.

And yesterday, they buried him out of the Church of Latter Day Saints in Broomall.

The funeral was a who’s who of sports and the NFL.  Emotional by all accounts, yet one day after burying his first-born, the Washington Post reports Andy Reid was back with his football team.  I don’t mean to be rude or disrespectful or tell someone how to grieve, but I am somewhat shocked he did not take a little more time to be with his wife and family. Or to give his own head a chance to decompress.

And maybe that is where I wonder about how this all played out over the years.  What if Andy Reid had been dad first and NFL coach second? You see, I have known parents who have dealt with teen and adult addict children and some won the battle and others lost the battle.  But in all cases, I remember darn well the time they took and it was family first. I get that his team is an extension of his family, and call me old-fashioned, but I think he should be at home.

Substance abuse is a wicked thing.  Well over a decade ago I lost a childhood friend to an overdose.  I was sad but not surprised when my friend died.  I remember seeing him with another friend the week before he died and after we got a good look at him we knew he was using again.  I can tell you exactly what I said to him and so can my other friend – I told him I was afraid given his condition he would be dead the next time I saw him, and he was. I remember when another mutual friend told me our friend was gone a couple of days later.  It was so sad, it was so hard, yet at the same time in a weird way it was a relief.  I mean this kid had had issues dating back to junior high.   And his parents and siblings put in the time year, after year.  I have no idea all of what they put on hold over the years to deal with this guy’s addiction.

You also reach a point in life where you know a lot of alcoholics.  I know a lot of people “in the program” so to speak.  Some sober long amounts of time, some lesser amounts of time.  I know what they went through, what they put their families through, and I know how much work they have done to stay sober.  Mind you, I know a couple of people who also have degrees of issues that they have not come to terms with yet.  I have found it interesting that a lot of these people in the end are also diagnosed some of the time with depression, bi-polar disorders and other issues – the alcohol in part was self-medication.

The people I know in the program work at staying sober every hour of every day.  You want to talk about inner strength? These people have it.  Yet they will tell you every now and again there is an itch they have to fight tooth and nail not to scratch.  So I can’t help but wonder if Garrett Reid had been kept out of the world of professional football, even as the coach’s son, would this outcome have been different?  The reason I say that is everyone I know who has had drug or alcohol issues over the years has had to change their lives fairly substantially.  They had to do it to eradicate triggers.

Now there is also the question of treatment.  Garrett had some of the finest money could buy.  His parents could afford it.  But a lot can’t afford Rolls Royce treatments.  I know a lot of people over the years have had very negative things to say about Malvern Institute on King in Malvern, for example.  Yikes, just read some of the reviews and your skin crawls.

This death of Garrett Reid has provoked a discussion on addictions again, which isn’t a bad thing.   And at the end of the day, what happened to Andy and Tammy Reid is every parents’ nightmare.  And it can happen to anyone.  Addiction doesn’t discriminate.

Here are a few articles to read:

The Garrett Reid tragedy: A parent’s perspective

Garrett Reid’s death sparks renewed look at substance abuse/Metro Philadelphia City Desk by SOLOMON D. LEACH          

Published: August 06, 2012 4:08 p.m.
Last modified: August 07, 2012 12:35 p.m.