Exactly two years ago today, Valerie and I buried our son and Nick’s brother, Anthony one week after he died from heroin. Before we carried his coffin out of Warrington Fellowship Church, rolled it into the hearse and drove two miles southeast on Bristol Road to Neshaminy Cemetery and the only piece of real estate he would ever own, I read the eulogy that is reprinted below.
In writing the eulogy I felt led to address the young people in the audience – the friends of Anthony and Nick – some of whom I feared were traveling the same road Anthony had travelled. I hoped to strike a chord within them that hadn’t yet been struck before their parents had to purchase a similar tiny plot of land.
The day after Anthony’s funeral, I posted the eulogy on Facebook. Many of you shared it. Some of your friends shared it, and some of their friends. Etc., etc., etc. Somehow, it reached “Abby.”
On June 12th I received the following private Facebook message: “Your son died on my birthday. I just turned 23 and I have been addicted to heroin since I was 17. I don’t want to ruin my mother’s life by dying. But I can’t stop.”
We messaged back and forth. She gave me her phone number and we talked. Eventually she agreed to join “The Left Behind” – a private Facebook group I created for addicts and their families — where she has shared her story and received a lot of support. Abby has been clean for almost two years now. She started a day care center in her home and she and her husband raise chickens and rescue abused and abandoned animals.
Recently Abby told me that reading Anthony’s eulogy was her “breaking point.” But she would never have seen it from my Facebook page. We weren’t friends. Somebody had to share it — probably several some bodies — before it reached her. According to a 2012 Pew Research study, the median Facebook user can reach 31,170 people through friends of friends. I don’t know how many degrees of separation there were between Abby and me, but it was more than one. So whatever role my eulogy played in helping Abby decide to get clean, everyone who helped move it along the electronic highway to her played just as big a role.
And we can do it again. There are other Abbys out there. I know there are. Obviously, not every addict who reads my eulogy, or sees the YouTube video will make a life changing decision as a result. But Abby did. And if it reached her, maybe it will reach others. And that is why I am asking you, even if you have done it before, please share, re-post, e-mail, text, message, and urge your friends to do the same. Do whatever you can to get my eulogy out where it might do some good. Together, we just might keep another Abby from becoming the next Anthony.
Here is the eulogy:
EULOGY FOR A SON:
A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.
Today, again, Warrington is Ramah, and we are all Rachel. Another child is no more.
I loved Anthony, something that was not always easy to do. Anthony loved Eminem and 50 cent and Lil Wayne. Whenever any of them were about to come out with a new CD, Anthony always knew about it when the news first broke and he had to get the CD the day it came out. He loved movies and had recently developed a fondness for chick flicks. I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me. When he was a baby, his favorite video was “The Little Mermaid.” He devoured each and every Harry Potter novel the week it was published, proudly reporting how many pages he’d read each day. And as each book was made into a movie, he and I would see them, and if it wasn’t the day they were released Anthony was sorely disappointed.
He loved candy.
He loved his car.
He loved his brother.
He loved his mother.
He loved the Lord.
And he loved heroin.
Lord how he loved heroin. And because he loved heroin so much and because he thought it loved him back, he’ll never get to take his brother to the Eminem & Rihanna concert this August. He’ll never get to enjoy the case of Sour Patch Kids candy he ordered and that was delivered two days after he died. He won’t get to train Caesar, the Boxer puppy he bought from a breeder in Oklahoma just two weeks ago. And for the first time in years, there’s plenty of recording capacity on the DVR.
His death is a shock, but it’s not a surprise. He had been slow dancing with death for more than five years. He overdosed and almost died. His friend overdosed and almost died in front of his eyes. He was arrested. He overdosed again. He was arrested again. He spent a week on the street and a month in prison.
And each and every time we said, “Anthony, please, take this as a sign. It’s a warning. Take it to heart. You need to change your behavior.” And each and every time he said he knew and he would. But at some point, each of those warnings was forgotten. And all that remained was the mantra of the young. “It’s my life and I’ll do what I want. I’m only hurting myself.”
“It’s my life.”
Every time another young person says, “It’s my life,” Satan smiles.
“It’s my life and I’ll do what I want.” Yes, of course you will. But your actions have consequences and sometimes your mistakes are irreversible.
“I’m only hurting myself.” Really? I wish I had words strong enough and true enough to convince you of the staggering selfishness of that remark. And how wrong it is.
Almost exactly one week ago my lips were pressed against Anthony’s cold, pale lips, trying desperately to breathe air into lungs too full of fluid to receive it. For the last week his mother has carried one of Anthony’s unwashed shirts around with her, holding it to her face so she can smell him. She sleeps in his bed with his shirt and a framed photograph of Anthony. Everywhere she turns something else reminds her of Anthony. The leftovers from the last food he bought – food was a very big thing with Anthony. The stale remnants of the last soda he ever drank. She wants to die, so she can see her first born again.
Nick, who is one of the best people I know, has spent much of the last week with his arm around his mother. Nick, who was already an old soul, has aged 10 years in the last week. I don’t know if he will ever smile again.
But, hey, It’s your life. Do what you want. But before you ever again dare say, “I’m only hurting myself,” look at your mother, look up the word ‘inconsolable’ and remember Anthony’s mother.
Anthony kept a small scrap of paper with a verse he had copied from scripture pinned above his desk, right in front of his laptop, where he could look at it every day. The prophet Isaiah speaking to God:
“You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.”
An assurance from the Lord, that gave Anthony comfort. Later in that same verse there are words of comfort for those of us Anthony left behind when he went home:
“But your dead will live, Lord;
their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust
wake up and shout for joy—
your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead.”
Goodbye my son.