I’m beginning to hate Spring. It is one blow after another, and this has been going on for some time in my life. The anniversary of my mother’s death is March 11. The anniversary of my daughter’s death is April 3. The anniversary of my nephew’s death is April 12. The anniversary of my cancer diagnosis is April 14. Now I have another one to add. One of the 3 best friends I have (had) in the world died on March 28.
I met Ned Gadsby in February 1990, so we just passed the 33rd anniversary of our friendship. When we met that night so long ago (I know it was a night, because we worked night shifts, predominately, as computer operators), our oldest children were 7 and 6. His son was slightly older than my daughter. He also had several other children, and he had a couple more during those early years. As of this year, he had six children and eight grandchildren. His life was abundant. He and his wife married young, as my ex-husband and I had. He had been in the Marines, as had my ex-husband. Our families grew up at the same time, but when I moved my family to Maryland in 1997, I think I only saw Ned in person a couple more times. Once was at he and his wife’s silver anniversary party in Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ, not far from where he had grown up.
Though Ned was Jewish, he converted to Christianity and was devout – more devout than anyone I ever knew. In later years, he took to celebrating both Jewish and Christian holidays, perhaps to give his children the benefit of a well-rounded understanding of who they were. We talked about it once, and I think his take on it was to celebrate the Lord on all feasts and Holy Days – and really every day. I just know it became more important to him as he got older to acknowledge his ethnic and spiritual heritage. He grew up with some privilege in Brookline, MA, the son of a lawyer. His sister is a doctor. I’m not sure how the family felt about Ned deciding to take the military path rather than the strictly academic one. I can’t tell you if he finished college; I just know that he wasn’t an officer in the USMC. He was enlisted and worked hard. He remained fit and muscular for as long as I knew him.
He left the company we both worked for in 1991 or 1992 after getting into a physical altercation with this mean, nasty fellow at work who had tried to wreck our friendship with deceit and lies. (To Ned’s very last message to me, it was clear he never forgave that man.) Both of them were fired. Ned started a cleaning business and became immensely successful. In hindsight, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to him, but I felt guilty. He had been defending me and our friendship. He never saw it as anything I should feel guilty for. The two men hated each other, and if you knew Ned, you knew he didn’t have an ounce of hate in him, normally. That horrible man at work, whose name I won’t even speak, deserved hatred, though. He was truly a nasty person.
Ned was the kind of friend who, when you picked up the phone or your messaging app of choice, responded to you as though he’d seen you just yesterday. I could tell him anything. We could talk for hours. There was never an element of romance or emotional attachment, though, and our spouses were never jealous. They knew that this was a one of a kind friendship. When my ex-husband and I split, Ned was upset. He didn’t believe we should divorce. He felt sorry for my ex. After all, when I left, it was a mere six weeks after our daughter’s death, and Ned couldn’t understand what I was thinking. It was the only time he ever seemed cross with me. I think he (rightly) saw that I had lost my bearings. Indeed, I had lost my mind and my grip on what was right and good. I was untethered.
Ned was unable to make it to my daughter’s funeral due to his business obligations, but his wife came to pay her respects. She had been up in New Jersey visiting her family at the time.
I was living with the evil woman in the mountains of NC when Ned’s oldest son, Neddy, was found dead of an accidental overdose in December of the same year in which I lost Stephanie. I was riding in the passenger seat of the car when Ned’s call came in. It was the first call from him in months. I answered. He started to tell me that Neddy was dead and I screamed at the evil woman to pull the damned car over. I felt like I either wanted to throw the phone, to throw up, or to throw daggers at God. I cried out in pain for him, for them, and for us all. How could it be that another of our children was taken by that demon – addiction? Like Stephanie, Neddy had struggled with substance abuse. He also struggled with reality. I remember seeing him last at the silver anniversary party. He was behaving erratically and his parents were rather annoyed with him and tried to get him under control. But his siblings gathered around him and showed him so much love.
Neddy remembered my husband, though it had been years since we had all been together. He spotted him and said, “You’re Spiderman.” Paul had told them the stories of some ridiculous climbs he had done, and the kids had taken to calling him Spiderman. Paul has always been the center of attention with kids. He’s good with them. (Later, when I befriended Ned’s other son on Facebook, he said, “Oh, you’re Spiderman’s wife!”) At the party, we ended up with the kids around us, all talking to Paul.
Now we were both sharing the tragic losses of our eldest children to drugs and alcohol.
I took a break from writing this to go and read through the chat messages Ned and I shared. I’m trying to download the chat history from Facebook Messenger so I will be able to keep it forever.
In one message thread where we were discussing our mutual losses, he said:
I’m not saying that our children’s lives are any more deserved to NOT have this happen to them, but…..I just….can’t get over the stabbing pain/anger over how much they could NOT UNDERSTAND how STRONGLY we were telling them to listen to us….and to KNOW how much this would hurt their mother’s & father’s. I think if Neddy and Stephanie saw inside our heart in the future….a future where we had to go to sleep every day and wake up every day with that exact horrible FUCKING pain…they wouldn’t have let this happen. Neddy and Steph were not killed in a car accident… I could be MAYBE doing a little better if THAT happened. But to let themselves die ‘virtually’ in our arms, knowing they chose to RISK death, and be blind to how much we COMPLETELY loved them!!!!!! SO hard…
He was truly one of the only people on the planet I could talk to about just how much anguish I lived with every day over the loss of my daughter. A few years after his son died, he shared a photo album on Facebook that contained the pictures taken at Neddy’s funeral. He wrote an open post to his friends and family, which included this:
One of the very closest friends I have, Doris Pavlichek (aka, Jude Evans), whom I worked with at SAIC in the 1990s, and her husband, Paul, also lost an adult child recently. The loss of their 25 year old daughter, Stephanie Nicole, has created waves and ripples in their lives that I KNOW they never, ever could have dreamed of had someone presented such a terrible scenario of what their life might be like following the loss of one of their children. For both Doris and her husband, Paul, as well as for Grissy and me, we had much higher levels of concern for these two young adult children of ours than what is more commonly the case. Consequently, there were countless occasions where we ‘fully, yet woefully’ contemplated what would occur to our reality if we were to ACTUALLY lose this child. We all had ‘put in our time’ deep within the throes of tremendous anxiety and deep, deep concern for these two beautiful young people. When I converse with Doris I do experience a comforting connection, an understanding and an indescribable form of empathy between the two of us that seems to somehow translate into hope; Hope that comes from seeing it IS possible to survive this. Apart from the three times I have spoken with a parent that lost a child, as Doris has , I am left with THE most foreboding and isolating sensation as a father still alive on this earth -while my child is literally dead and in the ground. I’m sorry for writing in that manner, but I’m unable to phrase it in any other way. Watching ones child lowered into the ground is the ULTIMATE image of loss and sense of DESPERATION beyond description. Basically, from the deepest well within you, there is SOME part of you that wants to completely yell and scream at the absolute TOP of your lungs nearly every minute of the day. It seems like now in my life, an inordinate amount of my waking time is spent JUST TRYING TO CONTROL that impulse within and maintain normal composure.
The last few times I heard from Ned, we were talking about the chronic pain we both live/d with. For every parent I know who has lost a child – especially to drug overdose or to suicide – there comes a further insult of critical illness. For me, it has been an increase in my chronic conditions and then a particularly nasty and aggressive cancer. For Ned, it was debilitating back pain. I pray that his pain didn’t lead him to be careless, as both of our children were. In this excerpt, he refers to himself as Neddy (the 3rd…his son was the 4th):
If it were NOT for the gruesome degree of almost HOURLY back-pain management NEDDY HAS TO DEAL WITH right now, six months away from my 60th B-Day, I would offer up PRAYER TO THE FIRMAMENT to take away AT LEAST SOME of that pain you’re dealing with and somehow share it with you ONLY TO MITIGATE aaaaaaannnnnnnyyyyyyyy degree of that package of suck-ass pain YOU HAVE TO MANAGE EVERY HOUR of this current life you now are TRYING TO LIVE.
He was in such bad shape he was sleeping in a leather recliner and said it had been years since he had been able to sleep flat on a mattress. When the shock of all of this is over, I plan to talk to his wife about how bad it actually got for him. He was never specific with me. But in one of his final messages to me, he referred to propping himself up in a way he could type to me on the computer. Ned was always a very hard worker, so if it had gotten to the point at which he was propping himself up in order to do basic things, and at which he was sleeping in a recliner, and at which he was retired from working at only 62, then I know it was bad. My son said to me the other day that I should have retired due to disability ten years ago. Had I had the money to do so, I would have. Were it not for my being able to work at a desk in my home, I would no longer be working. At some point, I won’t even be able to do that. My conditions are different than Ned’s were, and he worked a very physical job prior to whatever caused his debilitating back problems. I wish I had known how bad it truly got, but he focused on other things when writing to me, other than mentioning how he was sleeping or sitting.
In my last message to him in February, I told him I was back in North Carolina and said we needed to find a way to get together. With the weather getting warmer, I was thinking about making a weekend trip to see him and his family – about 5 hours away from here. I never got the chance. I never heard from him again. His wife found him when she got home from a day trip with her daughter and granddaughter. Sometime during the day, he had gone to take a bath, which she said helped with his pain. I understand this, because I just had a hydrotherapy tub installed in my house a couple of months ago. By the time she found him, he had been gone for awhile. It will be months before she has all the answers from the medical examiner.
Life is so fragile, people. I’m left with so many questions and so much guilt. I should have… maybe if I had… why didn’t I… And none of that self-questioning will bring him back. It won’t solve anything. But it has been just a horrible weekend for me. I keep stopping myself when the tears come to my eyes. I feel that if I let the tears come, I’ll be overcome by grief. Instead, I’m trying to rejoice that he is with the Father, in whom he fervently and zealously believed. He is with his son, whom he missed and loved more than anything on this earth. There’s a certain sharp edge to the grief for parents who have lost children to overdose or suicide. There is so much self-blame. There is so much agony! That is over for Ned now. As I told his wife, of course, he isn’t in a better place. Of course, he isn’t better off. But we take comfort in knowing that the agony of his earthly life and his burden of being a broken and grief-stricken father is over. It’s the only comfort I can take in any of this.
When some time has passed, I know I will write more, but this has taken me three days and many starts and stops to write. When I think of Ned, my heart hurts. Those bitter tears leap to my eyes. I can’t really speak much (aloud) about any of it right now. It’s too fresh. I miss him. I’ll miss him for the rest of my life. That’s just how love is.
Hug the people you love and make sure they know how precious they are to you. Don’t waste a minute.
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