This is Mama Penny. I’ve known her since I was 10, when her and my dad began to date. She has been a part of my life for 16 years, and stood with me as “Mother of the Bride” when Daniel and I got married.
On my way into work, Friday, July 14, 2017, my dad sent me a message. “Call me when you get a chance.” Well it’s pretty odd for my dad to say give me a call when he knows I’m at work. But I really didn’t think anything of it. Most of the time it’s a flat tire or something wrong with this car, to be honest. So I decided, I have a few minutes as I’m walking to the entrance of work. I’ll give him a call now.
“Hey what’s up,” I said. “Penny just called me. (brief silence) Vin died.”
I stopped. I stopped right there in the misty rain. “What?”
“Penny just called me. Jon [Vin’s dad] found him.” “What?” It was odd. I was taking these like very shallow but very deep breaths. My chest got tight. My mind went blank. My hand went over my mouth and tears rolled down my face. “What?” It was the only thing that was coming out of my mouth. I couldn’t speak. I heard my dad’s voice and disbelief in a similar fashion on the other end. This bomb, this incomprehensible tragedy had just happened and I needed to compose myself for work. What do I say to Penny? What do you say to someone who lost their son? What do I say to Gab? Her little brother is…. I can’t say it… What can I even do? I don’t know how to react. I just want to hug them and be with them and I have to go to work. Should I go to work? I have to go to work. How will I work?
You need to compose yourself, Sam! Compose yourself.
I took a deep breath as I walked to the entrance of work and as I entered, my eyes still watering, I couldn’t stop shaking. Come on Sam, you’ve got patients that are depending on you. Get it together. It took me a good 25 minutes to stop shaking. What the hell do I do? what the hell CAN I do? What can I say? I called Penny when I got the opportunity, but the voice mailbox was full. I sent her a text message pretty much saying just that.
I don’t know what I can say. I don’t know what I can do. Please know I love you and I’m here, whatever you need.
The next day, after work I went to Penny’s house, selfishly terrified of how I would handle everything. I don’t know what will happen when I get to her house. I don’t know what her State of Mind will be like. Will the kids be there? Do they understand what happened? Will Gab be there? How do I watch people that I love hurt so deeply? How do I watch them hurt knowing that I can’t do anything to make it better?
That day and the days following were spent in typical Italian style, the place packed with an assortment of homemade food, mostly carbs, sitting around the table with wine, sharing stories of not just Vin, but everything! Laughing so hard we cried, at times. I sat there, talking with Penny and friends and family and it amazed me, not only just how strong she was, but how much love was in that room.
In the following days, Facebook was flooded with beautiful memories and kind words from friends and family. The day came and I started shaking all over again because, again, I was selfishly terrified of what this day had in store. I hugged the family and I cried with Gab. There was a moment that happened that I don’t even know how to describe. Like, it penetrated the depths of my soul as I watched. I watched my dad extend his hand to shake the hand of Jon’s, Vin’s dad, as Jon pulled him in for a hug. And he held my dad there. I watched as he tried to speak to my dad in a low voice and he couldn’t get it out. He was choked up and stuttered as he said, “I just wanted to thank you for everything.” I kiss my hand and laid it on Vincent’s urn.
As I waited for the services to begin, I looked around the room seeing familiar faces. None of them the way that I remembered them. Just this look of loss and being lost. The service progressed as usual and, then, came the eulogy. Penny had written it, but a good friend of the family read it for her. It was beautiful. It flooded my mind with memories of Vincent. And, then, it transitioned into why it’s so important that we stand united. That we can’t blame ourselves. That we need to embrace the very few resources that are available, but how God sent those resources are. Penny has allowed me to share her powerful words with you all as we all said “See you later, Vin.”
My dad hides his emotions. The most I ever saw at my nonna’s funeral was him teary-eyed. He never cried in front of me. As the eulogy was read, I held my dad’s hand tight, and would occasionally look at him. There were tears. I could see this raw side of my father as he become entranced by Penny’s words.
I kept looking at Penny and Gab and just wanting to wrap my arms around them. After the services, there was an opportunity to go up and speak or say a few words about Vin and I had a whole list of things in my head, but when I got to the podium, nothing came out the way I wanted it to. I talked about how when he was living with my dad I used to steal his Crunch Berry cereal and Oreos. I talked about how when I was a kid and Penny and my dad first started dating that I was jealous of Vincent. For so long, I was the only person in my Dad’s life. I was daughter and son. I can have a catch. I can watch football. And I remember thinking well, dads going to have a son now… he’s not going to need me. And years went by and then Vincent stayed with my dad, in my old bedroom, as he got back on his feet and started working. It was the cleanest my Dad’s kitchen had been since I had moved out (haha!) and I felt like there was this full circle of events… my dad was alone, and now this kid I was once jealous of, I saw as a blessing… it was like my dad had a new friend. He had someone to keep him company and talk with him and drive him crazy, at times, and I thought that was a blessing. And all of that came out in a very jumbled, very incoherent way through my shaking voice. I looked at Vin’s sister, Gab, niece and nephew, and mother, Penny…told them that I loved them. That they are family. And they’ve got one heck of a guardian angel looking over them.
I left the podium completely frazzled and disoriented, still shaking. Silly little stories that I wanted to talk about, like when I used to pick up cannolis when Serpes Bakery reopened and bring them over to the apartment for him and my dad, had just completely left my mind .
There are so many things that we want to say or we want to do. There are so many things that we want to experience. But our time is being cut short. The resources are not available and the resources that are are understaffed and under managed for the explosive need in this country. There are so many who want to condemn rather than uplift. I’ve been so frustrated losing people to drug addiction. Vincent was the last straw. I’d lost friends before but now I lost family. I’m very blessed that those in my family who have fought this particular addiction are still here and still fighting. I battled my own addiction and mental health demons and I continue to battle everyday. But why couldn’t I get the help that I needed? Why did I have to do it alone, armed with just family and friends, just as uneducated in the topic of recovery as me? Why couldn’t I afford the treatment that every doctor who saw me emphatically voiced that I needed? Was my life not worth saving?
Please take the time to watch the video, featuring Penny, in the link below, as well as read through the article:
Whether you try marijuana in college or start working out, addiction is something that unconsciously rewires your brain. “When did you become anorexic?” Well, if I knew that I wouldn’t be 95 lb . You are sucked into whatever fixes that desire and you have no idea you’re doing it. Until the reality check happens… The rock bottom. Then, the conscious mind makes the choice to get the help needed to get better. It’s a rollercoaster. Yes, it hurts the people around you, but you need those strong people in your life to keep you going, from whom to borrow some strength when you have nothing left to keep you driving forward. You are rewiring your brain, again, but on a conscious level. It’s both biological and psychological. Yes, it is a disease. You would never abandon a chemo patient, would you?
Don’t stay silent. Don’t condemn. Don’t blame yourself. Learn. Educate yourself. Be compassionate. Be strong and supportive. You and your family are not impenetrable to any addiction. Speak Out. Advocate for your neighbors and the resources your community needs.