|Nick and Amanda. Courtesy: Nick Fite|
The family story goes like this. Grandpa had a drinking problem. He went out one day and never returned. Grandparents divorced. Life moved on. My father eventually found his father - living in a flop house near the slaughterhouse. It was hot, cheap, and smelly. Dad would periodically check on him.
Shortly after I was born, my father went to check on him only to discover his father dead in an alley gutter. He drank himself into a stupor, passed out in the gutter, and died. I can’t imagine how my father felt. He never spoke about it. I only know this from my mother and she didn’t reveal the story until many years after my father had died. The truth is that my grandfather died an addict.
The sad part is that I don’t recall my grandmother or my father ever speaking about him. Never. I’m not sure if it was grief, shame, or denial. But telling the story could have served as a cautionary tale and prevented some difficult family episodes. The story was left hanging, unfinished. And that strikes me as particularly sad. We don’t know if grandpa ever felt remorse or shame or sought forgiveness. That will remain a mystery. I am encouraged, though, when people talk openly about addiction in their lives.
Nick Fite reached out to me last week with his story of love, addiction, and death. I’ve known Nick almost twenty years now. He was a student of mine. On this day, though, he was grieving. His “forever partner” died a few days before from an opioid overdose.
Her name is Amanda and she died at age thirty-three. She and Nick share a child and they each had a child from previous relationships. She was vivacious, had a radiant smile, and loved her children and Nick. He says she had an infectious laugh. “It could change the most dismal moment,” he says. She also struggled with addiction, as do tens of thousands of people.
She had been “clean” for at least six years, the length of their relationship. But one day, according to Nick, “She slipped and struggled and it just took her.” Within a month, she died. Nick found her.
Nick is open about his addiction to alcohol. He recalls that he began drinking when he was thirteen. “We were piddling about town. Went home and found the bottle. Everybody begins with social experimentation. When I took that first drink something changed inside me. I was an alcoholic from the first drink,” he says. And it created problems. But with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous he has remained clean for many years. As a father, he wants to be an inspiration to his children.
I asked him if he was tempted to drink to deal with the tragedy. He says, “The first few days it was on me. It comes in waves.” But he has managed to resist.
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I asked how he was dealing with the adversity. He replied, “I don’t know yet. God didn’t put this pain in me to go without answers. If you don’t deal with the fear now, it could be worse the next time you face that fear…. As strong as people tell me I am, I could not do this alone. And for anyone who has to go through that, my heart goes out to them.” He’s seeking support through his religion and family and AA. Every day is a struggle. I could hear the pain and love in his voice.
Nick reached out to me to tell his story in order to help others. As tragic as his story is, there is hope. And he wants you to find hope in his story. He sees it in his children, in his work, in his spiritual pursuits, in honoring the life of Amanda.
Now this is just an observation but we seem to have lost our collective ability for compassion. We are angry about everything. We live in an Age of Rage. Instead of confronting a problem with love we rage against it and often the problem compounds. Nick reminds us that there are other ways.
Nick suggests that we remember and try to act upon the following:
Everybody suffers from something.
Don’t be judgmental.
Love each other.
Accept people for who they are.
Your words reflect who you are.
These are great rules for life that we need to periodically revisit. I’m reminded of one of my favorite observations by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “There’s a crack in everything God made.” But it’s through that crack the light enters.