By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
On April 26 I presided at a funeral like no other in my 37 years within our community. The young man died too young — he was only 25. He came from a loving, tight-knit family. At the end of his funeral Mass, his father came to the pulpit and shared this powerful reflection:
“At my funeral these were my words spoken through my dad. I passed away on April 22, 2016, and I am looking to help those who struggle like I did. This is my story and my truth.
My name is Billy. I want to thank you all for coming and supporting my family. I shouldn’t be in this box but I am, and I’m doing great now. You know I am both a simple and complicated person. I am private, very private and proud. But even though I am so private my family and friends knew so much about me. For those who may not really know me, I’m going to share myself with you.
As a kid, I loved my sister J cause she taught me how to play baseball and everything else. I loved baseball — playing catch and doing pop-ups and grounders with J and my dad. I love my other sister — she was my second mother; she always made sure I was safe. I love my mom —she truly did everything for me. She is a rock — she was my rock. I love my dog Bullet. He was sick and we had to put him down just a few months ago. He always listened to me perfectly. He was my companion and his ashes are right next to me now.
I grew up in Miller Place and I loved baseball with my close friends. Did you know that I didn’t like school? (except of course if the teacher was pretty and of course going each day to see my friends.)
See, I had a problem with pills, actually for long time. This disease tortured and tormented me. My mom and dad took me to rehab many times. I did internal rehabs every minute of every day of my life. At times, I was so successful for long stretches . . . but, then I would give in and I don’t know why. I cannot explain it. It weighed heavy on me…
So, let me tell you what actually happened on Friday, April 22. It was a great day. I went outside. The sun was shining and actually it was a little warm, especially as I shot some basketball hoops in the driveway. I saw my mom, then texted her again later. I went to Stop and Shop for candy. I couldn’t wait for dad to get home — the weekend — cousin Dave’s house on Sunday — Game of Thrones Sunday night.
Then the devil took over. He tormented me like many times before. My heart hurt, my brain wasn’t working right. I went and sold a valuable of mine and I bought heroin. For the first time I thought I had a plan that would last but, of course, instead it killed me. I went softly as God said I had enough. The devil wasn’t going to torment me anymore. I was at home, where I loved to be, and now I’m in heaven smiling.
I’m sorry I have caused you so much pain. I always worried about everyone too. I need everyone to go back to their routines and be safe. Please listen to me. Hug your loved ones like I hugged and kissed my mom and dad and sisters. Don’t let a minute ago by without saying ‘I love you.’ My pain is over. Enjoy. Be happy for me. Make me proud too. Be loyal to each other.
Lastly, I always struggled searching for what I was going to do with my life — my future. How can I be successful and live up to my own expectations? I now know and I’m smiling, because I actually got asked to be an angel, an angel to watch over my dad and mom and all the people I love and care for. I found my calling and I have a lot of work to do!
Please be smart and be careful. I love you all past the sky … My name is Billy. Don’t forget me!”
What you have just read are excerpts from a powerful letter written by a grieving dad in his loving son’s name. Since his son’s death, he, his wife and daughters have committed themselves to raising awareness to this national health epidemic that is claiming so many lives rich with potential and possibility.
The challenge before us is daunting. We must take the blinders off and realize that together we can eradicate this epidemic in our community if we care enough to stand up and be counted.
*Excerpts are reprinted with permission from the Reitzig family.
Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.