Death is one of the greatest personifications there is. It visits all of us and gets very personal. Continually we are inundated with statistics of all kinds of deaths. These include the horrors of terrorism, shootings, suicides, abortions, plane crashes and cancer. These stats seem to keep death at a comfortable bay, deluding us into thinking we will never be part of the masses. In fact, at times we reluctantly find ourselves viewing with morbid fascination the demise of others. Somehow we can stay detached because “the visitor” has not yet come to our door.
Recently, we could no longer find security or anonymity in being “untouched.” There was a knock on our door. My amazing nephew, Bobby Nunzio Giovino, succumbed to the clutches of heroin addiction at 25.
Is it a coping mechanism that always makes us think it will not get personal? Images of mothers clutching picture frames came to my mind. There is more empathy now, though my grief cannot begin to compare with losing a child.
I am a big fan of Neil Young. Strangely, one of my favorite songs has always been, “Needle and the Damage Done.” I always liked the haunting melody and the intensity of feeling conveyed. I find myself no longer able to listen to this song in light of losing Bobby.
I also cannot claim to be street savvy by any stretch, but I am challenged by the concept of “milk-blood” that Young mentions in his song. I learned that this means heroin addicts sometimes draw heroin-infused blood to keep as a type of “insurance,” in case their supply runs low. Milk-blood? What a startling contradiction of terms to think of heroin as nourishment, as in life-giving mother’s milk or life-sustaining blood, when in fact, it starves the user.
Erie County’s health commissioner says, “there’s something we all can do.” What exactly is that? Local, state and national attention is being summoned by this epidemic. Many of our elected officials are on board. Locally, the proposed addiction hotline could result in much help. This is good. We need to utilize all of the front-line weapons we can.
Ultimately, is this a private battle that only an addict can fight? Maybe on some levels, but I would venture to say that if you have a loved one who is fighting addiction, get in the ring with him, let him see you in his corner, encouraging, praying and fighting for victory on his behalf.
We no longer wear black armbands while mourning, as George Bailey did in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s a shame, really, that emotional brokenness is not displayed or as obvious as physical brokenness, such as a cast or wheelchair. Folks could gaze at the armband and better understand one’s random breakdown in the middle of the grocery store. One wouldn’t have to offer an explanation or, even worse, suppress it until in a context that isn’t so vulnerable. Then again, there are those who rest comfortably in their solitude of imperceptible grief.
In March, we were able to witness Black Balloon Day in downtown Buffalo, which displayed one balloon for every life that has been stolen by opioid addiction. That day, the balloon was the black armband, because every balloon was attached to a heart, with the unmistakable need to expose, if only for a moment, the emotional, unrelenting brokenness.
Young says: “I sing the song because I love the man.” I write this piece because I loved the boy, the man, the fighter – Bobby.