D.J. had a heart of gold

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By LISA HAYES as told to Tal­bot Goes Pur­ple

We all strug­gle won­der­ing why they don’t choose us, but that’s not it. The demons of ad­dic­tion are so over­whelm­ing and so strong, some­times our loved ones just stop fight­ing, I think.

My brother, Dale “D.J.” Stafford, was a kind, lov­ing soul. When he died, he was alone with his dog Toby in a house where he had rented a room. No one re­ported his death for hours.

D.J.’s death spi­ral started long be­fore any of us knew. He started drink­ing, smok­ing cig­a­rettes, and smok­ing mar­i­juana as early as 6th or 7th grade, but my par­ents had no idea.

Two car ac­ci­dents, one in his teens and one in his 20s, left him in­jured and in pain. He had dealt with chronic pain most of his life, hav­ing been di­ag­nosed with arthri­tis as a child. Af­ter the ac­ci­dents, he was pre­scribed pain medicine.

Some­time af­ter that, he be­gan see­ing mul­ti­ple doc­tors to get pre­scrip­tions for opi­ates. I think my brother al­ways wanted to check out a lit­tle bit. It star ted with the pot. He learned early how to keep him­self from deal­ing with things, and he needed a big­ger high as he got older.

When he mar­ried his first wife, Emily, I saw some great changes in him. He had a lot of good in him, and she brought it out. The day they wed was the hap­pi­est day of his life, but he didn’t want to give up mar­i­juana. She tried to stick by him,

and we will al­ways love her and count her as fam­ily.

Af­ter their mar­riage ended, he had some bad re­la­tion­ships.

D.J. and my mother were al­ways close. When she got sick with cancer, he con­tin­ued to use mar­i­juana to avoid emo­tional pain, and af­ter she died, I don’t think he wanted to live.

He got mar­ried again, but it was a bad re­la­tion­ship that also ended badly.

In 2009, he was in a ma­jor ac­ci­dent at the light at state Route 404 and River Road. A trac­tor-trailer hit him from be­hind. His car was on fire, and a nurse on her way home from the beach with her chil­dren crawled through the flames and glass to get him. His con­di­tion was grave. We didn’t know if he would live, walk, or re­mem­ber any­thing. He turned a cor­ner, but he re­mained on a ven­ti­la­tor. His lungs were in poor con­di­tion from smok­ing cig­a­rettes and mar­i­juana.

When he was pre­scribed opi­ates for pain, I told him I didn’t want him to overdo it. I didn’t want him to be in pain but he had to learn to live with a cer­tain level of dis­com­fort. He went to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion af­ter the ac­ci­dent for pain man­age­ment. When some­one has been abus­ing pain med­i­ca­tion for phys­i­cal and emo­tional pain man­age­ment, you can’t just let them go back to us­ing opi­ates. He wasn’t al­ways happy with me about the reg­i­mented re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for his in­juries, but that’s what big sis­ters are for.

His body phys­i­cally healed but he couldn’t breathe with­out an oxy­gen bot­tle and he still needed ther­apy. I had to fight to keep him in the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter.

When he came home, he tried to have his life to­gether. He had adopted his sec­ond wife’s son. She was in­car­cer­ated at the time, and he faced le­gal bat­tles with her fam­ily about whether he was fit to raise his son. The set­tle­ment from the ac­ci­dent had not come through, and his house — our child­hood home — was in fore­clo­sure. If he worked, he couldn’t get dis­abil­ity, and he needed to keep food on the table for his son.

Some­time dur­ing that time, he started to slip away from us. He didn’t want just a patch any­more. He wanted pills again. He stopped ask­ing doc­tors in Mary­land and in­stead found some­one in Seaford who would write him pre­scrip­tions again.

Fi­nally, there came a point where he had to ap­pear in court for cus­tody and he had failed sev­eral drug tests. One of the hard­est parts of be­ing a fam­ily mem­ber of an ad­dict is giv­ing tough love. I wouldn’t tes­tify that he was fit to raise the child if he failed drug tests. I said, “I love you more than you know but you can’t take care of your­self right now. You need to let him go with his grand­par­ents.” I told him he was on drugs; the house was in fore­clo­sure; and he didn’t have a car. He signed over his rights to his son.

When the ac­ci­dent set­tle­ment came in, he went from hav­ing no friends, no food, no money for bills to hav­ing friends back in full force. They par­tied for a few months, and then the bank fore­closed on the house be­cause he didn’t make the pay­ments.

He was home­less.

This is the first part of a two-part story. Please read to­mor­row’s edi­tion of The Star Demo­crat for the next part.

If you have a per­sonal story and are will­ing to share (anony­mously is fine) please email tal­bot­goe­spur­ple@gmail.com. To find out more about Tal­bot Goes Pur­ple, go on­line to www.tal­bot­goe­spur­ple.org.

DALE “D.J.” STAFFORD

Dale with first wife Emily

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