Mid-morning on a Monday, I received a telephone call from a woman named Jenny. Jenny spent a moment confirming that she had reached Eco Bear, our family business that provides biohazard remediation services. I could tell from the questions Jenny asked me that she was unfamiliar with biohazard remediation, which is understandable.
In a nutshell, our business provides cleanup and sanitization services after a traumatic, catastrophic event, oftentimes in a home or business. These include incidents like accidents, homicides, suicides, and a situation in which a person dies alone but whose body is not immediately discovered. We help people from all walks of life when they face truly challenging, even overwhelming situations.
When I finished providing a basic overview of our services, there was only silence on the other end of the line. For a moment, I thought that Jenny had disconnected the telephone call.
“Jenny, Are you still there?” I asked.
My question was followed by a labored sigh and then a whispered: “I am.” After a beat, Jenny spoke, softly, explaining that her family needed our services.
“I have a son,” she finally volunteered. “He’s 22.” She paused for more than a moment. “He … was 22.”
Over the course of the next few minutes, Jenny explained that her son had died in his apartment in West Hollywood. I avoided asking her too many direct questions, allowing her the space to share what she needed to in the manner she wanted to.
She veered away from discussing how and when her son died and explained that a mutual friend of my wife and me and Jenny and her husband recommend that she reach out to us. “I think my husband and I need your help.”
In the end, I learned that Jenny’s son, Bryant, was one of 47,450 people who lose their lives each year as a result of opioid abuse and addiction. According to Jenny, he had been battling an addiction to Oxycodone and whatever other opioids he was able to get his hands on for about four years. Lately, this had even included heroin.
“My husband, he’s not here right now. He’s at the funeral home. Honestly, I didn’t have the strength to go there today, to the funeral home,” she explained.
I arranged to meet Jenny and her husband, John, at their home. I had a general idea where our conversation was headed. However, I also clearly recognized that Jenny was running out of the necessary strength to provide the information I needed to assist her family in the aftermath of her son’s death.
Jenny and John live in an attractive suburban Los Angeles home in a pleasant neighborhood. When I arrived at the home and met the couple in person, I learned that they raised four sons, Bryant being the youngest. Although worn from recent events, like more than a few Southern Californians in their “age group,” Jenny and John looked too young to have children in their 20s and early 30s.
Seated around the kitchen table, the couple explained to me that their son had overdosed on heroin. “If you would have told us one of our boys would die from a heroin overdose, we would have thought you were crazy,” John said.
“There’s more,” Jenny added.
“Our boy … Bryant … we didn’t know he died for about a week and a half,” John explained.
“It’s not that we didn’t try to keep contact with him,” Jenny said. “But, there have been a couple of weeks at a time when Bryant didn’t return our calls.”
John explained that the couple did help their son pay his rent. Jenny added that they understood the concept of tough love and not supporting an addiction.
“We’d make out a check for part of his rent every month. He’d come by our house fairly religiously at the end of the month to pick up our rent contribution,” John said.
“We wanted to make sure he had a roof over his head. We knew he couldn’t live with us here.” Jenny explained. “And, by having a partial rent check for him, we knew we’d at least be able to lay eyes on Bryant at least once a month.” Jenny paused for a moment, and started to add: “But, this month …” Her voice trailed off and her eyes became teary.
“Bryant never showed up.”
The couple shared with me that they went to their son’s apartment. They had a key.
Jenny and John explained that the moment the opened the door, they were hit with the “stench of death,” as they described it. Inside the small studio apartment, they discovered the remains of their son on the floor next to his bed. In addition to confirming the cause of death, the coroner estimated that Bryant had died about 10 days before his remains were discovered by his parents.
The couple hired my team and me to clean up the aftermath of their son’s death and restore the apartment to a livable condition. Because of the gruesome nature of human decomposition, this type of remediation is challenging.
One of the interesting things my team and I discovered at the property is that despite the young man’s drug issues, he maintained his apartment in a pristine condition. It was neat and tidy, which was not something we expected.
On the day we finished our work and eliminated any trace of the grim occurrence of Bryant’s death, Jenny and John came to the apartment themselves. They needed to pack up their son’s belongings and return the apartment over to the landlord.
I was still at the apartment when they arrived. I waited around to make sure they didn’t have any questions.
Jenny and John were at the apartment for just a few minutes when there was a knock at the door. Jenny opened it to find a young lady in her early 20s standing in the hallway, holding a little black kitten.
“You’re Bryant’s mom and dad?” The young lady asked.
“Yes,” John replied.
“I don’t expect you to remember me. I was in high school with Bryant. It’s been a while.” She introduced herself as Maggie. Jenny and John did remember her.
“I happened to run into John a few weeks ago, at the bookstore where I work.” She asked if John was around, having no idea what had happened. John took the lead and told his son’s high school friend what had happened to Bryant.
After Maggie composed herself at least to some degree, she turned the attention of the people in the room to the little black kitten. “This is Max,” she said. “I mean, Bryant … he named this kitty Max.”
Maggie told Bryant’s parents that her cat had three kittens and John had come over to her house after they met in the bookstore. “He wanted this one … and Bryant named him Max.”
Jenny reached out to Maggie and asked to hold the kitten. The little feline exploded in amazingly loud purring that seemed far beyond what the tiny ball of fur should have been able to produce.
“You know,” Jenny turned to John and said. “This little guy is what Bryant wanted to add to his life. A little being that he could love and that could love him. I think …”
“I do too,” John cut in.
Jenny asked Maggie if they could take Max home as their kitten. Maggie immediately said of course.
Jenny put the kitten on the floor. Max scampered about as if he owned the place. The final image Jenny and John would have of their son’s apartment would no longer be the dreadful scene of the young man’s remains. Rather, it would be of the happy scampering of a little kitten their son named Max.