CHESTERTOWN – Beverly Fabri started taking a sleeping pill right after her son Nick died in Iraq last February, because she was afraid of seeing him in her dreams.
“I was just afraid that I would . . . see something,” the Chestertown woman says. For a year, the pills helped her sleep through the night so she could “get up, I can function, I can do all kinds of things.”
But her insurance company said it would not pay her Ambien prescription after a year, and the Tylenol PM she took on a recent Friday did not help her sleep. She is exhausted the next day.
“They always say, don’t make any major decisions for one year (after a death),” she says. “And same thing with the medication: I can have it for one year.
“Well, are you supposed to forget after one year? I mean, is your life supposed to be back to normal? Because that’s not happening,” she says. “And that’s what I don’t understand. You know, it’s like, after a year . . . you’re on your own. And that’s very strange.
“So, no, I did not sleep well last night.”
It has been more than a year since Army Pvt. Bryan Nicholas Spry, 19, was killed in a Humvee accident near Baghdad, and Beverly Fabri is still struggling to find her peace.
She has gone to church and gone away on a vacation. She has gone to bereavement counseling — not because she thinks it helps but because her family pushed her. She has buried herself in work on a new house and distanced herself from work at her job.
Now, after cutting back her office hours so she can spend more time with her older son, Mike, and with Nick’s military friends, Beverly says she finally feels clearer about her life.
“I’m maybe thinking a little bit more clearly,” she says. “Not a lot, but a little more clearly than I was before.”
But the chronic stomach pain that Beverly used to suffer is back. She’s lost 40 pounds and her world is a more complex place.
That is not to say her life was easy before. Beverly was a single mom for nine years while the boys were growing up. Many of those years were spent bonding with Nick and Mike in the car, shuttling the boys back and forth to Mike’s baseball games.
“Raising children, you have no breaks . . . I mean, I don’t remember ever cutting the grass that I didn’t have one of the kids on my lap,” she says. “Because you couldn’t leave them alone, you couldn’t cut it while they were taking a nap because it would wake them up, and therefore you gather the kids and you put them on the lawnmower with you and off you go!”
When Mike went to college, Beverly was finally able to dote on her younger boy. For the last four years of his life, she says, Nick was like an only child, “just he and I.”
“Oh, it was great. We did a lot of things together,” she says.
“The boy that I remember was such a clown,” Beverly says. “He always said his goal in life was to make other people happy.”
Which made it that much harder when he enlisted and her nest was empty.
“We had a huge, huge party for him here and we had, oh God, we had the tents and the tables and there were probably close to 200 people here at one time,” she says. “I’m so glad that I did that because it made him feel very special.”
She was not happy to see him go, but Beverly also knew joining the Army was a good thing for Nick, a boy who “struggled quite a bit” in school. Basic training brought about “total change” in her boy.
“It’s very hard, but what are you going to say? I mean, the boy has got self-esteem for the first time,” Beverly says. “The only thing you can do is pray for the best. Because he was bound and determined he was going to go make a difference.”
Still, she “knew it was going to kill him,” and she found herself thinking about Nick’s funeral music while he was stationed in Iraq.
Nick shipped out for Iraq on Jan. 11, 2004, with Company D, 1st Battalion, 504th Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division.
He would be dead one month later. A bridge collapsed one night under his Humvee, which flipped into a canal. For security, the Humvee was running without lights.
“He was hurt at 10:30 on Friday, Feb. 13, and he died on 9:17 the night of the 14th,” Beverly says. She wonders about the 23 hours while Nick lay dying.
“I would have tried to get there (to Baghdad) if somebody had told me,” she says. “There’s nothing I could have done. Now I know that. But then I would have liked to have known.”
Looking back at funeral pictures, she realizes the day was a blur.
“I look at this one here and I’m like, well, what did his casket look like? I can’t even remember,” Beverly says. “I never realized that you were in such a state, in a fog, and just didn’t know what was going on around you.”
For days after his death, family and friends “brought everything from shrimp to toilet paper.” They put food in the van outside to keep it cold when they ran out of room in the refrigerator.
“I mean, rolls and lunch meat and hams and turkeys. And Mike’s girlfriend made lasagna. Well, everybody just went nuts on that, because they were tired of the lunch meat,” Beverly says. “Everybody just kept bringing cakes, pies, cookies.”
For the next month or so, Nick’s friends would check in.
“I would probably have three or four kids here a week,” she says, “and then that started dying down.”
Beverly has found solace in Nick’s military family, which she says has been relentlessly supportive.
“Military families are just incredible people. They’re a family of their own, they take care of each other,” says Beverly, who has returned the favor by holding parties for returning soldiers and raising funds to buy them body armor.
“Several kids in these units . . . they’ve kept in touch with me,” she says. “I mean yeah, their fellow soldier died, they didn’t leave it at that. They still call me, they call to see how I am.”
By comparison, Beverly sometimes feels estranged from — even a bit angry at — the civilian world. She talks about being at a bridal shower where she saw an old friend, and being hurt when the woman did not mention Nick that day.
“All you want to do is strike out at some people: Did you forget about him already?” Beverly says. “And then I look on the other side, and they didn’t really forget about him, they just don’t want to bring up the memories to me.
“It really hurt my feelings that she never even mentioned Nick. Like, you know, time to move on. And I know in my heart that that’s not what she meant,” Beverly says.
Just as she perceives slights that she knows are not intentional, Beverly picks up on small gestures of support. The first time she went out after Nick’s death, she saw that the man across the street was flying his flag at half-staff.
“It just hit me like a ton of bricks. Because I knew why,” she said, crying. When she sees someone with a flag on their sweater or a yellow ribbon on their car, “you know they understand . . . and they appreciate” what Nick did.
Her own house is filled with mementos of Nick’s life and death. One wall is filled with pictures and awards from his Army days. She displays medallions and keeps letters from well-wishers, and his uniform is mounted in a glass case on the wall.
Beverly is a small woman with a straightforward way of talking and a dogged determination when she sets out on a task. Before she could accept his death, she had to see Nick.
“I would always have wondered whether maybe he was mistaken for somebody else if you couldn’t physically see him. I mean, as much as I hated to see him laying there, I was glad that I did get to see him, that I knew for sure,” she says. “I just saw my little boy.”
“I wish he was here so I could ask him what he was thinking, what he was feeling, did he know anything. What were his last thoughts?” she asks. “You always have to wonder why it happened . . . how he felt when it happened, was he conscious, did he know that it happened?”
And she wonders about, “you know, the afterlife.”
“Is he comfortable? Is he really watching, like people say? I don’t know,” she says, crying. “And I won’t know until I die.”
With so many questions, Beverly says she cannot allow herself to sit still. The changes in her life — some imposed, some assumed — keep her busy.
She spends much of her free time renovating a house she bought a block from her own, using the money from Nick’s death benefits. She says she is closest to happy when working at that house, which she plans to put up for rent.
“By the time I get it all done and ready to rent, it’s going to be time to start going to baseball games,” Beverly says.
She remains active in local youth baseball and plans on traveling around the Midwest to watch her son Mike play minor league ball. She cut back her work hours to concentrate on her other activities.
“I just want to keep on going, I want to change everything,” she says. “I think it goes back to still trying to find something that’s going to make me more at peace.”
That peace has been elusive.
“I’ve tried a lot of things. I’ve tried going to church; I’ve tried bereavement classes . . . I’ve tried, you know, sleeping pills. I’ve tried it all,” she says. ” I just haven’t found what’s going to help me yet.”
Beverly planned to stick with the bereavement class, mainly for everyone else, even though it was not resolving her questions.
“I feel like I’m lost and that’s a big reason behind me leaving my job after 26 years,” she says. “I haven’t found out what works, what’s going to work for me, what’s going to help me heal. That’s what I’m searching for.
“I know what doesn’t help. Now I’ve got to find out what does help. And I’m going to try a lot of different things until I maybe come up with that solution. And I don’t know if I ever will.”
But she keeps going.
It’s been a year. Nick’s birthday came and went. She lived through the baseball season, the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas — the first anniversary of his death. Finally, she says, she is “maybe coming out of the dense fog that I was in in the beginning.”
Beverly is sleeping through the night again: “I got a three-month extension on my Ambien so I’m good till the 10th of June.”
“Without a decent night’s sleep you cannot function. And functioning is hard enough every day for me,” she says. “So I mean I do try to take care of myself . . . (it’s) just a little sleeping pill, but it helps, it truly helps.”
She knows she has to get on with her life, even as she resists it. She also knows she will never leave Nick behind.
In the meantime, she is still “trying to find my peace. Somewhere.”
“I mean every day’s a new adventure, you never know what’s going to happen when the phone rings, who’s going to be on the phone, you know, what it’s going to be in reference to,” she says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
-30- CNS 04-22-05