He was a machine operator - a factory man. He spent his whole life employed in the factories that made business forms, water pumps, thermoplastic sheeting. After almost forty years as a dependable american worker he was tossed aside and discarded from our society. He managed two years unemployed and over a year with only food stamps to help out. It was obvious he had become very ill, lung cancer? We didn't know. But he was sick, out of money and out of time. Had he called we would have taken him in and helped. But he was a proud man. Yesterday he wrote a note to his children, tied a noose, stepped up on a chair, placed his neck in the noose and kicked the chair out from underneath his feet.
I just got off the phone with his financial advisor, he had mailed a package to each of his children with a few belongings he wanted them to have and a business card of an advisor to call if anything happened to him. He left an annuity to his boys and a small sum for me, his ex-wife. The medical examiner will release the body to the mortuary his boy's choose and they are welcome to go into his home and take what they wish. His condo is worth $20,000 less than the mortgage so it is going back to the bank.
The note, aside from some private writings, stated all belongings are to go to his two sons - our boys.
His employment ended at the age of 55 in Reno Nevada. By the age of 57 he had been unemployed for over two years. Benefits ran out over a year ago. Food stamps were all he could qualify for. He kept his condo payments up to date by playing blackjack. He was a consistent winner of small bets that allowed him to keep the phone turned on, the light bill paid and the condo payment made. He was barely hanging on when his luck ran out.
The last time we saw him was June. He had taken the bus here to see our youngest graduate from community college. He was very proud, he was also very sick. His hair had fallen out, his eyes were red, his fingernails were clubbed and he was spitting up blood. He had a steady shake in his hands, he looked like hell. I begged him to go to an emergency room and see a doctor. His answer, oddly, was that he had managed to keep his good credit score throughout his unemployment and he didn't want a big medical bill to screw it up. Besides, he said he may get a diagnosis from an emergency room but he wouldn't be entitled to treatment.
He did get to see his youngest graduate and he was proud.
Although this story is about the death of one individual, it is also the death of the american way of life for the aging factory employee. Unemployment benefits have run out, there are no more factory jobs and no one is hiring 57 year olds to retrain for new types of employment.
And then there is healthcare. The safety net. The things the conservatives complain about. And there is the reality that those things aren't really helping many who need the help.
For all the faceless statistics we read every day - I wanted to add a face. A man who loved his sons. A man who got up and went to work everyday. A man society kicked to the curb. And, in turn, a man who felt his best option was to kick the chair out from underneath his feet.
Dennis Paul Abrams
10/25/1952 - 8/18/2010
Rest in Peace.
Thank you - everyone - for your kind words.
UPDATE: I have sent a copy of this to Harry Reid's office with Dennis' full name and the location of the medical examiner and information to identify the event (so they can verify, if they wish, the correctness of the obituary). Dennis voted for Harry Reid every time he ran for re-election. Dennis lived in Harry Reid's district for over 20 years. Both our boys were born in Reno. I don't know if this does any good, but I have tried. I am sure Mr. Reid's staff could look up Dennis' unemployment benefits, when they ended and the police report if they felt the need. Not that I believe they will bother at all.
Thank you all.