My Friend Died Homeless and I Owe Her a Debt of Gratitude I Can Never Repay

I knew the dark hole that Jodi had spiraled down into — a hole that I could very well be in myself were it not for her.
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Suzanne Huff
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I knew the dark hole that Jodi had spiraled down into — a hole that I could very well be in myself were it not for her.

“Jodi died on Sunday afternoon.”

I read the message, then sat stunned as sobs welled up in my throat. Although I was devastated by the news, I was also not surprised, for I knew the dark hole that Jodi had spiraled down into — a hole that I could very well be in myself were it not for her.

I met Jodi in an impaired professional program, where I had gone to recover from substance abuse. It was my first day there when she was introduced as my roommate. Scared, unsure and deeply sad, I was glad to see a friendly face. 

A binge-drinking alcoholic, Jodi was an ebullient soul with a twinkle in her eye, her mouth almost always curled into a perpetual grin. I knew almost from the first moment I met her that I had just made a friend for life.

As an impaired professional, in order to keep a license to practice my profession, I was required to complete a four-month intensive program. I was eight hours away from home. I had just left my seven-month-old son in the care of my husband and mother, deeply grieving the separation that divided us, though I understood I really had no choice.

Those first few days were difficult. I struggled to adjust to the rigorous routine of the program, fighting the urge to just quit and go home to my child. Jodi took me under her wing, an indomitable force. She was my constant companion almost the entire time.

A mother of three and the wife of a corporate executive from a prominent community, Jodi understood what it was like to be separated from her children, to miss them deeply. Her mission seemed to be to do whatever she could to keep me from dwelling on the family I had left behind. She kept me from pondering my option to quit.

As a runner, Jody would run in the afternoons and early mornings. She talked me into going with her and encouraged me back into a pattern of running, something I did before addiction provided me with darker diversions to explore. 

Soon, we began getting up before dawn, running local parks and landmarks of interest. As my mind cleared and my body strengthened, I grew accustomed to the daily routine of the program.

I came to embrace my stay there. I still missed my son, but after about two weeks under Jodi’s care, I had made it over the hump of the intense grieving process. I was committed to completing the four months ahead of me.

As the weeks flowed by, Jodi and I continued our routine of running. We shared our deepest secrets, engaging in the daily gifts of friendship and support. We dealt with and enjoyed life sober.

Part of my routine was seeing Jodi with her children. Once a week, they were allowed to visit. That was when Jodi truly shined. Her motherly care, radiating with the full force of pure joy and love, was a truly beautiful thing to watch. In the midst of a messy divorce from her husband and not really in touch with her own family, Jodi had a lot on her plate and not a lot of outside support.

It was during those few precious hours each week that she could forget all of that. Jodi could do what she did best. She could take care of her young children, enveloping them with her love.

On an early spring day, nothing seemed out of the ordinary as the afternoon rolled around. I remember sitting outside during a break from our intensive hours of therapy. Suddenly I heard a loud boom. The back door of the rehab burst open. Jodi emerged like an enraged fury. Her smile was gone and her face contorted into an angry mask, her sparkling eyes dark and focused.

I never quite got the entire story, but an altercation had broken out between Jodi and another patient in the program and for whatever reason, Jodi was immediately discharged, well before her estimated date. 

With the emotional skin so exposed, it is very easy to become angered quickly and saddened deeply during the recovery process. We tearfully said goodbye, not yet understanding that Jodi’s early discharge would have dire consequences.

With a lack of support and a soon-to-be ex-husband who would not allow her into the house she once called home, Jodi was relegated to a small apartment. I missed her deeply and would see her from time to time at the various 12-step meetings in the city. While l stayed sober, Jodi relapsed again and again.

The last time I saw Jodi was in the parking lot after a meeting, where she gave me a huge hug and told me she would see me later. She had a weary smile on her once energetic face. Her once-twinkling eyes were not so bright anymore.

I received word that Jodi had wrecked her car while intoxicated and things weren’t going well. Approximately six months later, I was back home, busy navigating the day to day requirements of maintaining my own sobriety, when I heard from a friend that Jodi had been badly beaten by a man she had been living with. This was the last piece of information I would receive about her for more than 10 years.

I thought of Jodi at least once every day. She was always on my mind. I tried to locate her over the years, with no success. 

As the shock and grief of the news of her death radiated through me, I tried to gather the little bits of information I could to determine what exactly had happened to bring Jodi’s life to such a premature close.

From the small bits of news that trickled in, I was able to learn that Jodi had died homeless in a city approximately three hours east of her former home town. I’ve never learned what circumstances drove her to a city where she had no family connections.

After contacting the medical examiner’s office in the city where she died, I learned that Jodi passed away on Father’s day, 2012. The cause was multiple organ failure due to acute alcoholism. She was 47 years old.

The only bit of gratitude I could find in that information was that Jodi at least died in a hospital bed. She didn’t die on the streets, though she had no family or friends with her, not even her three children. I heard she had not seen them in years.

Her remains were cremated and sent to her family in another state. Aside from a couple of posts to her online obituary, there was nothing done to commemorate the life of the beautiful soul of the friend whom I called Jodi; a woman who, although she struggled with the disease of alcoholism, had made such a difference in my life.

If it weren’t for Jodi, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I would have left the rehab program during those first few painful weeks, never to return. She helped keep me there until I wanted to be there for me. 

Although she was unable to complete her stay, I did, in part because of her. Although she never knew it, Jodi was instrumental in my attaining the gift of sobriety. And what an amazing gift it has been.

The assistance and tools I received from my experience have allowed me to live a life better than I ever thought I would. Although it's not always easy, I am sober. I am not in jail. I am not homeless. I am not dead. 

Most of all, I am a dedicated mother to my son — the baby I once so grievously missed is now 14 years old. 

If I could just see Jodi more time, I would let Jodi know about the gift she gave me – the gift I was never able to tell her about; the gift I still long to thank her for. I try to honor her memory in small ways, from the love I have for my son, to how I think of the homeless. 

I am mindful that we never know the exact life circumstances that have propelled a person into an existence most of us can never imagine. I do my best to treat them with respect and dignity, imagining Jodi in the same situation. 

Most of all, I try to emulate Jodi’s beautiful spirit and reflect the love that once radiated so unconditionally from within her.