Gone too soon


Staff Writer

Published: 06-11-2019 9:00 AM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — On March 10 at 7 a.m., Barbara Messinger got the phone call no mother should ever have to receive.

“The minute it rang, I knew it wasn’t good,” Messinger said. “The doctor on the other end said I should get to Boston immediately — my daughter wasn’t going to make it this time.”

Messinger said she was frantic and doesn’t even remember the ride with her ex-husband.

Angela Nicole Sweeney, who was born Jan. 14, 1979, was a fair-haired beauty growing up. Her mother and brother, Cory Stafford, describe her as “sweet, kind, passionate, spontaneous, generous, always wanting to please.” When she died, her body was worn, with dark circles under her eyes and years of struggle on her face.

After she survived a car crash — she was 14 at the time — her life changed.

“She was still the same person, but she really struggled to come back — she had to learn to walk and talk again,” Stafford said. “It messed her up physically, mentally and emotionally.”

Eventually, she became addicted to the drugs she was taking, and then she turned to heroin.

Messinger said she “absolutely hates the word ‘addict,’” so she tells people her daughter was an intravenous drug user when they ask.

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“Just before she passed, she was on life support,” Messinger said through a sea of tears. “I miss her so much. Every day. She was my best friend.”

Messinger said the doctors told her there was no sign of opioids in her system when she died.

“This was her fourth bout with a heart infection caused by years of use,” she said. “She literally died of a broken heart. And now, I’ve got one, too.”

Stafford said he, his mother and his older brother had waited for the news for a long time.

“When someone uses, you know this could — probably is — going to happen, you just don’t know when,” he said. “You try to prepare, but you’re never prepared.”

They actually almost lost her one other time, but she was given Narcan and brought back.

“I know there were times I should have turned her away and gotten tough, but that was impossible for me to do,” Messinger said.

At 33, Stafford was Sweeney’s younger brother. She was 40 when she died.

“That’s a little unusual, I think. You typically think of someone much younger when you think ‘heroin user.’ She was like a teenager, but she had a son when she was 15, and she had a grandson when she died,” she wept.

Stafford brought a memory board, which was covered with photos of Sweeney at all ages and with big smiles, into the living room where the two were sitting. Photos of her also adorned the walls and tables all around them.

Messinger’s cat Roscoe walked to the board as Stafford put it down and sat there and stared at it — one would never guess what was to come by looking at her photos.

“Roscoe was her favorite cat,” Messinger said. “Sometimes he just sits at the board like that.”

Sweeney attended Franklin County Technical School, but dropped out before graduation. She later received her GED and then went on to school to become a certified nail technician.

“She loved what she did, but she lost everything to drugs,” Messinger said.

Stafford said his sister was in a cycle for years.

“She’d start using again, and it made her feel really good, but she hated it,” he said. “She’d stop, and that would make her feel really bad physically, which she hated, too. It takes such a toll on the user and his or her family and friends.”

Starting a support group

Messinger and Stafford said they have endured the worst — and still are each day — so they’ve decided to start a support group for others who have lost children, friends, family or others to drugs.

“We want to help others find their voice, share their grief,” Stafford said. “We understand what they’re going through.”

The group will meet bi-weekly to begin.

“We want everyone who comes to be a part of the decision-making,” Messinger said. “You have such highs and lows. Sometimes you just need someone to understand.”

They said Sweeney never wanted anyone to know about her drug use and asked that they not speak of it either, while she was alive.

“It can be so isolating,” Messinger said. “You don’t want that to happen after they’re gone.”

“She hid it as best she could — even from us, at times,” Stafford said. “She saw it as a sign of weakness. She didn’t want to be seen as weak. She’d even distance herself from us on occasion. But, we knew, especially during those times. We were always scared.”

Messinger said she will miss the sleepovers she and her daughter shared.

“She would come, even up until the last year, and stay overnight with me,” she said. “We would make popcorn and watch movies and talk like best friends.”

Stafford said Sweeney was a “cool sister” when he was growing up.

“Even after she left home, she’d let me and my friends come to her place and spend the night,” he said. “We’d crank the music and play video games. She’d take me for rides in her red Pontiac.”

Messinger and Sweeney’s father were in the hospital room with her when they took her off life support and she drifted away.

“I was there for her first breath, and I was there for her last,” Messinger said. “I sang ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ rubbed her hand and prayed. It was peaceful.

“She was a good girl,” Messinger said.

The support group will be called Angie’s Place (Parents *who have* Lost A Child Early). The first meeting will be Monday, June 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Polish American Citizens Club, 46 South Main St., South Deerfield. The second meeting will be Tuesday, July 2, from 7 to 9 p.m. Messinger said the group will decide from there when and how often it meets.

For more information, call Messinger at 413-320-3282 or email Stafford at: stafford.cory@yahoo.com.