George Fiske, owner of Funerarias Multi Culturel in Brockton, recounts his 22-year-old son's deadly struggle with heroin addiction.
The funeral director organized the tools, wiped his tears and braced himself as he approached the table. Over 35 years, George Fiske had prepared hundreds of bodies, but today was different.
Today it was his son.
“I embalmed my own son this morning, and he’s the most beautiful person in my life,” Fiske said, bursting into tears. “But I had to do it. I had to do it.”
Lance Patrick Fiske, 22, died from a heroin overdose Sunday night, in the family home that also houses his father’s funeral business. George Fiske found his son, who had been battling a heroin addiction for several years, in his bedroom Sunday night. In the ultimate show of love, he prepared his son’s body Monday morning at his Court Street home.
He performed the procedure in the basement, on a long, white table, two stories down from where he lived with his son, who also worked in the family business.
“The worst thing that I ever wanted to see was my son on my table,” Fiske, owner of Funerarias Multi Culturel, said Monday afternoon.
Less than 24 hours after his son’s death, Fiske said he chose to tell Lance’s story so that no other father, no other family would have to endure the hell of an opiate addiction.
“Nobody is immune to this. It can happen to the best of families,” he said.
Sunday night, Lance took the cordless telephone into his bedroom, and closed the door as his father watched the Boston Red Sox game in another room.
Around 10 p.m., Fiske checked on his 22-year-old son.
When he opened the door, he found Lance slumped in a chair, on his knees, “like he was praying.”
Lance had no pulse.
A needle lay nearby.
The young man’s addiction to heroin — which had infiltrated the family about seven years ago — had taken him.
“He’s at peace. The demons are gone. He’s had so many demons,” Fiske said, looking to the floor, crying.
‘Girls loved him’
His son’s story began like that of so many others who have fallen victim to this region’s heroin epidemic, told in colorful family photographs showing a happy, clean-cut child and teenager.
In one, Lance, a brown-eyed, brown-haired toddler, smiles widely for the camera. In another, the young man, now 5 feet, 11 inches tall, embraces his father on a boat in Aruba.
Lance, a 2005 graduate of Brockton High School, loved playing baseball and basketball in high school, his father said. He attended the former Sacred Heart School and East Junior High School.
The middle of seven children in an extended family, Lance was an ace shuffleboard player who also loved tailgating before New England Patriots games, Fiske said.
And “girls loved him,” his father said.
But another, more sinister element poisoned Lance’s life, one that his family would never understand.
Fiske said he can’t pinpoint when his son starting taking drugs, since addicts often cloak their addictions.
But he said it started in high school, with OxyContin, the prescription narcotic that enslaved dozens of teenagers who abused it. Like most, his son soon progressed to heroin.
“I paid attention. I paid attention,” Fiske said, crying. “You don’t see the signs. (Addicts) can fool you, and you don’t understand it.”
Soon enough, “the drugs take over the person,” he said.
Lance hid the signs of his addiction well, said his parents, now divorced. He would use a needle to shoot heroin in the most obscure of places.
“Three years ago, he shot under his toenails, between his toes,” his mother, Merry Chedid of Maine, said.
Lance began stealing from his father, and then from his mother, his parents said. He also was arrested numerous times for thefts — all to fuel his drug addiction, Fiske said.
The all-American boy his family had known now had a criminal record, and had been in and out of jail and drug treatment programs, his parents said.
A few years ago, Fiske said he was called before a judge. His son was facing 2 1/2 years in Plymouth County Correctional Facility for crimes he had committed.
Fiske said he pleaded with the judge to let him take his son to Cape Verde to work with him in his new funeral business there instead — and get clean.
“I said, ‘My son is an addict. If you send him to jail, I don’t think he’s going to get any better,’” Fiske said.
The judge released Lance in Fiske’s personal recognizance, and father and son traveled to Cape Verde in 2007. They moved to the capital city of Praia, on the island of Santiago, to start a funeral business.
A new life overseas
At first, Lance flourished.
“He did a really good job. He was directing funerals all by himself,” his father said. “He seemed good.”
But by last year, his son rediscovered drugs in Cape Verde, so they returned to Brockton.
“They find their niche. They find their people,” Fiske said of drug addicts. “In Cape Verde, it became an issue. I knew that he was on something. It was heroin.”
Back in Brockton, Lance had been clean for the past nine months, and continued working in the family business, his father said.
“He was my buddy,” Fiske said.
But it was that relapse on Sunday night that George Fiske had been dreading for years. “His body couldn’t take it,” he said.
Hours after her son’s death, his mother recalled when she gave birth to Lance, at 8:32 a.m. on Sept. 23, 1986, in Nashua, N.H.
Monday afternoon, she neatly clipped together her son’s birth and death certificates, along with his blue social security card bearing his signature.
The death certificate lists “respiratory arrest” and “opiate overdose” as the causes of death.
Chedid put the paperwork down onto a coffee table, near a beige eco-casket in Fiske’s funeral home.
She broke down crying, thinking of her son’s body in a nearby room.
“He’s so cold ...,” she cried, looking at the birth and death certificates. “That’s it. That’s all that’s left.”
Maria Papadopoulos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.