Turning the Loss of Her Son Into a BIGVISION For Sober Life
I was born in Brooklyn, New York in the 60’s where I had a very nice, normal childhood in a modern orthodox Jewish family. My family included a brother and a sister, great parents, and a big extended family. When I was 18, my family re-located to Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and I attended NYU. I played basketball with the Lady Violets, and studied journalism. After a brief foray to Italy, I ended up working for my father, who was a leader in the diamond industry. The plan was to work there for 6 weeks, while my sister was on maternity leave, but I ended up staying, and here I am 30 years later running William Goldberg with my family! It is an amazing business, and I have always been passionate about it. My father built a beautiful business where we sell things that “bring joy into people’s lives” as he said.
I married and had two beautiful children, Isaac and Beatrice. After 10 years, my husband and I divorced. Throughout all his indiscretions in our marriage, I supported him fully, and did everything that a smart woman should not do. I once saw a book in the self-help section of Barnes and Noble titled -“Why smart women do stupid things”- that was me! But, I had Isaac and Bea, and so I could never regret being married to him. I ended up raising both my children as a single mom, making every decision on my own. Anyway, I had a wonderful family, and friends, and got through it.
In May 2013. I finally got it right. I married Neil, an amazing man who came at just the right time. Without him I don’t know if I would have survived the next chapter. Neil got very close with Isaac and Bea and he really became a consistent and positive role model for both of them, particularly Isaac.
Then, three years ago, the unthinkable, unimaginable and unacceptable thing happened – Isaac, who was 23 years old, died of an accidental opiate overdose. All I could think was “why Isaac, why me? How can this possibly be happening to my family?” Of course these questions can never have answers, not satisfying ones anyway. I never imagined that I would be ‘that person”, the one who lost her son, the one around whom people didn’t know how to act or what to say. I could not believe this was now my life. And you never know quite how you will react, whether you will be the person who cannot get out of bed for years, or one who will move forward and do something positive. People always tell me that they are amazed I am turning a tragedy into something good. I felt I had no choice. I have no idea how I have done this, but I just have. Life is really strange in that way– you just never know.
Isaac had struggled with addiction for the last few years of his life, and we, as a family, struggled along with him. When he died, I committed to myself that I would do something to make meaning out of his life. While I was sitting shiva (the seven day mourning period when people come to pay their respects) I told everyone that I was going to do something in Isaac’s name. Many people responded by saying they would help me when I was ready. I had never really reached out to friends before for help, so to be prepared, I kept a running list of everyone who said they would help. A year after Isaac died, it was time to call on them. I woke up one day and told my husband Neil that I had my “big idea”. I wanted to open a clubhouse for young adults in recovery in New York City! A year to the day after Isaac died, we called a meeting in our home, inviting friends and family, and all those people who said they would help! Fifty people showed up and BIGVISION was born. Why the name BIGVISION? BIGVISION incorporates Isaacs initials (Isaac Goldberg Volkmar) into its name. I wanted BIGVISION to have Isaac in it, but I wanted it to really be for the kids who participated.
When Isaac struggled, he had many difficulties, but one of the biggest challenges was finding passions again, finding ways to have fun while staying sober, and finding a supportive group of people to do these things with. He used to play basketball and go to boot camp late at night to pass the time. Finding a comfortable place to be, to fit in and not be triggered to drink or start using drugs again was a big challenge. Isaac was loving, kind and compassionate, tall and good looking, but never comfortable in his skin. He struggled to feel normal. He was in and out of treatment for a few years, lived in a sober house downtown, and then moved in with us, and seemed to be doing well! He had a great relationship with Neil, got a job, got into great shape, was ready to move into his own apartment, and then he went down that path that he so feared. He always told me he didn’t want to go down that dark path again, and he knew how quickly it could happen. And it did.
One morning as I was ready to go to the gym, I passed Isaac’s room and I heard strange breathing from there. He had a cold the night before, so thought that was it. When I went in, I found him unresponsive. I will never forget that moment–one of the worst in my life. I could not wake him up. I screamed for Neil and we called 911. He was in the hospital for 6 weeks, but never woke up again. I never thought I would survive those six weeks of hell. I had to practically be dragged out of the car for the funeral. I just wanted to wake up from the nightmare. I spoke at the funeral, as did Beatrice and Isaac’s cousin Sam and best friend Max. We all spoke of Isaac’s struggles with addiction. It was eye-opening to many of the over 500 people in the funeral home. But we put it out there, and I have been talking about it since. Isaac will not be forgotten, and I will not be ashamed of how he died.
BIGVISION is building a community of young adults like Isaac who should be able to openly share their stories and not feel any shame or stigma. Since Isaac died 3 years ago, opiate overdoses are in the news almost every day. This is an epidemic, and we are fighting it. We are post treatment: we are the “what now” answer. After people get clean, they need to find a way to get back to everyday life and have fun again and find their passions. We are helping them to do that. We have had over 50 events already, have a strong following and our community is growing! I know that we are helping to change people’s lives and perceptions of addiction, as well as who is affected by this epidemic. No one is immune. If this could happen to my family, believe me, it can happen to anyone.
We just had our first fundraiser, and we are in the process of finding our “clubhouse,” and we will find it. It has been difficult because many landlords don’t want to rent their space to us for “our usage”. They don’t understand that all our events are sober events- alcohol and drug free! But when they hear ‘addicts” or people “in recovery” they imagine the worst. I know we will find someone passionate about our cause and we will make it happen. I have learned patience. When it is meant to be, we will find the right spot.
I am very fortunate that I am a partner in a thriving family business, and I am able to take the time I need to build BIGVISION. We have an office downtown and I am there 2 days a week and 3 days at William Goldberg. It is like having two full time jobs. I can never shut either of them off. Sometimes I feel that my thoughts are moving in so many directions. At our first fundraiser, William Goldberg was one of our big sponsors, and it felt great to be able to merge the two entities in that way. I like to believe that my Dad and Isaac are looking down and following us every step of the way and feeling proud of our accomplishments!