A year after his mother’s suicide, Pittsfield man’s new foundation works to prevent others from dying alone
After his mother took her own life a year ago this month, a Pittsfield, Massachusetts man says his new foundation will fill in gaps in local behavioral health resources.
33-year-old Luke Fitzgerald founded Love of T in August 2021.
“The name, the Love of T, is kind of- It's very symbolic,” he told WAMC. “I had my own struggles with addiction, mental health. It was kind of my mother, Teresa – T was her nickname – and she was kind of that guiding force that kind of kept me going through all that. And, you know, I realized that not everybody has that. And there's a lot of people that suffer from the same issues that I have gone through that don't have that. And I see what their lives can be like, and how devastating all these things can be. So the Love of T is really to try to spread that love that she had to as many people as we can over time.”
Teresa took her own life on May 2nd, 2021. Fitzgerald – who remembers her as a loving, empathetic soul – last saw her the night before, as their family prepared for a gathering long-delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I went in the house, I said, do you want to ride with me? And she said, No, I'll be over in a little bit. And I told her, well, tomorrow, Mom, I’m going to come over, and I'm going to give you a hug, and there's nothing you can do about it,” he said. “And she never made it to my aunt's house that night.”
The next day Fitzgerald went to his mother’s house to find out why.
“I got to the house and it was all quiet,” said Fitzgerald. “I basically sensed something was wrong. I call her name a few times, no answer. I picked up a cell phone and it was off. And I said, this isn't good. And so I went down to the basement. And then there was a note on the laundry room door. I immediately knew what it was, and my heart just kind of sank. And I made my way over to the door and open it just enough to confirm what I already knew had happened. And I just screamed ‘no’ at the top of my lungs for so long. I ran out in the street, over to the neighbor's house. People were coming out of their houses. I screamed so loud that I couldn't talk for a week.”
The day after, Fitzgerald wrote his mother’s obituary.
Born on May 16th, 1961, in Hempstead, New York, Teresa loved visiting Ireland with her family and frequent walks with her best friend. She was the youngest of eight children. After working at local eateries and Pittsfield High School, she spent over a decade at Hi Tech Mold and Tool before her death. She’s survived by her husband Michael, her siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews, and her three children.
When he finished, Fitzgerald turned the page in his notebook and immediately began conceptualizing Love of T — a nonprofit foundation that could provide peer-based resources to people struggling with substance use disorder and mental illness. Based on his own experiences with being sectioned due to a combination of both issues, Fitzgerald prefers the umbrella concept of behavioral health.
“Addiction is a behavior. Mental illness, behavior based,” he told WAMC. “All brain based stuff. And that is something that so many people are affected by. And it's growing, growing. And people in the past- There's a lot of stigma. There still is, especially around mental illness and definitely addiction. But I think it's time, and the reason I'm here is because we need to speak about it. My mother wouldn't speak about it and died alone. And so many people die alone in the street, or just live alone in the street, disconnected. I see it every day.”
Fitzgerald is an outreach substance abuse counselor with people who are coming out of incarceration for the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office. He says the need for new, community-oriented resources is only more pressing after the pandemic sent overdose and suicide rates skyrocketing.
“I see lack of available transitional housing, places for these people to go to be OK,” said Fitzgerald. “And especially someone that doesn't have resources, doesn't have family to take care of them, nurture them, they're left to their own devices. And most people they have connections with are maybe living in that street lifestyle also. And the spiral just catches them. And oftentimes, they don't make it out of it. And I believe like, if I can do what I do with my history and what I've been through, then there's so many people in the street that are capable of like such great things and being loving people, talented, what have you, but that stuff will never come to light due to this just cycle that they might be trapped in.”
Fitzgerald has put together a team that includes social workers and psychiatrists to build out Love of T’s programming. While he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder around a decade ago, his mother – despite her struggles – never was officially recognized as suffering from mental health issues before her suicide.
“It was amazing how someone with no previous diagnosis could have that issue happen so quickly,” said Fitzgerald. “This could hit anybody, at any time, whether it's addiction or mental illness. However high functioning or well somebody is, nobody's immune.”
While it’s already launched an online fundraiser, Love of T holds its first official event on May 21st at the Berkshire Hills Country Club.
“We’re really looking forward to just a good time and connecting with a lot of family and friends and some new people, too, that we've met that are supporting us on this journey,” Fitzgerald told WAMC. “And we have some great bands, live music, great food, an awesome silent auction, a lot of great items, a lot of awesome local businesses that have stepped up to donate to that and also sponsor the event.”