Kathleen Deacy-Moore hangs banner, shares son’s story in hopes of breaking addiction stigma
By Melissa Komar
A banner with the face of Gregory Moore hangs from the awning of a house located on the border of Port Richmond and Bridesburg at Richmond and Wheatsheaf streets.
Driving by, it might be dismissed as recognition of one of life’s milestones, but upon closer examination, there’s a strikingly stark message compared to the traditional, celebratory “Congratulations” associated with any birthday or graduation.
“Addiction is a special kind of HELL. It takes the SOUL of the addict and breaks the HEARTS of everyone who loves THEM,” the banner reads.
A photo of Moore smiling is next to the words and underneath both are his name, age and the phrase “Rest In Peace.”
Moore was found dead among the overgrowth at Front and Tusculum streets on June 5, only a few hundred feet away from the city’s notorious drug den, “El Campamento,” which underwent a major cleanup effort in August.
The 32-year-old had a fresh needle puncture on his left arm and several narcotics were found in his system including opiates, fentanyl, cocaine, morphine, levamisole and lidocaine, substances his mother, Kathleen Deacy-Moore, 61 and sister Melissa Deacy, 40, believe were mixed with the heroin.
Moore had been missing for eight days when he was discovered and his mother and sister didn’t receive the news until a couple days later from the coroner’s office.
While it was a phone call neither one had hoped to answer, it was one they knew would eventually come.
“We knew we were eventually going to get a call that he was either in jail or dead,” said Deacy-Moore in August. “But, you can never prepare for that call.”
Moore had been a heroin addict for years, battling to get clean among stints at rehabs, halfway houses and prison.
His death, ruled an accidental overdose, marks just one of an anticipated 1,200 overdose-related deaths for Philadelphia in 2017.
“[He] was [found] on a Monday and we didn’t hear until Wednesday night,” Deacy-Moore said. “The coroner’s office was so backed up with all these deaths, they couldn’t get everyone identified with the fingerprints. And, when I talked to them later, I asked them if they were really that far behind and they said, ‘You have no idea.’”
But his mother is determined to remember her son as more than a statistic and break the silence of having a child who was an addict.
With help from her brother, Deacy-Moore had the banner made within a week of her son’s death and hung it for his memorial service that she held in her side yard, a more constant reminder than how she initially wanted to handle the news of her son’s death.
“I wanted to take a poster board and put a big picture of him on it and go down on the avenue at Somerset and say, ‘You killed my son’ to every drug dealer in the face,” she said, “but, I thought, this is not logical. It’s fruitless.”
Her intention behind the banner is simple.
“The story behind it is the stigma,” Deacy-Moore said. “I suffered in silence. I was embarrassed. I felt like a failure. And, I won’t do it anymore.”
Where did we go wrong?
By his mother’s and sister’s accounts, Moore had a happy childhood growing up in Feltonville.
He went to the Philadelphia Zoo, Penn Treaty Park and went swimming in a plastic pool in his backyard with his sister.
He played football for the Tabor Rams in Feltonville and attended St. Ambrose and Northeast Catholic High School.
He was in a heavy metal rock band, Last Regret, throughout high school and a couple years after, playing at local bars, the pinnacle coming when the band opened for another band at The Trocadero.
His dad, Gary, was his best friend.
“He loved his dad. His dad passed away Jan. 13, 2007, and he was very attached to his dad,” Deacy-Moore said.
“That’s when he started getting depressed,” Deacy added. “He had friends, but he always told me he felt like he couldn’t live without him because that’s the person who taught him how to work. Once he died, a part of him died with him. And, that’s when he really started doing drugs.”
Both Gregory’s mother and sister said he drank and smoked marijuana recreationally as a teenager prior to his father’s death.
He broke his arm playing football in eighth grade and began taking painkillers.
“He was no saint, but never had any discipline problems at school,” Deacy-Moore said. “He was very quiet. He wasn’t a fighter. He would always try to stop a fight and talk it out first. He wasn’t a bully. He stood up for anyone who was bullied.”
Deacy, a recovering addict who has been sober for eight years, tried to pull her brother out of the grips of addiction having experienced it firsthand.
“I tried with him, from taking his clothes to every recovery house in bags and suitcases, to going from bus to bus with suitcases and trash bags to bring things to him like cigarettes, rolling tobacco so he had everything. I tried so many things with him and it just didn’t work.”
Gregory worked as a professional painter, but “that didn’t last long because all the money was going to drugs,” between $700 and $1,000 a week, according to Deacy-Moore.
As his addiction worsened, so did his relationships with family members.
He stole from his sister and mother, took copper pipes from abandoned homes, and sold his guitar and other music equipment for heroin.
He was in jail a few times, for a couple months at a time.
He went through about 10 different recovery and rehab programs.
He lost all visitation rights to his son when he stole his birthday gifts, an Xbox and games, and sold them to GameStop about four years ago.
“Besides losing his dad, not being able to see his son anymore, it was horrible,” Deacy-Moore said. “At times, when he wasn’t getting any better, I remember saying to him, ‘Greg, you might have to let him go because first you have to take care of yourself. You’re never going to get visitation or anything. You have to follow the court’s mandates.’ “
On another occasion, about nine S.W.A.T. team members came to Deacy-Moore’s house at 2 a.m. with a warrant because he didn’t show up for court.
“It wasn’t anything major, it was about theft. He didn’t hurt anyone,” she said. “But it was horrible. It was the most horrible thing to be waken at 2 in the morning and have the house searched.”
The pinnacle was when he stole a generator from City Hall when it was under construction about five years ago.
“He pulled the generator all the way home in a shopping cart,” Deacy-Moore said. “He went over the gate at City Hall and took it. And he brought it all the way back and no one said anything. It was the weirdest thing I ever heard of.”
Gregory was living in an apartment with his sister at the time and he had missed the 10 p.m. curfew she set for him to try to keep him out of trouble.
“They caught him at Kensington and Allegheny,” Deacy confirmed. “A couple days later, the police knocked on the door for him, the same police who had arrested him a few nights before. And he said, ‘I’m not going with you. You already arrested me. I didn’t do anything wrong.’”
“I always thought he would never do drugs because he saw how bad I was,” Deacy continued. “He was embarrassed to say I was his sister at one point. I never thought it would come to this because he hated me so much at one point [for doing drugs] and we didn’t get close until the last five or six years.”
Living with a son and brother who was an addict was as heavy a cross to carry as it is for the addict, a cross that many are quick to judge.
“To say my son’s an addict, it’s even worse to say a second child is falling to this. The first thing everyone says is, ‘He’s a junkie.” But they don’t know the real person who’s behind this. He wasn’t perfect. He did things because he was under the influence. But he is still my son. I don’t want it to just be, ‘We cleaned him up. Another one off the streets.’ That’s how I feel a lot of people look at this. He was a person.”
From better to worse
By his mother’s and sister’s accounts, Gregory was “sober and doing well” and “looked really good” when he was residing at Surge Recovery House in January 2017.
He moved out and got an apartment with his girlfriend in March.
He got his license restored after losing it for driving under the influence a few years before.
And, he started working again.
“That’s where it becomes a problem,” Deacy-Moore said. “When he gets money in his hands, forget it. It’s done.”
“I tried every time. I told him, ‘Don’t work. Whatever you need, I’ll get you.’ I got him everything he needed so he didn’t have to work because that’s what it came down to every time,” Deacy added.
Little by little, they noticed he was getting high again.
Deacy-Moore pointed to a photo of him taken at Surge, his smile revealing new teeth implants.
The photo is one of dozens covering poster boards Deacy-Moore and her brother created for Gregory’s memorial service held in Deacy-Moore’s side yard.
The collages show Gregory at various ages over 32 years, a portrait of the ups and downs of addiction.
Deacy-Moore recalled the last time she saw her son.
“He kept saying that everything was circling around in his head telling him to use and he was resisting so much, but he just couldn’t,” she said, tears starting to form in her eyes. “I remember giving him a case of Ensure, walking him to the corner to get the bus and I gave him a hug and touching his face and kissed him on his lips. Generally, I don’t do that. And that was eight days before he died.”
Gregory was spotted at The Last Stop Clubhouse, a recovery house on Kensington Avenue, within those eight days and stopped at Surge to try to get into detox, but left before seeing anyone.
The road to recovery
Deacy-Moore and Moore look at Gregory’s urn, nestled in between photos of him with family over the years and recall the memorial service they held for him on June 17 in the garden beside the house.
Staff and individuals still in recovery from The Last Stop and Surge brought food and drinks. House of Adonai, a recovery house on the 5000 block of Frankford where Gregory had spent time, donated hams.
“People spoke so highly of Greg. So many people said he talked them out of using and mentored them,” Deacy-Moore said. “I think he was just worn out. I think he was just tired of it and just couldn’t do it anymore. I think he gave up. He knew it would hurt if he told me he couldn’t do it anymore.”
Faith has been the cornerstone that has gotten Deacy-Moore and Deacy through his death.
“I pray for all the addicts every single day that they can find any type of happiness,” Deacy said. “For all the recovering addicts, for the lost addicts, for the dying addicts, for the ones who are having babies and the babies coming into this world without having a say, we were always taught in recovery to pray that they find some type of happiness. Because everyone deserves to be happy.”
Gregory’s story is one of thousands from 2017 that remain untold, but Deacy-Moore and Deacy hope it helps others step forward from the shadow of addiction.
“The story behind it is the stigma. I couldn’t talk about [his addiction] for so many years as a mother. I suffered with it in silence,” she said. “I don’t want others to feel ashamed. I want to recognize the hell they’re going through so others are compassionate. If you can’t do anything nice, say a prayer and ask God to help somehow. Don’t injure them further.”