'To watch and be essentially helpless'

BRATTLEBORO — Nicholas Mattingley died April 21, 2014, from an overdose.

His mother, Beverly Miller, said she still struggles with grief over his death. During his memorial service, which Miller described as a "celebration of his life," more than 100 people showed up. There was a lot of music, she said. The celebration was held at the Guilford fairgrounds on June 14, 2014.

"At that celebration there were people that were Nick's friends that I had never even met," she said.

Mattingley was 35 when he died. He was a musician.

One of Mattingley's friends, David Williamson, asked Miller if he could start a scholarship for Brattleboro Union High School students to attend the Vermont Jazz Center's Summer Jazz Workshop. Williamson wanted to do it "to help the next guy up."

"Nick was kind of a vagabond of sorts. He didn't have a lot of money and it didn't really matter to him," Miller said. "He had a heart as big as the world. Everybody loved Nick."

Willamson and Miller messaged each other over Facebook from time to time, but the scholarship idea didn't seem to be getting off the ground. Then, one day in 2016, out of the blue, Williamson messaged Miller telling her he'd gotten it together. Williamson didn't reveal the source of the funding.

Last year was the first time that the Nicholas Mattingley award was presented. Kyra Johnston was the recipient. This year, Elijah Taylor won the scholarship.

"It's a pretty amazing thing to have a legacy like that created for your child. It's exactly the kind of thing Nick would have liked to have happen," she said. "It was just so perfect. Music was the love of his life and the Vermont Jazz Center is really prestigious. It's really remarkable to me that — you know — my son, who was sort of a Gypsy, was an incredible musician and is sharing that."

Mattingley lived part-time in Brattleboro and part-time in Tennessee. When he was 12, he went to Tennessee to live full-time with his dad.

"That's when things started to go downhill," Miller said. "He became a Gypsy or, on-the-street person, from a very young age."

Mattingley never went to high school; instead he traveled back and forth between his mom's house in Brattleboro and his dad's place in Tennessee. Mattingley's father, who is also deceased, was a musician and an alcoholic.

"Unfortunately, as is true for many people living that lifestyle, drugs and alcohol became a problem," Miller said. "He struggled with the addictions for the rest of his life."

Miller has spoken before about her experiences as a "bereaved mother whose child had dies from an overdose." She wanted to help both addicts and their families.

"It was definitely the most difficult experience I've had to deal with," she said. "To watch and be essentially helpless. It really is impossible to make someone else stop. It has to come from within and they have to be willing to do it. Nick didn't want to."

She could drive herself crazy, she said by "placing blame, taking blame." Despite all the heartache of having a loved one who was an addict, Miller said there was only one thing she could really do.

"The best thing I could do was love my son," she said.

Miller was home looking out her window when she got the call about her son's death. It was from her daughter, Sarah Mattingley.

"I don't think there are any words that can accurately describe what that felt like," Miller said. "A person just goes into shock because there's no other way to handle it."

She had to travel to Tennessee to take care of Nick's remains. It was hard. Nick had been in Tennessee to take care of his father's remains, Nick's father had died four months before him.

"In order to keep functioning, I just had to keep going," she said. "And throughout all that time, and even now, there's a still a quality of unreality to me."

It's hard for someone who hasn't given birth to a child to understand, she said. "The fact that I am here and he is not, is unfathomable," she said. "There's not one thing natural about that."

She has a foot in two worlds the one where Nick is alive, and the daily one where he isn't here, where she must function.

"Sometimes it's just really hard," she said.

The world is getting better though. Miller believes awareness towards addiction is growing. After speaking at a candlelight vigil for addiction, Miller said she received a message from another mother. Her son had been with her. After he heard Miller speak he came out to his mom about his addiction. He told his mother he wanted help because he didn't want her to go through what Miller went through.

She wants to take away the stigma of being an addict. "Nick wasn't a bad horrible person," she said. "Nick had an addiction, addiction is the disease. He was an incredible human being."

One of his best traits was his love for music. "He could hear something and then play it," Miller said.

He loved country, which was what his father played, but as a teenager he got into heavy metal.

"He never played that for me," Miller laughed. "He'd call me up on the phone and he'd play me music, but it was never heavy metal."

Miller said he spent a lot of time jamming and singing with his friends.

"I think Nick used his music to show love," she said. Everywhere she went, she said, people came up to her and said they loved Nick.

"He just had an open heart, and it came out with people all the time and especially through his music," she said. The sad part was, that Miller didn't think Nick was able to turn that love inwards.

Were he alive, Miller believes he'd love to spend time with the recipients of his scholarship. The first scholarship recipient, Johnston had what Miller called, "an imp grin,"just like Nick. Nick, she said, was a wild character. He did a lot more giving than taking, she said. He would have wanted to give back to aspiring musicians.

"They would riff," she said with a smile. "They would definitely riff."

To view a video interview with Miller, visit https://youtu.be/FqIJQCxDKcc.

Harmony Birch can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext.153. Or you can follow her @birchharmony.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions