Today I close out the “National Week of Action Against Predatory Gambling on a personal note. I am shining the spotlight on a family that has been through heartbreak and know very well what it is like to lose a brother, son, uncle, and on. His name is Bobby Hafemann. . . . .
Ronda has had to describe many times over through the years about what happened when Bobby decided the only option he had to stop his addiction to gambling was to take his own life. Bobby became addicted to the Oregon Lottery Video Poker machines that went on-line in 1991. And to me? This is heartbreaking. He was failed by many before he died after talking with Ronda at length a few weeks back. Ronda and her family desperately looked for ways to get Bobby help from Gamblers Anonymous, support groups and out-patient treatment which he was attending until Oregon pulled it, possible due to not enough funding yet from the profits of the Lottery. His treatment therapist just suggested he go to a psychologist or psychiatrist for help. AGAIN, they all were failed. Professionals didn’t really know how to treat a person with addicted compulsive gambling at that time.
So today, I wanted to share how Ronda and her family are doing today, today now that Bobby has been gone for over twenty years. So asked her to write this ‘Guest Post’ so I could share it to keep Bobby’s memory of a life taken to soon from this cunning addiction and disease. We as addicted gamblers deep within the worst of our gambling don’t know what we are doing to those we love and others around us. I want to say thank you to Ronda for all the tireless hard work she and her family puts in each year to help others, advocate, raise awareness and keep Bobby Hafemann’s memory ALIVE. Yes, it is long but very worth the read for an in-depth look at what a family goes through when losing a loved one from the disease of gambling addiction . . . .
* How Gambling Changed My Life! ~ Guest Author & Advocate Ronda Hatefi *
“July 22, 1995, a day that changed my life forever. Not only mine but the life of my parents, siblings children and extended family as well.”
That is the day I got a call that my brother and best friend was found with a gunshot to his head. Bobby was 28-year-old, he was the 4th of 5 children in our family. I was the 5th. Bobby and I were both diagnosed with Epilepsy when we were young, Bobby was having constant seizures during the day and ended up having to repeat second grade. That meant we were in the same grade from my 2nd-grade year through high school.
We became each other’s best friend and at times worst enemy. We ALWAYS had each other’s back no matter what. We truly did everything together, his friends were my friends and vice versa. School was always hard for Bobby; he struggled with almost everything, not because he wasn’t smart enough to do but because it took time away from things he thought were more important. He loved to work, he loved to make money. He mowed lawns and delivered papers at a very young age. He loved to be able to do things for others, he loved to give gifts.
He quit school in high school, which Mom and Dad allowed him to do with the condition that he had to take and pass his GED. He did that and got a job. He worked here in Eugene, Oregon where we grew up until Mom and Dad moved to Portland. He decided to move there too and got a great job working at a Steel Mill making about $45,000 a year. That was great money for a single guy, but it came at a price. The hours were rough, 3pm to 1am 4 days a week. So he went to work just a little while before Dad and our other brother E J got home. They were all in bed long before he got off work. So to unwind after work he started going to a bowling alley just for fun. A cool place to meet people and have a beer before coming home and crawling into bed. This was fine for a while, but in late 1991 video poker was introduced. It was a quick hook for Bobby, he could play for awhile, and walk away with winnings. But it didn’t take long for it to become a little more important than sleep, it became something he had to do, not wanted to do.
Fast forward now just a few years. I watched my brother become someone I didn’t know. He withdrew from family functions, he was irritable, he was always broke. He was borrowing money from everyone he could but tried hard to pay people back. He started selling things, hawking important items, and not paying people back, which meant he just avoided us even more. Things that had always been important to him weren’t anymore. He was sad. He wrote a bad check to my parents, which meant he needed to move out, focus his money, time and attention to other things again. That is what we thought we could do to help him. He knew he couldn’t afford to gamble anymore, he just would quit….right?
It isn’t that easy. We had many late night talks, crying together about how hard it was for him. When the State is telling you this is entertainment, why doesn’t it feel fun? Why can’t I stop? Feeling so bad about the people he didn’t pay back. It is heart wrenching to watch someone you love so much be in so much pain and not understand how to help fix it. I wish over and over that I could have a do-over on those nights. I wish I could stand up for him, to hold his hand through this process of healing that I have done many times in the past 21 years. I know he would stand with me if he could. I am proud to have shared his story and help others. Sometimes I feel angry that it wasn’t him that I helped. I go to his grave and talk to him about it. I ask him for strength and ask him to be with those who are struggling here. I don’t know really what I would do if one of the gamblers I have helped succeeded at suicide. I think about it, and wonder if I could get through that pain again. I wasn’t sure I was going to get through it the first time.
I will walk you through that horrible day that we got the call. My family and my husband, my 6-year-old daughter, and 18-month-old son were all getting ready to go to Portland to surprise Bobby at his company picnic. We were getting things ready in a leisurely way, enjoying the morning. The phone rang, I answered, it was my brother E J and all he said was, “Can I talk to Darren.” I don’t know why or how I knew but at that moment, I knew I lost Bobby. I screamed. I don’t remember that, but I was told the neighbors heard and rushed over. My body trembled, I remember my husband trying to hold me down, hold my body still. My daughter was crying because I was scaring her. I have no idea how long it took to get loaded, I have no idea what was loaded, I just know we were at my sister’s house.
Then her family, as well as my other brother and his family could travel together to my parent’s house in Portland. I don’t remember the ride other than reading my bible out loud, I’m not sure what I read. Seeing my parents in their driveway was one of the worst feelings in the world. To see the pain in them, I can’t imagine what was going through their heads. My Dad and my 2 nephews rode their bikes to Bobby’s apartment to surprise him that morning, and when he didn’t answer they asked the apartment manager to let them in. That is how Bobby was found, no parent should ever have to witness that. They think he had been gone for 2 days.
Why didn’t someone hear the gun shot?
Why didn’t a neighbor seem to notice he wasn’t in and out?
Why did he have to lay there alone for 2 days?
Would he have survived if he was found sooner?
These are all questions that I think about still. I wish I could have been there for him, he had my number written in his notebook but he never called. WHY!
That night we all sat and tried to console each other. We talked about what went wrong. We thought about Bobby and told stories. I didn’t sleep at all, I cried all night. I wrote him a 9-page letter telling him that I missed him. That I loved him, maybe more than he realized. That I would have been there if he just called. I told him that I forgave him, that I didn’t understand why he did it, but I forgave him. I remember my brother-in-law coming into the dining room where I was in a puddle on the floor sobbing and trying to get me to go to bed. I didn’t want to bother anyone so I thought I sitting in the dining room would be the best place.
The next day a few people went to Bobby’s to clean up the mess. I couldn’t go. I felt so bad but I couldn’t help, I just couldn’t do it. I wanted his “stuff” just anything that had his smell. I brought home his tennis shoes, his clothes, and other things just to have a piece of him. My parents later let me have his rings and his hat. I didn’t want anyone else to put his hat on their head. It is funny the things that were important to me.
We got a call from his work saying they had heard, and they were sorry. We got a call from 7-11 saying that he was in earlier in the week, they had fronted him his paycheck so if we could please bring his check to them when we got it that would be great. We had to start making funeral plans, canceling things like his phone, electric, truck payments, and credit cards. None of this was easy. We moved Bobby’s truck to Mom and Dad’s so it wasn’t at the apartment, and every time we looked out we thought he was home. It was so hard seeing it, he loved his truck. We called and asked the bank to come get it, we needed it gone. They couldn’t do that until he was 3 months behind on payments. I finally called and told them that if they didn’t come and get it we would park it somewhere and they would have to find it. That was the hardest part for my Mom was seeing that out front. They did finally come get it, but it took way to long. The phone company was the other hard one to deal with, they wouldn’t disconnect the line without his permission. I finally told them that when they got a hold of him to please let him know I had a few questions myself.
We had his service in Portland, we all worked to make it the way he would have wanted it. We all went to pick out Bobby’s casket and decided to put it in a cement vault too.
We were all numb, I don’t remember much about any of that. I don’t remember the funeral really either. I do remember his girlfriend at the time coming from Bend to stay with us. She let us hear the messages he left her, oh my goodness. He was crying for help, he begged her to help him. He told her he had a gun to his head. I think it was 5 different messages, and she did nothing. She talked to him once and thought she talked him out of it. She didn’t bother calling my parents, the police or anyone. She just didn’t think he would do it. I asked her so many questions that night my sister made me stop. I just wanted to know everything. She was the last one to talk to him, I wanted to know every single thing he said. She helped us with funeral plans a little. I know he loved her, I wanted to be fair.
“My Mom wrote on his death certificate, suicide thanks to the Oregon State Lottery.”
The paper could not print it that way, but they did call us and asked us if they could do a story. We did. Our lives changed. We were not alone in our lack of understanding about gambling addiction. After the story ran in the Oregonian we received 2 phone calls on my parents’ answering machine in Portland. One was a man who thought Bobby was right, that was the only way to escape this terrible addiction, and he was later arrested for trying to jump from a bridge in Portland.
And the other from a very distraught gambler who had lost his wife, kids and was near suicide when his Mom called him and made him come read our story. I called both men back, didn’t reach the first one of course, but did talk to the second one. His Mom and Dad joined our fight and has been a part of everything we have done since. It took him awhile to get it all together, but he has. He is remarried, reconnected with his kids and living a gambling free life for 15 years now. We are very close to his whole family and so grateful that he was able to recover from his struggle and live the life he deserves.
(Bobby Hafemann of Oregon was only 28-years old when he passed due to gambling.)
I needed to understand what Bobby was feeling, I wanted to know every last thought he had and I wanted to know why a machine could take him away from me. I called a Gamblers Anonymous hotline number, the same one Bobby called, and on the other end was whooping and hollering with a man saying: he was out gambling, he slipped and couldn’t even help himself so he couldn’t help anyone else either. I left a message; he did call me back and apologize for the message but did give me some insight. I called our local treatment place in Eugene, I talked to a counselor who was very nice to talk to me and invite me to a meeting so I could sit in and listen to their words to see if it helped me.
In return, I had to tell my story to try to help them. As I was listening to the gamblers stories, a gambler had spoken almost word for word a part of Bobby’s suicide note. It hit me hard then, and it still hits me hard today. By far one of the hardest part of me telling Bobby’s story. Bobby wrote that he felt like a ghost that no one could see or hear. He wanted to be a ghost so others wouldn’t see him. We were such a close loving family, that to hear he felt like a ghost rips my heart out. I never wanted him to feel alone, how could he, we were always here for him, we wanted nothing more than for him to come back to our family as his old self. I sent him notes from me, and my kids on a weekly basis. His other nieces and nephews wrote him notes and drew him pictures to hang on his fridge. He was very loved and very much an important part of our family.
After the funeral, we all came to Eugene, we had him buried where my parent’s plots are. We had a little service there too, for all our Eugene family. I remember having so many dreams about him, some he was crying and saying he was sorry. Some asking me to give messages to others. He wanted me to know it wasn’t his girlfriend’s fault. He wanted me to tell my Mom he loved her and appreciated her help and support. He would sit on my bed and tell me that I was going to be ok, that he was ok. I would beg him to come back, and he would tell me that I knew he couldn’t but he loved me. I would hear gunshots but never see his face. It was just a couple of years ago that I was able to ask my brother for details about the gun, what it did to Bobby’s face and if he thought Bobby suffered, and why nobody heard the shot.
Those are things I always wanted to know but it is so hard to ask. I’m only one of 5 siblings remember, so I know they have hard days too and I didn’t want to ask things that would be hard for them to answer. I am so thankful for my brother Harvey who was my rock then and still is today. He has supported everything I have done since day one. We all dealt with the grief differently. 2 of my sisters’ boys were there when he was found so she had them to take care of. My other brother’s kids were out of the State with their Mom when it happened and they lived with Uncle Bobby for years, so were very close to him. E J was very angry with Bobby for doing that to his kids. I don’t blame him, explaining to our kids what happened was the worst! For years my Son would ask, “Mommy, tell me again why did Uncle Bobby have to die?”
My daughter had terrible nightmares for years. She wrote an incredible story for school her freshman year about how she remembers those days. I find it interesting that I can tell you this part of the story. I really don’t remember much of the first year he passed other than what I did for him. I remember crying at night because I didn’t know if I fed my kids that day, or if I took my daughter to school, or bathed my son. I didn’t write a thing in their baby books for a year. I know I would go to my other brothers’ house a lot because I knew his wife would take care of my kids. About a year after Bobby passed I remember looking in the mirror and not really recognizing me, my hair was really short, I gained a lot of weight, I wasn’t taken care of. And I didn’t care. I was just hoping I was taking care of my kids. My main focus was really just to learn as much as we could from others, and help others by telling our story.
My Mom and I got a call from the Maury Povich show, which we were flown to New York to record a taping of an episode. We did a news story for a station in Seattle WA, Dad and I went to the National Conference in South Dakota one year so I could speak on a panel, which I have done now a few times. We have spoken at Churches, in Schools, at the Capitol building in Salem, Oregon, at Lottery commission meetings, and many other places. There have been times in my life when I think I need to be done, I am not making a difference, I am tired of fighting and getting nowhere. About that time, I will get a phone call from somewhere across the United States from someone who found my information on the web and they just need to talk to someone.
They thought I would listen. And I do. I am not a counselor, I do not have certified training to be one, but I can listen and give them ideas on how to find help. It is very important to me to make sure each person I talk to feels supported, not alone. I want them to know they have loved ones who want nothing more than to help and support them through this even though they have done things they can’t even believe. I know that first step has to be so hard, but they can do it. I am very proud that the Oregon Proclamation has been renewed every year since we started. It is a starting point, it is something that shows whether or not they want to deal with it, our Government knows we have a problem in our State of Oregon. I am proud of what we have done with “Gambling Awareness Day” each Sept 29th. From family gatherings, sending balloons with messages to the sky the first year to going national, 20 States, 2 Countries and over 100 Actions taking place last year.
We have rallied on the State Capitol steps, even having one of the Governor assistants reading our proclamation to the crowd of people. I am so excited to see where we can go with our TAKE A BREAK campaign. It is just another way to reach out. My goal is the same today as it was 21 years ago, to reach out to those who are struggling, who don’t understand what is happening from gambling and to the families who are frustrated and don’t know how to help. I want them all to know they are not alone; they have people who are standing up and being the voice when they cannot speak about it. I have a few people who have been by my side for many years, some in prevention and many in the treatment field who have said to me, “I hope that one day you will put me out of work.”
Their hearts are in the right place, they are doing what they can do to HELP others. I know it has been said by others that they need problem gamblers so they can keep their jobs. I hope one day I can put them out of work too! What I have learned from this whole experience is that sometimes we are called to do things that we had no idea we were capable of doing. It is with hard work, dedication, determination and a lot of support from the connections I have made to keep me moving forward. I want my kids to know that just because something is hard, doesn’t make it ok to quit. That is how we find out who we are, and how strong we can be!
Thank you, Catherine, for letting me tell this side of my story, It is something I haven’t done. It is hard to think that I took that much time away from my kids, not to mention my husband. My sister would tell me often, this is too hard on you, you need to stop telling this story. I really can’t imagine life without Bobby, and the only way I know how to keep him close is by telling HIS STORY.
I have his hat hanging on my wall with his picture. I wear his ring every day. I still have a shirt of his that I wear when I need a hug. I miss him every day. I think about what he would be like today, how much he would love my kids and grandkids. His girlfriend at the time still calls and we talk, she has a daughter now but isn’t very happy in her marriage. When my Mom passed on Mother’s Day last year, it made me smile to know she was able to be with ALL of her kids on Mother’s Day, she missed Bobby so much too. I can only imagine the big smiles on their faces when they were together again in Heaven!
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OGAO – Oregonians for Gambling Awareness Organization
The OGAO was founded by Ronda Hatefi, who lost her brother Bobby Hafemann in 1995 to suicide related to his problems with gambling. Bobby was only 28 years old.
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In closing, I have to say I have been very blessed to have met Ronda and am Honored each year to help her in her quest to raise awareness through Bobby’s Memory and tragic story. I wish and I pray for her and her family that they keep all those beautiful special memories of Bobby deep in their hearts. But as we both know, advocating shares HOPE to others and hopefully save lives from the disease of Gambling Addiction.
God Bless All,
Author & Recovery Columnist, Catherine Townsend-Lyon
“National Week of Action Against For-Profit Predatory Gambling.”