Jimmy Hayes, More Than A Hockey Player

When Jimmy Hayes passed away, it took me a second to realize that he was the brother of current Philadelphia Flyers center Kevin Hayes. In my defense, my life was extremely chaotic at the time. That chaos did not diminish how I felt on reading the news; Jimmy Hayes was only 31 years old and left behind a wife and two young children. The fact that Jimmy Hayes was a member of the Flyers family by way of his brother only deepened my sadness at his loss. This family, the one clad in Orange and Black, has suffered many losses. We grieve as one.

The hockey community rallied around Kevin Hayes and the entire Hayes family. There are moments that transcend team rivalry; the death of this well loved young man was one of those moments. Tributes from nearly every NHL team poured in; players that Jimmy had mentored; young children that he had spent time with. His brother Kevin was understandably crushed. He idolized his older brother, considered him his best friend.

Jimmy Hayes died with fentanyl and cocaine in his blood. His widow and father opened up about his struggles with addiction in the hopes that his story will help someone, anyone, struggling with addiction find a different path. There is a comment on that article, and social media is abuzz with comments that can be summed as “I knew it. Professional athlete who got bumped out of the league. Drugs.” I was angered and saddened by such posts. My reaction can be summed up with one thought: must be nice to be perfect.

Does the fact that Jimmy Hayes struggled with addiction lessen the amazing person he was? Absolutely not. Does it lessen his young wife’s love for him, the grief I don’t even want to imagine? Absolutely not. Does it stop his two young sons from wondering where their Daddy is? Does it lessen the grief of his parents at burying their son, a grief I know all too well myself? Does it take away the pain of his younger brother? No. No. No. The fact that Jimmy Hayes struggled with addiction does not change any of that; nor does it change any of his amazing accomplishments; it means that he was human. A man, made of flesh and blood.

Two stories dominated my feed this summer; the death of Jimmy Hayes and the disappearance of Gabby Petito, who was eventually found murdered. Both stories rocked me, changed me. Gabby Petito, who seemed to have a perfect life, was murdered by her fiancé. Her perfect life, the one that she posted on social media, was a mask that covered up domestic violence. I recently took that same mask off, and my heart broke for a young, beautiful girl that did not have the support that I received. Even when that support was offered to me, I fought the admission of abuse to the bitter end. Admitting that your perfect life is not the truth takes strength I did not know that I possessed; that admission has changed my life and the life of my son in a manner that I can not even come close to putting in words.

The news that Jimmy Hayes had drugs in his system when he died brought to the surface, for me, an incident that happened in early September. The day after Hurricane Ida roared up the east coast, causing my son and I to take refuge in our bathroom with our crazy cat and crazier dog, dawned nearly perfect. It was a Thursday, shortly before my birthday, and I had taken the entire next week off to work on my house and to put my brand new life in order. I could barely sit still as tried to concentrate on work. All I wanted was outside, to run in the sunshine.

I closed my laptop the second that 4:30 gave me freedom from work, and set out to run to my gym. As I approached the gym. I noticed a man sitting in his car, looking sleepily at his phone. He was parked in front of a plasma donation center, a place that pays for plasma donations. The center is, unfortunately, known for attracting addicts who can not find a job. While the center screens, where there is a will, there is a way. I jogged past his car, not giving him a second thought.

I emerged from the gym after my workout, and began the jog home. As I passed the same car, I saw two men struggling with the car’s occupant. I honestly thought they were robbing him, and stopped, phone in hand, ready to call the police. When I asked if there was a problem, one of the men asked me, “Do you know CPR?” There was panic in his eyes, a panic that dropped my heart into the pit of my stomach.

I do know CPR; I was certified a very long time ago. I also know how to take a pulse and how to check for reflexes. This young man had neither; his pupils were fixed and dilated. Emergency responders, via a cell phone, ordered CPR be performed. There was no amount of CPR that was bringing this man, who I later found out was named Derrick and had been released from rehab that very day, back to this earth. Paramedics arrived, administered Narcan, did CPR and used a defibrillator in an attempt to restart his heart. Over thirty minutes of attempts later, the paramedics loaded him into an ambulance.

As that ambulance left the parking lot, with no lights, no sirens, no urgency, my fears were confirmed. I began to walk home, far less energetic than I had been about two hours previously. A man waved me to his truck, asked what had happened. I explained that it appeared to be an overdose, that the paramedics were unable to help. His response, that still chills me to the bone, was “Just another junkie.” The tears that had been threatening broke through. They continued, much to the dismay of both my son and my manager, for about three days. They threaten again whenever I think about that young man and his untimely death.

Just a junkie. I still cannot fathom the inhumanity behind that statement. Neither Derrick or Jimmy Hayes was “just a junkie”. Both were sons. Both had mothers, family, friends, that grieve them to this day. Jimmy’s brother, Kevin, had a tattoo done to honor his brother. It reads

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal”.

As I write this, my second tattoo is still healing; mine is a reminder of all that I have learned in this last year. Kevin’s is a reminder of what I am sure he has learned; life is fleeting. While his tattoo is about loss and mine is about learning, they both have the same message, the message that is the inspiration behind this very long blog post that seems to have absolutely nothing to do with hockey: life is too short, and no one is “just” anything. Love much, forgive easily, take chances, tell the people you care about that they are very important to you.

By: Phyllis Ceci (@flyersfan1129)  

Featured Image Courtesy Yahoo Sports


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