Friday, January 25, 2013
Forget about the alcoholic...
Over the past few months, it seems that my e-mail is over-flowing with letters relating that the alcoholic in their life has died. The mixture of both regret and relief is often the focus of the letter.
I like to call this passing of the alcoholic a “Gift of Freedom.” It is a gift of being able to regain a life without the insanity brought on by the alcoholic’s actions. It is an opportunity to reach for happiness in a new life. I don’t know how many times I have said, “I just want this to be over. If he’s going to die, just let him die.” Letting him die seemed like the most humane thing for everyone concerned. It would be Riley’s final gift to me.
I’m not alone in those thoughts. Almost everyone has used those words even if they were never truly vocalized. When we say/think it, we are only seeking relief from the immediate situation. The truth is that if the alcoholic could die and still leave behind the pre-alcoholic person – all our prayers would be answered. Unfortunately it does not work that way.
Once the loss has happened and we are gathered in a church, graveside, meeting room, or however it happens, we get the opportunity to eulogize our loved one. So what do you say about a person who showed up at your Junior Prom and knocked over the punch bowl? What do you say about a person who lost many jobs and all friends who did not share a penchant for inebriation? What do you say about a child who never really lived a full meaningful life past the age of 14? Instead of standing up and saying you’re happy the alcoholic is dead, what do you say?
While communicating with these people who have shared my experience of losing a loved one, I found that what we say and do is never about the alcoholism. We talk about the person before the alcohol took over. We share funny little anecdotes and memories of a time long ago. We silently put to rest the alcoholic and focus on the person.
In my opinion, it’s about the only thing we can do. No one wants to brow beat the dead. What good would that do? I have an image of a two-part cartoon of a wife shaking her fist at her husband and saying, “If you don’t stop, the drink is gonna kill you!” The husband responds that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. The next frame is the wife standing over her husband’s open grave which is littered with booze bottles. She has a tissue to her eyes and weeps “Do you believe me now?” It’s a sad cartoon, but it’s what we all are thinking. Best it stays as a cartoon.
So how do we handle the grieving process and not harp on our own disappointment? I’m a firm believer that some things are just best if left private. Publicly, I believe, we should remember the good and relate what a wonderful writer, provider, cook, etc., the person was before. In private with a group of people who understand you and your situation, you let all those negative emotions flow. Weep openly with those who care the most about you. Reach out to them for support in rebuilding your life. The group can be family, Al-Anon, OARS, a therapist, or any other support group. The point is to surround yourself with those who care and can offer direction.
Most caretakers of end-stage alcoholics grieve several times during the course of the alcoholic journey. They grieve every time the alcoholic relapses, every time they go into rehab, every time they cause chaos. The grieving seems to be endless. Then when the alcoholic dies – they grieve some more.
The good news is the “gift” part of the death. Once the survivors have recovered from the initial loss, they are able to move on. A constant state of chaos creates a form of “post-traumatic stress syndrome” and once the chaos stops the opportunity exists for peace and quiet. It is a bittersweet reward.
When Riley dies, I don’t want to be the one to eulogize. I’ll leave that up to others. His daughter will talk about the time he held her all night long when she was very sick. His brother will probably share stories of the time they shared in apartment. A friend from his past may talk about how he could make an electronic technician manual read like a masterpiece novel. A former shipmate may tell the story of how he “supervised” the changing of a flat tire. There’s lots of good stuff to tell. I’m sure the group will not leave with the image of Riley falling down the stairs in a drunken stupor. I’m happy for that.
Whenever someone wrongs me, I always tell myself that the best revenge is living well. So when Riley is gone, my revenge against the alcoholism (not against him) is that I will attempt to live my life well. I will survive and be happy.
WAIT A DARN MINUTE!! Why should I wait until he dies?? I think living your life every day to make it the best it can be is the only way to go. I’m not going to waste one second of potential happiness on allowing the stress of alcoholism to take me to a dark place. It's a tall order for someone who lives inside a craziness bubble. I'll have to remind myself to be happy several times during the day.
My mother used to tell me “This is a day you will never have again. Better make the most of it.” I think my mother was right! Today I will be happy, productive and make lemonade!