Death, Be Not Proud
The message came in Saturday evening. Our dear friend’s sister was dead. I’ll call her Mary. My heart sank in an all-too-familiar way. Not another, I thought. Not again.
My Best Beloved stared at the message on his phone. I didn’t want to ask, but I’m sure the question was all over my face.
“She was found in her apartment,” he said, not answering the question I knew he was asking as well. “I’m going to call.”
When Dave (not his real name), picked up the phone and heard my Best Beloved’s voice, his own cracked. It was hard for him to tell us what had happened, but he wanted to be clear, she hadn’t done it on purpose. There was no evidence she’d taken her life. There was booze. There were pills. It was an accident. She’d been confused. Yes, she was under pressure, along with the drinking, another addiction had returned and money was a problem. She was facing some legal problems, including a drunk driving charge.
I thought of the woman who lived down the road from us who, a few weeks ago, filled her pockets with rocks and went into the canal. She’d been facing a drunk driving charge as well. And I thought of the young woman walking home from an evening out with friends last winter who, drunk, tumbled off the path into the river. I thought of my brothers, of course — Bernie who hanged himself on Easter Sunday back in 1996, Ronnie, who hanged himself on Good Friday twelve years later. I thought of the funeral I’d been to a couple of months ago for the handsome, funny, smart son of another friend who took a drink one night at a part after being sober a year. He died of an accidental overdose a week later.
Other names, other faces popped up in my head in a long, tragic line. . . . Another. Again.
And so now, Mary has died of an accidental overdose. Not suicide. Not really.
I knew Mary a little. When we both lived in Paris we’d hung out. I was still drinking then. She was a great drinking partner. Funny and smart as hell and she knew Paris and, is seemed, just about every interesting person there — writers and actors and artists. She knew literature and I desperately wanted to be a writer (although the drinking had pretty much shut down my ability to write by then). I admired her. We sat over glasses of wine in smokey cafes and midnight bistros and solved the problems of the world, while wearing artistically-tied scarves. A little wild, romantically tragic, perhaps, we liked the edge, the alluring glimmer at the end of the alleyways.
But then I got sober and she didn’t. Just like so many others. I could waffle on about how I was willing when they weren’t, how I knew where to go for help and they didn’t, that I listened to the ‘suggestions’ of my sponsors and they didn’t . . . but the truth is I don’t know why I’m alive and these good people aren’t. I don’t know why I crawled out from under the depression and self-pity and justifications and twisted perception and self-made drama and they didn’t. It’s a mystery. I am not more deserving. I am not a better person. Although this I do know — I am grateful beyond measure for every day I don’t pick up a drink, even after 18+ years of sobriety. I don’t take it for granted.
As my Best Beloved and I talked to our friend, we heard the guilt in his voice. He could have done more, said something different, been a little more patient . . . it breaks your heart, it does.
I could tell you fifty similar stories. Addiction and mental illness are far more prevalent than people know. What family has not been touched? What relative/friend/spouse/child/parent does not believe he or she might have done more, done something differently, said something else, or not said something? We all live in that turbulent sea.
But the truth is neither our friend, David, nor anyone else is responsible in any way for Mary’s passing. What stripped her of her ability to perceive things as they really are, including how smart and wonderful she was and what a terrific life she might have had; what damaged her relationships and whittled her world down to so very little . . . was the disease of addiction. She was very, very, ill and in spite of all the great care she had, she simply could not fight off the disease. Like so many before her, she died from it.
But what those of us left behind must cling to is the knowledge she is now healed, at peace and resting – pain and fear-free — in the arms of what I choose to call God. I truly believe that.
Today, Mary is being put to rest. My Best Beloved will be there while David offers his eulogy. He’s afraid he won’t get through it. I know that feeling, too. I didn’t think I’d be able to deliver my brother Ronnie’s eulogy. I was sure I’d crack to pieces, but as I walked to the pulpit a strange calm came over me and I felt as though I was not alone, but was supported by something far more powerful than me. It was what I can only describe as a moment of Grace. I trust that Grace will be there for David as well.
It anyone wants to offer a prayer for our friends, for those who have passed away from this disease, and for those of us who try to make it through another sober 24-hour period, it sure would be appreciated.
You have to wonder about all the pain in the world that drives people to self-medicate so destructively. I don’t think drug and alcohol use always starts out that way, but after a while, the physiological and psychological effects begin to magnify the bad stuff and add more to it, as in poor Colleen Kerrigan’s day of disaster, which you described so effectively in The Empty Room. This is very sad. Even the skies are mourning with you.
Thanks for the comment, Vicki. This terrible disease of perception does exactly when you describe. Thanks, too, for the kind words about THE EMPTY ROOM. It does indeed feel like the whole world’s weeping today. But tomorrow will be better. We live in hope.
Lauren, I send a prayer for all families who are touched by the effects of addiction. Thanks for posting this moving essay.
Thanks, Bethany. Your prayers are much appreciated.
This blog post is very moving. I have a family member who is an alcoholic, and see that when under the influence many poor decisions are made. As you say, addicition is more prevalent than many people may think, but all we need to do is look around us and we can identify family, friends, co-workers that are or have been touched by addiction of one sort or another. There is hope, but they have to want to quit, no one can make the decision for them.
Thanks for your comment, Sheila. I’m sorry to hear about your family member. You are quite right, of course, no one can help the alcoholic until he or she decides s/he wants to stop drinking. I have known a number of people who knew they were drunks, but when I asked if they wanted to quit they said no. “Okay then, if you don’t die,” is my response, “call me when you do.” At that point prayer is about all I can offer. I hope your relative decides she wants to quit before it’s too late.
thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and painful memories. I concur on every level.
Thanks very much, Louise. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.