|A SISTER’S LOVING EULOGY
Many of you don’t know me. I’m Lauren, and I’m Ronnie’s half-sister. I want to thank you all for being here today to support Bill and Carmen in an unimaginably difficult time, and I want to thank Bill and Carmen for asking me to give this eulogy. And so – on behalf of my parents, I want to say a few words today in honor of my brother, Ronnie.
I didn’t know Ronnie half as well as I would have liked. I always hoped we’d have the chance to get closer somewhere down the road. I still hope that. Bill, as some of you may know, is my birth father, and Carmen is my step mum, although as anyone who knows Carmen will testify, that to consider her as anything other than my mum would be silly. They are among the most loving, kindest people I’ve ever known, and I am blessed to be their daughter.
When I met Bill for the first time, some twenty years ago, he and Carmen opened their arms to me and brought me into their family. And what a joy it was for me, who grew up as an only child, to suddenly have two brothers. As an argument for the power of genetics, we discovered we had a lot in common — a certain impatience with inactivity, a tendency toward blunt speech, a soft spot when it comes to animals, and, it must be said, Bill, my brothers and I, share an addictive personality. We share that gene, whatever it is, that makes us more susceptible than most to alcoholism and drug addiction. When I began writing this eulogy, I sought out advice on how one writes such a thing – what should be included? What should be avoided? I was advised to tell anecdotes, include humorous memories, and to highlight the good stuff and forget the bad.
However, when Bill and Carmen asked me to deliver this eulogy on their behalf, they asked me to focus on this disease and the devastation it brings not only to the person who has it, but to all those who come into contact with him or her. And so, I’m going to do that, because I agree with them when they say that to do so is the best way to honor Ronnie and the terrible battle against addiction that he fought.
Earlier, I said I didn’t know Ronnie as well as I would have liked. That’s one of the things this disease took away from me – a relationship with my brother. I do, however, have one vivid memory of Ronnie and some time we did spend together. It was in 1991 and Ronnie had come to visit my husband, Ron, and me in Toronto. He had nearly a year sober at the time. We had a little bungalow with a big backyard (at least by Toronto standards) with a hammock and a pool. Ronnie loved to lay out, all that long and lanky length of him, in the hammock and listen to the birds in the trees and wait for the baby raccoons to come out and play from under the deck where their mother had built a nest. He was working hard to stay sober, and it can’t have been easy for him, since I wasn’t sober yet myself and didn’t hesitate to drink around him, all the while – in that terrible, blind, self-centered way of alcoholics – talking about how great it was he was sober. One afternoon I asked if he wanted to go to an AA or NA meeting. I knew about meetings, because there was alcoholism in the family in which I’d been raised, and one of my relatives had been sober for decades. Ronnie said yes, and so off we went into the projects of Toronto, the toughest of the tough neighborhoods. We found the meeting in the community room of a run-down apartment building. It was a good meeting and people were kind and thoughtful and encouraging as Ronnie talked about his commitment to getting and staying sober. Then a man turned to me.
“How you doing?” he said.
“Me? Oh, I’m fine,” I said. “I’m very careful.”
“Keep coming back,” someone said, and people laughed.
I didn’t get that then, but I sure do now.
We came out of the meeting and there was a gauntlet of drug dealers standing right outside the door.
“What do you want?” they said. “We got what you want.”
I couldn’t believe it. At least let the guy get out of the building!
But that’s the way it is. That’s how hard it can be.
Ronnie didn’t manage to stay clean and sober. But a few years later, armed with the knowledge that for me, whether this disease was environmentally or genetically triggered didn’t matter, since I had both components, I walked into my second AA meeting. Even though my brother didn’t keep coming back, I did. I’ve been sober for over 13 years now.
So, I took my first step to sobriety with Ronnie. I went to my first meeting because of him. And I know that this is true not only for me, but for a number of you in this church today.
Addiction, whether it be to drugs or to alcohol, is a disease that infects not only the person who drinks or drugs, but everyone else in his or her world. We cause worry and grief. We betray and let down people who would never do the same to us. I remember the day my beloved husband turned to me and said, “I just don’t believe you’re on my side anymore.” He was right. We are like hurricanes going through the lives of others, leaving in our wake unspeakable wreckage and profound wounds.
Forgive me. Because this is the best way Bill, Carmen, and I know to carve meaning out of this tragedy, I’m going to talk directly now to those of you here today who may also suffer from this disease. You know who you are. We always know who we are, although we may not be willing to admit it to anyone else, yet. I know that when the disease has hold of you, nothing and no one else matters. I know all you want is another high. I know you don’t mean to do the harm you do. I get it. Believe me. However, I also know how deeply you suffer. How full of despair and agony you are. Occasionally alcoholics and addicts have what we call a moment of clarity, where we see the pain we cause, where we understand that the only place the road we’re travelling will lead is to insanity, prison or, well, where we are here today. I’m asking you, let today, let this moment, be a moment of lasting clarity.
I’m asking you, in Ronnie’s name, and in honor of his memory, that if you are suffering today, please, come on in out of the cold. You won’t believe how much better your life, and the lives of your loved ones will be, when you surrender and ask for help. It’s easier than you think, and you can do it. One day at a time.
Some people might say my brother’s life was a wasted one.
I tell you it was not. Ronnie was kind, and gentle, he loved the natural world; he loved his family and his friends, he didn’t care what language you spoke, about the color or your skin or how much money you had, or didn’t, and it was never his intention to cause the harm he did. I can’t imagine a more generous person.
Bill recently talked about how he and Carmen used to go down to Ronnie’s apartment with a carload of groceries. A few days later, he’d call and say it was all gone.
“Not possible! How can that be?” Bill would say.
“Oh, you know how it is, there’s always people in need,” Ronnie said.
Well, although Ronnie never told his parents what was going on, his landlady did. Ronnie used to bring hungry people in off the streets and feed them. Never mind he didn’t have enough for himself, that sometimes he went hungry – he always had enough for someone else.
Ronnie never passed anyone in the street without a smile and a kind word. Even his old teacher, Keith Holmes, talks about how generous he was to other children in school.
Another example — in 1990, Ronnie bought a truck. So many people used to call him and ask for favors – drive me here, drive me there, help me move, pick this up for me – that Bill used to call him the Transportation Manager of Quebec.
“That’s okay, Dad,” Ronnie used to say. That’s what the truck’s for.”
So, he loved you. He wanted the best for you. This disease robbed him, in the end, of everything, and left those of us who loved him in agony. Nevertheless, even though he couldn’t save himself, he planted a seed of salvation in me and I know he did the same for many of you.
I believe Ronnie is at peace and healed at last, in God’s arms.
I believe he’s watching us now, hoping to be of use.
Let us honor his memory. If you are struggling — or if you know someone who struggles with this disease — in Ronnie’s name, on behalf of Bill and Carmen — please stop the hideous cycle of pain. Ask for help and be willing to take the hand that’s offered. Bill has instructed me to say that if anyone, anytime, wants to ask his help, he will be there for you. Let that be Ronnie’s legacy. My name is Lauren, daughter to Bill and Carmen, sister to Ronnie and Bernie, and I’m an alcoholic.