one of us

It’s always the same funeral home. Maybe they specialize in supporting the families of addicts and alcoholics. Maybe one them is one of us and understands. Maybe, maybe not, but it’s the place we meet when one of us dies.

griefstatueOne of us.

Another one of us has died. We gather together again and stumble through all the things you say when there really is nothing that would make this anything other than horrible and tragic. Prayers, Healing Light, God, Heaven,  At Peace, Better Place, people say these things when they want to provide some comfort, where there is none to be had. There is nothing that is comforting at a time like this. Honestly the only thing that makes sense to say is that This Sucks, It Sucks A Lot, and I’m sorry. We hug each other, cry, hold hands. We laugh too, just a little, sometimes.

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This will be the first memorial I’ve been to since my brother’s.  He is at the front of my thoughts today. He is most days, but more so today. I miss him. She will miss her sister. Forty and dead. Somehow this seems worse than forty eight and dead.

Not that you should qualify the degree to which some thing is tragic, but we do just that. Did they have children? How old are the kids? Was it sudden or was it drawn out? How old were they? Were they in love? What were their gifts? Somehow the answers to these questions let us decide relatively how tragic someone’s death is. Then there is the shame or a stigma that can accompany a death from addiction, alcoholism, or mental illness. Sometimes this can let us believe that we can be immune to this kind of death. We cannot. No one is. We know this. It’s why we congregate and reassure each other that we are still okay, that our demons are still in check and that, just for today, we can look at them without needing to hide from or numb  our feelings.

As to the purpose of this pain and heartbreak, I can think of just one, and that is to make you better able to be of service to another person. Ultimately, that is all we can do, service is the thing that gets us out of our own ego centered lives and broadens our vision and our reach.  John’s death has been unspeakably painful, it has been to date the most difficult thing I have experienced. It brought me to my knees, physically and spiritually. It has made me at times, angry, heartbroken, depressed, cynical, and so many more things.  It has also opened me in a way I was not before. Today’s service was excruciating, awash in all the emotions from John’s service and the months following it, but I was also able to be there for a friend and be fully present with the pain she felt.

People die from alcoholism and addiction for many physical reasons, but emotionally a very self centered fear is what takes over their thinking and leads them to their death. Fear of not getting what we desperately want, that we are unlovable, fear that we are unworthy  is often what drives us, what holds us back, what causes us to lash out, to retreat and hide. When we live in fear we don’t really live. When we live in fear we can reach for anything to numb it, to take the unbearable feelings away. Living in fear is dark and scary place. The only way out of it is to do the thing that is the most terrifying, to lean into the fear, to feel it completely, to get really, really uncomfortable, to tell someone of your shame, your fears, to be fulling present as yourself, your flawed, imperfect, messy, shameful self. It is here you realize that you can survive being uncomfortable without constant distractions, that you are worthy of love, that you can be comfortable in your own skin.

TIMG_3274his is not the easy path. Anyone who has walked it wished for an easier, softer way. If there is one, I have not found it. If there was one there would be fewer services like today.

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275 days

wp-1468187743004.jpg275 days of saying goodbye. 275 days so far.

We’ve made it through the first month, first Christmas, first Easter, first birthday, the first 9 months.

275 days since they found you lying on your floor. 275 days of imagining you lying there alone.

It started with a phone call, an email and a long drive home to police tape and a stain on your carpet. Days of cleaning and loading parts of you I wanted into my trunk, an obituary and another long drive back. Later a eulogy, a service with your family, your daughters, my daughters, poems, songs, readings, prayers, food, friends family and a goodbye. Another drive.

20160130_122314-01.jpegThen a flight, a Sedona hike with your nephew, a candle and a prayer in The Chapel of the Holy Cross. Another hike, an offering with the same prayer, “I love you Johnny”. I left part of you in Arizona in one of the most sacred places I know. I left your ring, our father’s ring in The 20160130_143710-01.jpegAmitabha Stupa and Peace Park, a place full of love and peace. I left it there wearing your shirt, the sleeves rolled up in the heat.

And this week a drive, a sacred fire, prayers and songs, an offering to the creator in the tradition of the Lakȟóta people. And last night a bamboo leaf, the same prayer, and a candle floating away into the sunset.

 

 

 

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I love you Johnny

too busy

20151019_152813-01screenshot_2016-03-06-22-58-25-01.jpegGoogle has been good enough to remind me that your birthday is coming up. There’s a bright red rectangle, with a little picture of birthday cake on my calendar on the top of Tuesday, an “All Day Event”, “John Day’s birthday”. Facebook too doesn’t want me to forget your 48th birthday is coming up this week.

I don’t know how to get rid of either notification. I can’t wait until about 10 am on Tuesday when my phone will send me the notice that I should wish you a Happy Birthday. There doesn’t seem a way to turn these things off.

Thanks, Google! Facebook, you’re awesome, the  absolute best, I mean I might have forgotten to call you and sing happy birthday with the kids like we always do. Except you won’t have a 48th birthday. You won’t have cake, terrible singing (that would be from me and my kids), me making fun of you, your daughters, you won’t have any of this again.

And what do I do? I sit here in wrapped up in your clothes punching the keyboard of my laptop in some vain attempt to find some meaning, some comfort, some anything in this. I’ve got nothing. Absolutely nothing. I want to write something profound and beautiful, but all I have is this huge empty place that is absolutely silent.

“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” – Pablo Neurda

or as he orginally wrote it “Es tan corto al amor, y es tan largo el olvido”  translated “It is so short to love, and oblivion so long”

It is so short to love, and oblivion so long.

I wish I had loved you better. I wish we had had more time. There is nothing now, no more time. I rethink and replay entire years and the individual seconds that I had you as my brother and know I could have loved you better. I should have done something more to save you. I knew better than anyone what was happening to you. I can never say I didn’t fully understand what was happening. I understood. I felt many of the same things you felt.  We were the same in so many ways, I knew your demons, I shared so many of them, and I still did not save you. I stood still and watch you leave.

The truth is I was too busy saving my own life, too busy with my own demons, too busy trying to save my son. I knew you were leaving, and I watched you go. I should have done more, I should have done something. I just didn’t have anything left in me to save you too, and now it’s too late.

I’m so sorry Johnny.

this is what the living do

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Johnny,

I have become a person who people send sympathy cards to, someone people want to nurture with food, chocolate, flowers and kind messages. People hug me when they see me, and ask how I am. Most of the time I have no idea.

I’m wearing your pj bottoms as I write, and drinking tea from one of your cups. The pile of your newly washed, and neatly folded clothes sits on my bed and asks me what are you going to do with us now? I don’t know, that’s why I tried on the pj bottoms. I had to roll the waist because you were taller than I am. Were, I have to get used to speaking of you in the past tense.

We’ve been speaking of you in the past tense for two weeks, two weeks tomorrow, Saturday at 4pm. I’m still getting used to that.

I also wear your wedding ring, the one that dad left you after he died. It’s on my thumb. I play with it constantly, twisting it, rubbing it. I think about you and dad, and how I ended up older than either of you, and wonder if wearing this ring is a good idea or not.

I think you would like your service, it’s in two weeks, and I have spent a lot of time working on it. It has readings, poems, and we’re playing Leonard Cohen and The Beatles, actually the choir, the one you used to sing with, will be performing Hallelujah and All You Need is Love. They said they would be honoured to sing for you. Honoured, I wonder what you would think about that. We’re doing two of my favourite prayers. To be honest I don’t know what you would think of the whole thing. I finished the first draft of your eulogy, I’ve never written one of those, but I’d never written an obituary either, and I think your’s turned out alright.

When I went through your clothes that first week, the week we went through and cleaned and organized your apartment, I mainly thought of ones for Graham, so he could have something of yours. I thought about taking a box of your books for him too, but then didn’t. You two had so much in common, but he walked out of his treatment centre 3 days ago and we don’t know where he is now, so I’m back to looking at the pile of clothes, and I’m still don’t know what I will do with them.

I sit here, healthy, safe and warm, and you’re gone, you’re not even a body anymore, you’re ashes siting in a container somewhere, I don’t even know where. They gave mom your glasses and your watch. That’s what she has, your glasses and your watch. I can’t begin to know how that feels. Did they put them in a special box with gold lettering? A velvet bag? Or did they just shove them in a brown envelope? Does that help? I don’t think it would. I think it would equally excruciating to receive the items from your child’s body no matter how they were presented to you.

You broke my heart, Johnny, you broke all of our hearts, and I let you die. I let you die alone. I let my son become homeless, and I sit in my house and feel sorry. I feel sorry, and sad, and tired, really, really tired. Somehow that seems wholly inadequate. It seems there should be larger consequence for not saving you, or Graham, or even dad.

There is more, obviously. You can’t tell by looking at me, or by talking to me, most of the time anyhow. On the outside I look and sound pretty much the same. I’m not. I’m unmoored, I am no longer somebody’s sister, I no longer have a brother, and you were it, my only sibling. It’s just me now, and that feels unnatural. All our private jokes, our code words, things that only we talked about and knew, all those things are gone, and what’s left is just space.

This was not how all of this was suppose to turn out. We were going to be great. We had grand plans. Happy lives mapped out. Lives with spouses, and happy children, successful careers, and somehow bits of that got lost.

I have to stop now. I have to find a place to put your clothes, and I have to go back to the actions that make up my life now.

I found this poem for you. I think maybe you would have made fun of it, but you don’t get to speak for yourself anymore, so here it is.

What the Living Do
Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.

And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

Goodnight Johnny. I love you.

“I just sit by and let you fight your secret war”

meanwhile, when you were focused on back to school, this happened

So This happened today.

The Heroin Crisis Act Unanimously Passes Through Illinois House

A friend from one of my online support groups summed it up beautifully “Today was epic! Illinois legislators passed House Bill 1, the Heroin Crisis Bill that opens up treatment options for ALL who suffer from the disease of addiction. You no longer have to be wealthy, or have “the right kind of insurance”…all you have to do is want to get into recovery, and a way will be found.”

Alex Colville,  Horse and Train,

Alex Colville, Horse and Train,

People have died. Way too many people have died, are dying now, and will die from this disease.

I don’t mean to be unkind, really I don’t, but there are days when reading about how hard it is to have your well, well and alive, well and alive, and thriving, child away at college and how much you miss them, and all the money you have to spend on their phones, books, cars, rent and so on, there are days I just can’t read your Facebook posts, or look at pictures of your kids’ dorm room, college campus, and/or sports team. Today is one of those days. Today I am missing my son, not because he is away at college and spending too much money, but because he is away in treatment half  a country away. He’s been away for over 15 months, without holiday weekends visits, or summer or Christmas  at home. I haven’t seen him since December, his sisters since last June.

And I know there are people reading this who would give anything to have their child safe and in treatment, anything just to have their child alive again.

We are very, very lucky. We had the “right” insurance, sort of. More accurately, we had insurance and the time, and the physical and mental tenacity to fight, to fight over and over and over again, for coverage that was constantly denied. I can’t even think about the money still owed.

So yeah, today was important. I am hopeful. I am precariously optimistic that things could get better, that fewer families will watch their loved ones die from lack of adequate treatment. I am also tired, and feel like my skin is way too thin, and stretched way too tight, and feel like I have no defenses left, no protection from the emotions this stirs up. Oh, and I hate this disease, I hate how it decimated my family, my son, but also my father and my brother, and all who love and who loved them.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got tonight. No pithy wisdom, no sage acceptance or quotes about letting go and letting god. Just straight up tired, Maybe tomorrow I’ll be wise.

how to save a life

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When he was four, I carried my son into the Emergency room while he screamed in pain. He had, as it turned out, appendicitis. For the hours leading up to our dramatic entrance he had been at home not feeling well with a stomach ache which had become worse and worse. I had called a physician friend of mine and gone over his symptoms, which were basically pain, no vomiting, no fever, no right sided tenderness. I was worried it was appendicitis, but I wasn’t sure and wanted someone to tell me what to do. My friend ended up saying it was likely just a GI bug, but it could be appendicitis – ha ha!! Well it was, and his appendix burst that night before they could operate. He had peritonitis by the time they opened him up and they cleaned him out as best they could. That was the longest night of my life. I sat alone in the waiting room while the surgery they had told me would be 90 minutes stretched out for hours with no word to tell me what was going on in the OR. A week later he was sick, his stomach bloated, his incision oozing. They took him back into surgery and cleaned out the peritonitis again, this time leaving the incision open to drain. For weeks afterward the wound oozed and had to be debrided daily. There was no pain medication that helped and these sessions were essentially me holding him down while a nurse pulled out the gauze from hole in his abdomen, irrigated the open wound, repacked it with new sterile gaze. Eventually he healed, and all that is left is an impressive scar.

That was an exceptionally difficult thing to go through. When they finally took him into surgery I didn’t know for sure what was wrong, or what would happen. I was terrified and could do nothing but sit with it for hours in a small waiting room by myself. Difficult and terrifying to say the least, but at least there was something to be done. I took him to Emergency. I jumped up and down like only a mother whose four year old is in agony can until they got the on call surgeon in to see him. I held him up to, and right after surgery. I never left his side in the hospital, and when he had to get up and walk for the first few times after surgery and he cried and he screamed, I held his hand, and made him walk with tears pouring down my own cheeks. I held him down during the painful dressing changes and sang to him. I read him story after story to pass the time and to distract both of us. I felt helpless in the face of his pain and would have taken on myself if only I could have.

Now he is in pain again. He has been in pain for years.  I have done everything I can think of to help him. There have been countless doctors, specialists, counselors and therapists. There have been expensive in hospital treatments, year long out patient programs, support groups, and meeting after meeting after meeting. There have been successes, and there have failures. We have watched his peers struggles, sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail, and sometimes they die. I can’t say it hasn’t worked. He’s still alive. He’s graduated from high school. Those are successes. But he is struggling more and more and now there isn’t a surgery they can perform to take the poison out of him. There isn’t a song or a story I can tell him to get us through this. I’ve sung all my songs, and he doesn’t like my stories any more.

There is another way we can help him, it is loving but also it is difficult. It is not an easy way, but may be the only way to get through to him and help drain the poison himself. It won’t be any less painful that before, but it could save his life.

On facebook today there was a picture of a young family. Two happy looking parents, three young beautiful children. The caption was “Father needs new cancer drug to stay alive”. You want to help this man, his family. Cancer is an awful disease and we all know and love people it has harmed or killed. There are fund-raisers for beautiful children ill with cancer. Everybody wants to save them, and they should.

Nobody has fund-raisers to help pay for an addict’s treatment. Nobody puts photos of their addicted son, daughter, spouse, parent, or friend and asks for support. They just aren’t that likable. You don’t get the same good feeling about helping them, and addiction is every bit as much of a life threatening illness as cancer. It is an illness, (more about that here) and it affects more people that most of us realize. There are treatments, and people do survive. People who become profoundly grateful and beautiful, in the way only those who have been through hell and made it back can be. They go on to help others going through this nightmare. This isn’t something that people generally share because of the stigma associated with the disease of addiction.

So. There is another program, in Utah, that would help my son. One that could save his life. And I don’t know how we will manage it. I am so overwhelmed I don’t know how to begin to figure this out. I still want to pretend this isn’t happening, but t is, and I will have to figure this out too. And one day, maybe, we may save his life.

 

“How To Save A Life”  – The Fray   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DF0zefuJ4Ys

Step one – you say, “We need to talk.”

He walks, you say, “Sit down. It’s just a talk.”
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
And you begin to wonder why you cameWhere did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

Let him know that you know best
‘Cause after all you do know best
Try to slip past his defense
Without granting innocence
Lay down a list of what is wrong
The things you’ve told him all along
Pray to God, he hears you
And I pray to God, he hears you

And where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

As he begins to raise his voice
You lower yours and grant him one last choice
Drive until you lose the road
Or break with the ones you’ve followed
He will do one of two things
He will admit to everything
Or he’ll say he’s just not the same
And you’ll begin to wonder why you came

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

How to save a life

How to save a life

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life
How to save a life

How to save a life