This past week I’ve been mentally processing some bad news after having a wonderful AA/Al-Anon weekend with my husband.
My husband and I, along with many of our friends spent a weekend of growing and fellowship in our respective 12 step programs. In the car on our way home my husband received some terrible news. His brother called him to tell him that his younger sister was very ill and in the hospital. Instinctively, my husband thought the worst, so I called my sister-in-law’s husband to speak with him directly. There are times when ignorance is bliss, and this would have been one of those times when I wish I didn’t know as much as I do. After speaking with my sister-in-law’s husband who told me bits and pieces of what was happening, I asked if I could have permission to speak with one of the nurses. He was more than willing to add my name to the short list of people who could call and inquire about her. The very first time I spoke with the nurse taking care of my husband’s sister, I knew the outcome was grim. In fact, to say her outcome was “grim” was actually being hopeful.
I told my the seriousness of the situation and I told him what “in my professional opinion” would be the outcome; but as I do with all families who have terminally ill relatives, I tell them that I am not God and that my opinion is based purely on the scientific, not the spiritual.
Without taking my sister-in-law’s inventory, and just stating the medical facts as I have learned them; she was an alcoholic. She had abused heroin when she was younger and was able to “kick” that habit without really ever working a 12 step program. She abused cocaine, and was able to leave that substance alone for long periods of time without working a 12 step program. The one drug she was never able to put down was alcohol. During the last year of her life she drank about a 5th of rum a day.
She died 1 1/2 days after my husband got the news she was hospitalized. Her death was “sudden” but it had been coming for a long time. She was 52 years old with a hundred years of pent up hurt and resentments that she could not get rid of. She was an angry and tough woman but very much a little girl. Her life was not a bowl of cherries but was filled with trials, tribulations and condemnation. She was a liar with a tremendously huge heart who loved imperfectly but loved the best she knew how….the best she was taught.
I have watched more than one alcoholic die an alcoholic death. Their disease that ultimately takes their life is probably one of the worst deaths to watch, and I can only imagine a much worse death to endure. When we got the news she was in ICU because of her disease and that there was really nothing more that could be done for her I remember making a silent prayer for her that if God wanted her that he would take her quickly, then I remember the next thought I had. “But for the grace of God, that could have been my husband.” I felt ashamed. Not seconds after I thought that thought, my husband turned to me with tears in his eyes and said to me, “That could have been me.”
I have spoken to my sister-in-law’s husband several times over the last week. Today I called him just to see how he was doing. The conversation was a little odd. He said to me, “How can someone who says they love you keep all these lies from you?” Being a bit confused, I asked him what he meant. He told me that in going through her things, he found out that the wife he had loved had lied to him about a great deal of things. I gave him the opportunity to vent and cry and hurt. He was such a ball of confusion. At the end of our conversation I told him to remember that his wife was consumed with a disease that she had no control over. I told him that alcohol owned her completely and she did the best she could with what she had. We spoke a little more and I hope I was able to give him some comfort. The whole situation saddens me. There is no healing words that I can say to make him feel good.
My husband has lost his only sister from a disease that he has found a program of recovery. I am told from his sponsor and my sponsor, that he is having survival guilt. I don’t like seeing my husband in so much pain. I don’t like the fact that he feels that “if only….” Even though he knows, I had to remind him, “You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it.”
What is the blessing here? He was the only one in his family that was able to love her exactly where she was….