TW: death, alcoholism
I think this is my first post under my own name. I don’t know how to feel about that either.
Three years ago today the body of my mother was found severely decomposed in her home. She’d been living in Akron, about 120 miles away from me for the past couple of years and I hadn’t spoken to her in nearly a year. She was an alcoholic. Not the kind you see on TV, she was completely mad. Most of the time she’d have no idea who she was, where she was, when she was… or who I was. Karsakoff’s psychosis or “wet brain” is a condition caused by chronic alcohol abuse and is characterized by short term memory problems, hallucinations, creation of false memories and a change in personality as well as a vitamin b1 deficiency. This was my mom. She was completely off the rails in the last years of her life and I often wondered how she even had the ability to make it too and from the liquor store in her state. Because of her impairment, she became mean, vile. Even before the disease took hold she’d often say the nastiness, meanest thing she could to cut a person down as far as possible. After, it was all she could do.
With the physical distance set, it was easy for me to cut her off completely. The woman who had raised me and been my best friend for the first 16 years of my life was already dead to me. Everything good she ever did was dead and forgotten. But there was always this weird shred of hope I guess that someday she could, she WOULD get better. She could be that person again who gave me my happiest memories, the most solid love and support. She was always my biggest fan, my loudest cheerleader, my personal God. But she had to get better and I couldn’t be there for her until she was.
Three years ago I had just adopted a puppy. My Lunatic. Or Luna for short. I drove to Akron to spend my vacation week with my aunt, my mom’s big sister. I wanted her to meet my new child and I wanted to spend time with her. I learned that my mom was really sick from her. No surprises there; I never thought she’d live to see 50 the way she was going. I turned down the opportunity to go see my mom and asked my aunt to not even tell her I was in town. And of course she didn’t. She understood. She’d become my mom’s caretaker of sorts for the last year or more and knew how hard it would be to be around her.
I was on my way home from this vacation that my aunt called me. She’d mentioned that my mom had a doctor’s appointment that day and she’d be taking her. She told me that she’d been unable to reach her by phone for the last few days too. She asked if I wanted to go with her to check on her before the appointment. I declined again. I was about an hour away down the highway when my phone rang. “She’s gone.” “What?” Like she’s not home? Lost? “Your mom is gone. She’s dead.” I turned the car around and asked her to wait to let the ME take her until I got there. And they waited for me. And I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t feel anything. Disappointment maybe? Relief? And she was very gone. But there were receipts in her car that showed she was at the grocery store on 7/15. I’d been in town since the 15th. What if I’d just gone there first? Would I have been able to see she was actively dying and got her to a hospital? Would it have mattered? What if I had called her every day like I promised I would when her mom died? At least she wouldn’t have been alone then. Why couldn’t I have stopped and seen her when I was in town in January for my birthday? I thought I was protecting myself from her.
Maybe I was. I can’t forgive myself for these things but I am working on giving myself the grace I denied to her. My mom was a good person. She was a good mom. She was a good daughter. She was a good friend and a good nurse. She wasn’t perfect but she didn’t have to be. I held her to an impossible standard where I refused to contact her until she met it. The good things she was or did were so overshadowed by her disease it’s all some people ever knew her for or could remember her for. She was a whole person, not just her disease. But she died alone because of it. She suffered for so many years because of it.
In my nightmares I’ve told her I’m glad she’s dead. Maybe I am. The true is, it was relieving. I didnt have to worry about her hurting herself or anyone else anymore. I didn’t have to worry about her pain and loneliness anymore. But I really do miss that woman. The real one.
Alcoholism is a disease. Left untreated it will kill you and sometimes kill you long before you’re done breathing. There is help for those who seek it.
Now… If someone I love is struggling, I won’t let them struggle alone. No one should ever feel as alone as she did.