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Three Years of what if

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.

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Wow this struck a nerve. 10 years ago, my brother was battling with hard drugs. Fortunately he got better, he’s doing amazingly well today, and we have a good relationship. Reading your post brought back a flood of emotions though. Thoughts that prison was the best place he could be, that he would do everyone a favor if he overdosed or got murdered, resentment that he made my home unsafe at the lowest time of my life. My parents never gave up on him, and I never understood why. I was just so angry at him for hurting everyone around simply by being. Eventually my parents learned boundaries, the things they could and couldn’t tolerate. They could tolerate communication with him, but not helping him financially. It was that channel of communication that helped them get him into rehab for the 4th time, 24 hours after he said he was really ready, for the final time. If it was me, I wouldn’t have listened. I would have told him to screw off. I’d have thought about how many times we’d been down that road already. I’d have condemned him to death, all alone. I’m so thankful now that my parents gave him the grace that disgusted me at the time.

None of this is helpful, but I wanted to say I hear you, and I understand. I understand why you didn’t want to see your mom. I understand the conflicting feelings over her death, of wondering if you were responsible by not checking in with her, or wondering if it was ultimately for the best, the physical manifestation of a spiritual death from years before.

Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry for your loss. I hope you find peace, like you said, knowing that your mom is at rest now. I’m glad you’ve resolved to be there for those who are suffering. Lastly, I’m thankful for the reminder that even the sickest people were whole people, that they can be whole again with the right help and boundaries, and that the consequences of writing them off can be so much harder in reality than in the abstract.

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Thank you for sharing your experience with me. I’m so glad to hear that your brother found a successful road to recovery and is healthy now. It’s so easy to blame an addict for their addiction. In reality, the abuse is just a symptom of the disease itself, not the cause.

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Katie. Thank you so much for sharing these parts of your story. It’s such a vulnerable and intimate part of your life. My heart goes out to you.

While I was reading your post, I couldn’t help but thinking about how it’s been to grieve the loss of my brother, who’s been gone for three years as well. He wasn’t addicted to alcohol. A genetic disease took him away, and we only knew about it while he started to be in hospital. For a couple of months, his health declined drastically and then he was just gone. Losing him has shaken many beliefs that it made me question who I was, as a sister, while he was alive.

The circumstances surrounding his death were complex, but basically due to a set of unfortunate events with a mom that’s always been pretty abusive, my sister and I stopped talking to her. But our brother lived next to our parents home while we were both living far away - me even in a different country. The question of travelling and visiting him in hospital was there, but that would have implied for me to sleep at my parent’s house, to handle my mom, to be surrounded by bad memories, and I convinced myself that I couldn’t do that. I pushed away over and over the perspective of seeing him. The last time I heard his voice, he was having hallucinations and automatically gave a phone call. I was visiting my sister at the time, and we had to reassure him. We encouraged him to go to sleep because he was panicked. Hours after, we were told that he was going to be put into an artificial coma. The day after, my sister and I felt the urge to travel anyway, together, and see him. We’ve spent 24hours in the hospital with our parents. There was nothing to do anymore and the doctors stopped the machines that kept him alive. I had to say goodbye to him while he was unconscious. It felt like he was already gone.

Last time I saw him was 6 months before his death and his body already changed so much because of his health. I knew he wasn’t okay. My brother was struggling a lot during his life, but he was also convinced that he was nothing, so he never tried to help himself, despite being a treasure of a human being. My mom, who failed at being a mom, always put a lot of pressure on me to be the one who would have to talk to him, to encourage him to go see a doctor, to get help also for his mental health. But the way she would repeatedly ask me that was manipulative and out of fear. She wanted me to be the mom. Through the years I was fed up by her attitude and I refused to help my brother. Not because I didn’t care about him. But because I didn’t want to please my mom and do her job. I also convinced myself that it was too much and I couldn’t handle it because of my own struggles. While, honestly, it felt like I was more trying to convinced myself artificially. He struggled with two addictions. He was clinically depressed. He had times when he was suicidal. He felt worthless. I knew all of it. I understood him beyond words. But I never dared to speak and frankly ask: how are you? I distanced myself from him, because being away from him was being away from my mom too.

I feel all of these what if questions, Katie. What if I asked? What if I was there? What if I just tried something different? What if I was actually able to shoulder his burdens and mine at the same time? What if I gave him more actively what he needed the most: love? What if I was there when he was in pain at the hospital? What if I weren’t in denial while he was sick, repeating to myself that he would be okay while we knew he wouldn’t? What if I travelled? Was he scared when they put him to sleep? What if I encouraged him more to see a doctor? A few months after his death, we’ve had his medical files and it was written in it that he was brought to the emergencies a couple of months before he had to be in hospital again as his condition was worse. It was written that doctors detected something abnormal, but also that he refused any further examination. We never knew about any of this. Reading it made me feel like I failed so much at being there for him.

These questions hurt so much. The unknown feels unbearable at times. And I hear you regarding the difficulty of giving yourself grace through all of it. For so many struggles and hurdles in life, there’s always even just a tiny spark of hope regarding the possibility to find a solution. But death is brutal, cruel, and the hardest thing to wrap our heads around is the fact that there is no way back. We are forced to deal with what can’t be anymore. We can only learn to live with what was, or we can let ourselves be eaten alive by guilt, shame, regrets and sorrow.

These questions have a reason to be. Death doesn’t make any sense. There is no answer to this big “why” that keeps existing above our heads. So a way to make sense of what goes beyond words is to review the story, to try to recreate the narrative with our imagination. What if? Then the reality strikes again, and it feels like banging our head against a wall. Our voice gets lost in an echo.

I don’t have many answers or words of wisdom. But I wanted to say that you are not guilty for what your mom went through. You know that already. But when intense emotions and pain are involved, it’s not that easy to feel this way. As you said, your mom was a beautiful person. And the person you knew was not the same anymore. She was not defined by her disease though, just like my brother’s life was not just about his depression, suicidal tendencies or last months spent at the hospital. Your mom was not defined by her struggles. There will never be any disease on Earth that will ever have the ability to take away who she was. You knew her in a way that most people didn’t. You saw her beauty. You knew her heart. And that is something you will always own and carry on with you. There’s a legacy of her within you, in your mind, in your heart, in the way she impacted your life, both through the most beautiful times and the painful ones.

Reviewing the story and questioning your choices makes sense. It’s a way to regain some control when nothing makes sense. But I want you to know that what happened was not your fault. We will never know how it would have been “if”. But I know two things for sure. First, these questions have no limit and can drown us very quickly. They are healthy to some extent, and being aware of those limits it’s so important too. You know that again. And reaching out, sharing your story the way you did right here, is an incredible way to acknowledge those limits.

A second thing is that, for the little that I’ve had the privilege to know you, I know how beautiful of a human being you are. I know you care. Genuinely. Not on the surface. But as someone who feels and questions things with a real willingness to do what is right. You dare to show up and speak. Unfortunately, in complex situations like these that involve someone else’s desire to help themselves, doing “what is right” suddenly becomes less obvious. You are a loving, beautiful human being Katie. And seeing the end of your post, the conclusion you are building from this part of your story, shows how much of your character, strength, and heart.

Thank you for caring in a world where most people don’t. Thank you for daring to sit with your pain, for giving yourself grace despite the overwhelming “what if?” questions. For not only facing the reality of this painful grief, but also creating a legacy that is oriented towards doing some good around you. No, we can’t change the past. But yes, we can make sure to try differently, as long as we acknowledge what happened already, in a loving, compassionate, and graceful way. Both to ourselves, and to the loved ones we couldn’t help. Just like you, I’m still not sure what is the way to live with what happened. But I know that I can do my best to pour some love around me in a different way. One that doesn’t fear discomfort, unspoken words, or hurt.

Thank you for being you. I know you bring and will keep bringing a lot of goodness, love and peace in this world. :hrtlegolove:

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Wow. Thank you for opening up and sharing this story. This was very brave for you to do and I have so much respect. I’m almost in the same predicament with my father presently. Back in 2017 he ended up in the hospital from his drinking, his body was starting to shut down but was able to get in and taken care of. He was sober for almost two years after, I think. Now, he has a new grandbaby (my son who is 10 months) and I am not speaking to him because he has fallen back down that path. I have a feeling he will end up with “wet brain” like your mother was unfortunately. I have already seen the signs. His sense of reality and time is shot. He looks shriveled and his eyes are yellow. He showed up recently unannounced after almost 3 months and I told him to leave because he was drunk. I didn’t want that around my wife and son. Now, I don’t know if that will plunge him into binge drinking more. I don’t want him to die alone.

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Micro… you are such an amazing human being. Thank you so much for sharing your story with me. Thank you for moving me to tears before I’ve even had any coffee.

It makes a lot of sense what you said, trying to give yourself control in a situation where you really have none. I know deeply that I am not responsible for the actions of someone else. You couldn’t control your mother or your brother. I’d be so lost without my brother. I can only imagine the hell I’d put my brain through if I ever lose him.

You’re right about so much. And I am so so lucky to know who my mom really was. I’d like to tell the world about the real her. The woman that loved my dearest grampa even after divorcing his son. The woman that would take me to get a piercing any time I was feeling overwhelmed by things out of my control. She was the woman that spent her whole bonus on a weekend trip with me to Las Vegas to see our favorite band play two nights in a row. She was a QUEEN. I just wish she could have seen it. I wish I would have done my part to help her see it.

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Thank you for taking your time to share with me. I’m so sorry you are going to this with your dad. You are completely right to need to protect your family. Back when my life was on a different path I always imagined the day I might have to turn my mom away from meeting her grandchildren.

Sometimes it feels like there’s no right answer. You’re not wrong to cut him off. You have the right and the responsibility to protect your castle. I’m sure some part of him even knows that.

I did what I had to to protect my castle. But I should have been a better daughter too when I had the chance. I was just as awful to her as she was to me at times. I just have to hope now that she didn’t question my love for her.

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I am so glad you shared here under your name :slight_smile:

Kate, friend. Those are huge questions, with a heavy story. What a weight to have to carry thank you for sharing, so you don’t have to carry it alone.

While I can’t relate to your whole story, I can relate to pieces. I lost my mom very suddenly, as I’d mentioned to you before, to a drunk driver. Just a few days before she died, I was suppose to call her. I was going to ask her to take off work 2 hours early (which she could have and would have easily done), because I had some free time in the week and I wanted to go get dinner with her. I decided against it and that I’d just stay in my college town instead. That was the day she died. What if I’d called? I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, if I even mentioned it and then decided against it, she would have come to my town. Why didn’t I call her?

I also related to you mentioning yo her in nightmares that you’re glad she’s dead. My mom had several chronic health problems. They were killing her, very slowly, and the longer they went on the more she would suffer. They were robbing her of things she enjoyed in her life, and I could see it was breaking her down. So, sometimes I’m glad she doesn’t have to fight that anymore. That I don’t have to watch her fight it anymore.

But I also know how happy she would be to see my kid, my sister’s son. How happy she would be about a lot of things in my life.

Your story reads like you did the very best you could for yourself at the time with the knowledge you had. Every person is filled with their own context and, even despite the hesitation you hinted at feeling though your questions, the context of your life meant you needed that boundry at the time. Death has a way of ripping apart all of that and it doesn’t do so gently. It makes everything else seem confusing and trivial, when it really wasn’t that way before. Giving yourself grace is a great place to be. I know it can be hard to be stuck not only with the “what if i…” questions but also the “what if she…” questions as well.

Thank you for sharing this and for loving people so genuinely and honestly. You’re definitely letting that grace shine through every interaction you have with everyone here. I really happy to call you friend.

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Thank you, friend. I love you so much.

You’re right. I did the very best I could for myself at the time with the knowledge I had. I guess I just wish I’d had more knowledge. I didn’t even know her dog had died a couple months before leaving her all by herself with her disease.

I wish I hadn’t made my aunt find her by herself. I should have been there.
I just wish I’d done better.

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Hey Katiebugg93!

EsRivs responded to your post with some wonderful words of encouragement live on stream!

Here is a link to the video so you can hear their reply for yourself.

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I’d like to tell the world about the real her. The woman that loved my dearest grampa even after divorcing his son. The woman that would take me to get a piercing any time I was feeling overwhelmed by things out of my control. She was the woman that spent her whole bonus on a weekend trip with me to Las Vegas to see our favorite band play two nights in a row. She was a QUEEN. I just wish she could have seen it. I wish I would have done my part to help her see it.

Just reading this brings such a giant smile to my face. It sounds she was incredibly wonderful. The kind of person who’s able to move mountains just for the sake of caring about someone dear to their heart. That’s beautiful, Katie. These memories of her won’t be lost. And it will actually be a fuel for you in your life. There’s a part of her in you. In the words she said, in the moments you’ve spent together, in the things she taught you.

For my brother’s funeral, I wrote a poem (in my native language, not English). Part of it said:
“For I will share with the world the softness of your voice,
I will give without counting your generous sparks,
I will fill my actions with your own inspiration,
And will tell everyone how you were gone too soon.”

We are here. Breathing. Alive. Holding the legacy of the ones who are gone but can’t use their voice or share their gifts with the world anymore. Though we were blessed to do life with them and to know them. Not only as most people would in most social situations. But their inner self. The one that’s only shown when love, grace and safety are mutual.

You will be able to tell the world how much of a queen your mom was. Just like you did here. Just like you will through your actions and your words. Just like you will everytime you’ll listen to someone and help them realize they are not alone. Just like you will everytime you’ll also live for you. It’s you. It’s her. It’s your story, of you both, and it will keep on existing in a magnificent way, thanks to your voice, your resilience and your heart.

I’m grateful for you. And I’m grateful to know today a little more about this amazing human being that was your mom. Thank you so much for sharing all of this. :hrtlegolove:

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