Alcoholism

I’ve never been one to frequent the doctor’s office. Over the last year, however, I’ve become quite comfortable sitting on those papered tables and holding my arm out for a blood pressure reading. A fractured leg and the like, had doctor visits surpassing salon visits this year. Sadly.

Over these visits, as we prepared for a surgery, a single scenario seemed to play on repeat:

Nurse enters room and following small talk and blood pressure check a family history is taken:

Nurse: Let’s start with your dad. Any history of diabetes?
Me: No.
Nurse: Cancer?
Me: No.
Nurse: Heart Disease. . . lung disease. . . asthma. . . kidney disease, etc. etc. .
Nurse: Is your father living?
Me: Yes.

Nurse: Now onto your Mom. Any history of diabetes?
Me: No.
Nurse: Cancer?
Me: No.
Nurse: Heart disease. . . lung disease. . . asthma. . . kidney disease, etc.
Nurse: Is your mother living?
Me: No.
Nurse: Cause of death?
Me: (Deep breath, heart pounding
) Alcoholism.
Nurse: (Sad, sorrowful eyes) I’m so sorry.

This scene has played out countless times, in more tiny, sterile rooms than I can count. In the space between the word ‘alcoholism’ and the ‘I’m so sorry’, there is an indescribable heaviness. In that space I wonder what the nurse is thinking–about me, about my Mom, about our story. There is so much unsaid that, in my rational mind I know doesn’t need to be said, but still I want to say so much.

I can’t help but wonder the image that comes to mind when I say the word, ‘alcoholic’. Do you picture an unshaven man sitting in a back alley with a brown paper bag and mumbling words without meaning? An angry woman who spits venom into anyone and anything in her path?

Sure, we’ve come a long way as a society in understanding mental health issues–but have we really?

Each time I tell someone my Mom died of alcoholism, there is always, bubbling just under the surface, a longing to say more. In a way, I guess I want to defend her. Defend my Mom. Her memory. And who she was–on her very best days.

When the nurse looks at me with her sad eyes, I want to tell her, she was a really good Mom. She loved us so well and I never questioned her love–not a single day in my life. If the nurse was listening, and if it wouldn’t seem completely out of place, I’d go on to tell her how my Mom and I talked on the phone several times a day and there was not much of anything I wouldn’t tell her. I might tell her about the way my Mom loved us through her cooking and I’d describe the way she found the most perfectly suited unique gifts for the people in her life.

I want to talk about how very kind she was.
Her gentleness.
Her quirky sense of humor.
Her childlike ways.
The way she often ordered off the kids menu–grilled cheese or macaroni.
Her staunch morality.
Her love for my Dad.
Her love for her kids.

My Mom was broken like, well, like we all are broken. I wish, more than anything, I understood today what plagued her. Why she felt the need to escape into a bottle. I wish that I could fully understand why our love wasn’t enough to make her fight. Why she couldn’t have fought just a little bit harder.

In the end, alcohol was a giant that she couldn’t defeat. In the end, it was bigger than she was.

I will forever have unanswered questions.

They tell you there are Five Stages of Grief. I learned all about them in grad school–perfectly numbered and described in outline form. The Five Stages can be deceiving, though. Most of us know that grief comes in waves and, it tapers over time. But the thing I’ve learned over the last decade is this: grief is something we carry with us.

There is no, ‘hit the five stages and I’m done’. Instead, grief stays and resurfaces in different ways over time.

Today, I was folding a fitted sheet. (I say folded loosely as I more wad it into a ball.) Chad laughed and said, your mom could fold those things like nobody’s business.

I wish I could ask her how she folded a fitted seat.

Last week, we watched as Meadow danced on the trampoline in all her glorious freedom, and I mentioned to Chad, Goodness, I wish Mom could have met her.

I carry grief with me because I loved her so much. I carry it with me because on a daily, weekly basis, I think, to myself, I wish she were here.

So, instead of wishing to get over it, I’ve learned to become friends with it. To allow the tears to come when they will. To verbalize, out loud, man, I wish I could call her right now. I’ve learned to stop wishing the hurt to go away. Instead, I carry it with me–a scar forever embedded–reminding me of her love.

Ten years ago today we lost her.

We lost her to alcoholism.

I’m so proud to have been her daughter.

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