Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Greater Understanding-Living With An Alcoholic Parent

  This is the latest in my "Greater Understanding" series.  These posts introduce things in life that many of us may never experience, through the words of some of you who have lived them. They're not always comfortable to talk about, not always pleasant, but I really believe we need to open more dialogue if we're ever to understand what some people go through.  Because it's only by understanding that we can create empathy and compassion.

  This entry was generously written for me by a new reader.  As someone who spent my teen years and most of my twenties around an alcoholic stepfather, this story resonates with me. I want to thank her for submitting it.
   My father was a most complicated man, distancing us not only from him, but never allowing us contact with his family. An alcoholic, the damage he inflicted on all of us was significant and evident today in all of our relationships. I think my mother tolerated him and had somewhat of a relief when he died, at home unexpectedly. I couldn't cry or even mourn at his death. In fact, given all the odd things surrounding his death, we were surprised that they didn't think we knocked him off. I have been told by a therapist that adult children of alcoholics have a hard time having fun. I wonder if they have a hard time feeling grief too.

  “He’s a diabetic” I tell the coroner.. “Was a diabetic…” I correct myself as if she thought differently. Her eyes darted from the whiskey glass and half empty beer dregs to the empty bowls with their tacky film of melted ice cream. She opened the drawer. A carelessly tossed pile of chocolate bars. For the kids…I explain. A legal paper lay on the crowded table. I eyed it, relieved we had signed it a few days before.

  It has been hours now. Perhaps three or four. Since I arrived. …. The policeman is still sitting at his guard post in the living room chatting politely to the steady parade of visitors for whom I make tea. And phone calls. He has to wait for the coroner he tells us after the rescue people had left. We find no end to the small talk we make as he sat with us. He must have thought us strong, and brave and “like a rock”, admiring our composure and lack of hysteria. Perhaps he thought we would fall apart as soon as he lft, dissolving into uncontrollable tears.

  I had gotten there as quickly as possible. I had to make calls and arrangements for someone to take care work for me. Besides, someone was already there….so I thought. Someone had to have told her he was dead. She wouldn`t have just assumed on her own.

  When I arrived around 20 minutes later, she was on the phone. Her voice tense and shrill. She was alone. I went to see. Then took the phone from her and dialed 911. The dispatcher tried to talk me through it. It took me a bit to explain that I couldn’t do it, not because I was afraid, but because it had been hours. Sometime in the night.

   After the rescue crews left, we waited for the coroner and then the people from the funeral home, and were left awkwardly with the lone policeman….intruding on our space. We weren`t to be left alone with the body they told us. In the meantime, she flushed his pills in the toilet and made arrangements for his golf clubs. Eating her breakfast. Carefully drying her washcloth in the microwave like she did everyday.

   A small “gathering” . Some words….We had been asked to compile a list……I couldn’t think of anything so I didn’t contribute. His all time favourite song was played….I remember thinking “how could Charlotte Church” be his lifelong favourite. She was only 16 year old. Who on earth were they talking about….we never sang songs in the car together……

  My eyes were drawn to a woman at the back…..the only person crying. She was sobbing….I shrugged when asked who she was……She rose to speak….My heart started to pound. I suddenly felt queasy. A waitress from the pub. She had her own list. Long, emotional, devoted words a dear friend to this incredible kind and generous man. She wept. My mouth fell open with disbelief. Hey Lady, I think you got the wrong wake.

   She skipped the 5 stages of grief and went right to acceptance. The rest of us mourned, not for what we had lost, but for what we never had.


  1. This was incredibly powerful. Thank you for sharing this story. Death like this creates feelings you've describes so well here. Resentment almost. I appreciate the openness.

  2. I also would like to thank this person for sharing their story, I enjoyed it throughly.Touching and deep.

  3. Beautifully written, Than you for sharing your story.

  4. Thank you for sharing this incredibly personal story and insight with all of us.

  5. THanks for posting this.
    It is very honest to admit that sometimes the death of someone like that could be a relief to people. My grandmother's husband was an alcoholic and beat her. Even though she loved him, it was somewhat of a relief to her pain and suffering when he passed away.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story.