19 March 2019

Death of an alcoholic

People are naturally always very sympathetic when they find out I am a widow and more often than not ask in hushed tones what my husband died of. When I tell them he was an alcoholic, their look turns from one of sympathy to complete incomprehension, particularly if they knew him slightly or worked with him. He or more precisely we were very good at masking it.... from friends, from neighbours, even from the immediate family. Denial is not just the prerogative of the alcoholic.

My own reaction to his death was strange. When someone has a terminal illness brought on by no fault of their own (let us say a stroke, heart attack, cancer or any number of the cruel life-taking illnesses there are), it is easier to feel so sorry for the patient, to tend to their every whim, make their dying as comfortable as possible and grieve heavily for them after they have gone. After all, it is not their fault.

In the case of an alcoholic who has brought all of their physical destruction on themselves and more than likely caused untold upset and chaos within the family unit, it is completely different. Mopping their sweat-covered brow with love and devotion just isn't an option, when that person has poured gallons and gallons of alcohol into their system, ranted and raved till the wee small hours of the morning, drunk the housekeeping money or dented the car. You might still end up mopping their brow (if you haven't left them in the meantime), but with a feeling of resentment, anger, wistfulness for what could have been and a great dollop of see-it-through-to-the-end fortitude. When they pass on, it is usually one of relief for those who have lived alongside it for years: relief that you can sleep peacefully and return to a normal existence at last.

When Greg died, I was unable to cry (see here) and still find I am relatively hardened to what  happened. It is difficult to knock those self-preservation barriers down that I erected for all those years he drank. Now, when milestones crop up such as birthdays or wedding anniversaries, I naturally think of my late husband. At first, I was too numb to feel anything. As the years pass (currently nine since his death), I am beginning to mellow and am saddened by what he is missing. As a BBC journalist, he would have been so interested in the international and local events of the last nine years. I wonder what he'd make of Brexit,  ISIS, the demise of the Liberal party to name a few. He has also missed out on our daughter's excellent progress in her career and her love life. Knowing he will never walk her up the aisle is particularly upsetting.  He would have been 70 next month. How and where would we have celebrated, who would we have invited, had he been a normal healthy 70-year-old? He and I have forfeited a long and happy retirement together. Gone are the weekends away somewhere or travel to new parts of the world. (I know a few widows or divorcees who do travel alone, but that's not for me. I would stick out like a sore thumb and would not enjoy it.) There's still, after nine years, an element of anger over the fact that my wings have been clipped as well as his, but I also feel sad that he missed out on so many things that could have been possible but for the kamikaze alcoholic choice he made.

The death of an alcoholic is a funny thing and does not always fit neatly into the stereotypical form of grief normally suffered by the bereaved. Whether my anger or the sadness will get the upper hand, who knows? Only more time will tell. 

06 March 2019

Nine years

Today is the ninth anniversary of Greg's death. Kay and I are going to the crematorium to lay flowers in the chapel. Sometimes it seems more than nine years, at other times barely possible that so much time has lapsed. We talk about him often - keen to keep him with us in the present; to chide him over his stupidity to drink himself to death; to lament his absence. To forget him is nigh-on impossible, despite the passing of time. How can you eradicate 39 years together? Most were happy, although they are unfortunately overshadowed by those last few years which were so full of the drunken nightmare, so that it is THAT which has stuck eternally in our minds. 

He was and always will be Kay's father. I am keen to keep his memory alive for her, the good side of him, the kind side of him, not the bad, drunken side. But with every passing year, I struggle to conjure up the details of his face or his voice. I have photos, of course. Cine film even. Not to mention cassettes of his voice as part of his work as a radio journalist. But the 3-D Greg is difficult to bring to the fore. He is fading away into the mists of the past, but still I feel the need to grasp hold of him and remember.

Last resting place