Forgive and Forget?

Garden of the Gods:Kirk's spot

Where My Brother’s Ashes Are

A lot of people have relatives who are addicts. The addict gets a lot of sympathy and the family might get some, but never as much as the “poor” addict. There’s no question that an addict shooting up or drinking him/herself to death is about as sad a story as there is. What I discovered over the years of attempting to help my alcoholic brother is that in the eyes of many of my family members he — because he was a problem and needed to be rescued — was more valuable than I was.

I was not aware that somewhere deep inside of me, I agreed with them.

As happens with drunks (my brother was a drunk) they either stop drinking, they die from drinking or they make the transition into becoming “incorrigible” drunks. My brother took the long way and by the time he died in 2010 he was 57, and I had not spoken with him in five years. I heard about his death accidentally. Someone trying to collect one of his brother’s innumerable debts contacted our aunt with the information that my brother had died. That message made its way to her daughter — my cousin — and then to me.

I was angry and abysmally sad. In order to save myself I had cut off direct contact with him. His persistence (and my trying to help him through various attempts at rehab) had led me to work three jobs. That sacrifice (and it was) was better than losing faith, better than believing his  words, “You don’t understand. I like being drunk. Why are you trying to stop me all the time?” But it took a toll and some of my friends, seeing the effect on me, stepped in, pretty much saying, “If you don’t stop, this will kill you.” They were right.

As the knowledge of his death sank in, I realized that I hated him for dying, for taking from me that burning coal of hope that there would come a day when he would decide that life, his daughter, his sister, his immense talent were worth more to him than being drunk. Now that door was irrevocably closed. I was then stuck with finding out how he had died; of what he had died; where he had died; what had happened to his body; if he’d died alone or in a hospital or? I was stuck with telling the family and facing their castigation, “Why didn’t you take better care of your brother?”

It’s very complicated this addict stuff. I had a lot to sort through and a lot to help my niece sort through. Then one day I saw a little saying somewhere — no idea where — but it said, “Forgiveness is accepting that you cannot change the past.” That was exactly right. I could not change my brother’s decisions in some dim moment thirty or forty years before. I could not change his nature, his childhood, his basic personality, his choices. Just as I’d had to accept that I couldn’t change my brother’s choices while he was alive, I couldn’t re-write the past to make it turn out as I wanted. And yeah; I was angry at him for making the story turn out like that instead of the way I wanted it to.

With that understanding, I began to find my brother again. Not the drunk, but the man and the boy I’d loved, my best friend, but still a person I had always known was not me. I forgave him for taking himself away from me (that was, after all, what I hated him for, for not choosing me over booze).  

Last March, I took some of his ashes to Colorado Springs, our home town, and with his friends made a little pilgrimage to a spot between a cedar and a juniper tree below a formation that we all climbed as teenagers. Some of my brother’s ashes mixed with the sand, some were thrown into the air by his friend. It was a great day; spectacularly beautiful, filled with love, cold-late-winter sunlight, vibrant colors and spontaneous song. One of Kirk’s friends remembered a song Kirk had written and banged out on the piano, singing along. 

My brother is the kid sitting on the ground, a walking stick across his knee and a beer in his hand. 

Kirk, Jim, Krista, Joe

I still miss him, and though no longer angry or as sad, I still couldn’t quite “get” the puzzle of his choices, but a dream I had recently put it all together. In the dream I was in a hotel in Death Valley. I opened the drapes to the sliding glass door. My brother was outside, lying on the grass, smoking his pipe. I opened the door. 

“Kirk, I thought you were dead!”

“Naw,” he said, jumping up and hugging me. “I just couldn’t handle that reality any more so I left.”

(Based on the daily prompt:

11 thoughts on “Forgive and Forget?

    • I think he is in a better place, too. I woke up feeling a lot better about everything.

  1. My first husband killed himself with alcohol. Garry tried, but sobered up before he succeeded. We don’t drink at all anymore and haven’t in years. I always wonder how come alcohol is legal while marijuana isn’t (at least not yet)? What am I missing?

    • Where I live now, pot is legal. My brother said he wouldn’t have been a drunk if he’d been able to get pot but I find that a completely absurd and stupid justification. I think booze is legal because prohibition was such a disaster and we grow stuff to make booze — my valley grows all the hops that go into Coors beer. I think they could switch over, though. 😉 Personally, I find being straight bizarre enough…

  2. This was/is an excellent account of what any kind of addiction can do to a family or friends. Some addicts and drunks simply do not have the backbone or inner strength to get clean or sober. And many times these individuals are extremely talented in some area. It is such a wasted life. I am sorry that you had to deal with your brother until he almost put you under the sod.

    • There’s a companion to that — it’s actually one of my “most read” posts. First is the frosty trees against the blue sky then next to it is the photo of the Garden of the Gods. That’s what happened after my brother died. While turning out well would have meant he didn’t die, what did happen was very beautiful in a way I couldn’t have imagined. I’m in Colorado now partly because of the events following my brother’s death. My brother’s life was wasted. It made me fearless in counseling the students who came to me with alcohol problems. I pulled no punches with them. I said, “You’re 19 now but you don’t know where you’re going to be in 40 years. Quit now while you have your youth and your future”

      • Wise advice and I hope that all or most of those youngsters listened to you. I will look for the other post maybe tomorrow night. I really want to read that one, too.

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