Kindness of the Gods

In 2010 my brother — a hardcore alcoholic — died. None of his friends or family knew about it until five months afterward. I was devastated, naturally. I’d “cut off” my brother six years earlier when his constant demands for money and his absolute lack of awareness about anything in my life or his daughter’s life was too much. I always hoped that he would want us enough after a while to stop drinking. I have known people who made that choice — family vs. booze. My brother chose booze. And, right now I do not want to hear anything about “it’s a disease; they can’t choose” because the reality is that yes, addiction is a disease BUT the only cure lies in the hands/mind/heart of the addict. There is NO OTHER cure. Simple cure, horrendously difficult to accomplish. If you believe otherwise, you’ve bought into the addict’s con and my prayers go out to you.

When I learned of his death, I contacted one of his friends. We did work to confirm it. I was left, then with finding his body. After some effort it was delivered to me — ashes — by my sweet, friendly and dog-loving postal worker. She had no idea what she was handing me over the fence, but there was my brother.

My brother was my best friend. I loved him with all my heart and soul. So, as it happened, did many others. When the news got out I made a Facebook group for his friends. My brother was an artist and soon photos of his works began to appear on the page. Memories and stories appeared, also. Then, one of his friends from high school — Lois — held a wake for him. I couldn’t go (it was in Colorado and I’m in California). They filmed it as it was going on and I watched it on Facebook and commented — as if, almost, I was there. I saw my brother’s friends, all of whom were from his teens and twenties. I felt I had met them and knew them and loved them, but I only knew a couple of the

Three years later I went to Colorado to give a paper. By then I’d made Facebook relationships with some of my brother’s friends. We planned a small “service” for him and a dispersal of some of his ashes which I shipped ahead in case TSA didn’t like the stuff that looked exactly like gunpowder. I met some of these people for the first time. Others for the first time in more than 40 years. My new/old friend, Lois, and her husband cooked a brunch for everyone who would be coming. We sat in her living room and talked about my brother and about addiction and about each other and where life had brought us all. When the time was right, we took my brother’s ashes up to a place we had all loved as young people, to rocks on which my brother and I used to climb. I put some ashes between a cedar tree and a juniper tree, and one of my brother’s friends tossed some of my brother into the air.

I did not know these people. Many had not seen my brother in decades. ALL of them — all of us — had had some terrible experience with him. They were there to memorialize my brother, but they were also there for me. Never in my life have I experienced anything like that. I felt as if my brother — now in some place where he’s no longer tormented by the demons that pursued him — brought me to his friends. Perhaps he was finally able to see how golden they are. Perhaps  he knew I would love them. In any case, out of it and their kindness, have come friendships that I treasure with all my heart. I almost cannot believe my good fortune awakening from the sorrow and darkness of my brother’s life and my life with him into such a circle of kindness.

24 thoughts on “Kindness of the Gods

  1. I lost my brother last September. He and I had been estranged, on and off, most of our adult life. We weren’t close growing up because he tended to be a rather mean person. He had been married to 3 wonderful women, who I missed after they left him. I found and contacted each of them to let them know, and now I have these women back in my life. I thank him for this gift made possible by his passing. His memorial service was attended by only a few people; people I will not be friends with, because most live in a world of drugs. Your story was bittersweet for me. Glad that you remembered your brother before he let his addiction control his life. Sad that I never had a loving brother. (Well, I did have one, but he died in 1977). Peace to you.

    • It’s a crapshoot who we get for family members. The rest of it is up to us. Life is bittersweet. I always feel like Towelee in South Park (though I don’t smoke pot) “I have no idea what’s going on.” It’s an honest stance…

  2. Addiction destroys so many lives. I am happy that out of this tragedy, you have been able to connect/reconnect with an amazing group of people. I hope your brother is at peace.

  3. This is a wonder tribute to the people who cared about your brother. This spoke to because I lived much of my younger years with a father who suffered the same affliction. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Thank you for sharing this bitter sweet story Martha. You deserve to be loved and it’s wonderful that you have linked up with your brother’s circle. ❤

  5. My husband was alcoholic. After he died, I found a lighter in his briefcase – the sort that had so-called jokes on the side. His said ‘my wife has an alcohol problem – me.’ I’d like to think he left it there on pupose – but who knows?

    • Wow. THAT’S a message in a bottle (the pun was an accident – I’d like to claim it was intentional but it wasn’t)

  6. Losing a sibling must be hard, and alcoholism touches so many lives. I’m glad that there is some solace in the friendships you have gained..

  7. This was such an incredible account. You’re spot on in your description of the cure to alcoholism– the cure lies in the alcoholic and his or her decision to make a conscious change. I’m only 22 but I’ve already encountered people in my life who have failed to make that change. It is heartbreaking because, as you pointed out, we always hold out hope that, in the end, the booze will lose out to a preference for family and for love.
    Thank you for sharing this.

    • Thank you for your comment, Gabriella! I appreciate it very much.

  8. Now see, this is why it is such a shame that I overlooked your post on the Honey versus Vinegar Grid.

    “when his constant demands for money and his absolute lack of awareness about anything in my life or his daughter’s life was too much”

    I guess this is why one of the steps of AA is to make restitution. We all want to know that the person we forgive has some awareness of the price we paid.

    “I always hoped that he would want us enough after a while to stop drinking”

    This is why I am often so disgusted with my young friend’s husband, and why I am not sure I would continue to forgive him. (Actually I probably would forgive him, but I’m not sure I would stay married to him.) Is he aware of how much he is hurting her when he indulges in his addiction? When it comes down to it does he just not care? Does he love his addiction more than her? But, I am also aware that pornography has the same effect on the brain as heroin, and when I was a social worker I routinely saw mothers choose heroin over their children. Not because they did not love their children, but because the addictive power of heroin is so strong.

    At any rate, this is a poignant piece. I weep with you for all you’ve lost, and I rejoice with you over all you’ve found.

    • The bottom line is that it’s not in our hands what our friends or loved ones do. It’s in theirs. I learned through this that attempting to fix, “helping,” controlling, (judging, too, though unconsciously) is all a lack of faith. It’s important to let go. The film “Red” of the trilogy Blue, White, Red says it well. The protagonist has a brother who’s a junky. She asks a friend what she can do to help him. The friend says, “Be.” That’s the answer, actually. I sometimes wonder if I had figured that out sooner if it would have had some effect on my brother’s choices, then I see I’m just trying, again, to assume a burden that was not mine to carry.

    • We never know what things actually are — that’s what I learned from that. I’m here in Colorado now partly because of that journey. As time passed, I began to think that my brother chose his way out for reasons only he could understand. Not a happy story, but one that’s all too common, sadly.

      • My husband’s father (whom I never met) met a similar fate. He has the most beautiful four sisters (my husband’s aunts), and they have been very welcoming to me in their family, alas we are in Australia now so left everyone behind (in South Africa). Good to see them on Facebook though.

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