Requiem

My cousin died this week. Ironically, she died on the anniversary of my mom’s double mastectomy. So on the day that mom and I were celebrating her life, my cousin was losing hers. Obviously, this is a sad occasion, but what makes it worse is that my cousin did not have to die. And it is because of this that I find myself feeling unable to mourn her loss.

You see my cousin was a drug addict. She had been offered all kinds of help for years and always obnoxiously refused it. The last time I saw her, she was in the hospital trying to get her druggie friends to smuggle marijuana brownies up to her. She was happy and smiling. It’s a nice memory, except for the drugs and the fact that doctors had told her if she didn’t change her way of life that she wouldn’t make it. But she there was smiling and happy, seemingly oblivious to the goblin knocking at her door. She balked at the doctors one and all, giving her usual three-finger salute to them in defiance.

But that was my cousin.

Years ago, she had a prestigious job making 70K. Then through a course of bad decisions and destructive relationships, her life just spiraled out of control.

Now she’s gone and I’m feeling kind of numb.

Perhaps it’s because I’m so emotionally exhausted from everything I’ve been through this past year that my emotional resources or drained. Or perhaps it’s because I no longer had a close relationship with my cousin having allowed it to drift away. Think of me what you will, but after growing up with a parent who had an alcohol and drug addiction problem; I felt completely unable to cope with her problems too. But I think it has more to do with the fact that for the past year I have watched people valiantly fight to keep living in the face of cancer.

After being exposed to that kind of strength and courage on a daily basis, it just feels impossible to have much sympathy for my cousin right now. True, drug addiction is a medical issue, but she had more resources than most and more chances than I can think of to help herself. She didn’t have to die, but for some reason she chose to.

I don’t know if she didn’t take the doctors seriously or she just didn’t care. Perhaps she was tired. I don’t know and there was no way of getting an answer out of her. She was so drug addled the last time I saw her that it was difficult to decipher much of what she was saying.

I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m judging her harshly, because I’m not. For some reason, she chose a tragic existence for herself that hastened her death. That’s horrible. I couldn’t save her, even though I wanted to. But there comes a point when you’re dealing with someone like this, that you realize that you can’t save them. They have to save themselves.

My dad was able to overcome his addictions and I was hoping the same for my cousin, but it wasn’t to be and it had nothing to do with fate, but with her own poor choices.

Just the same, I loved her, and yes, this is a loss, and not only to my family, but the community at large. You see, before drugs took over her life, my cousin was a social worker. I remember being amazed at the stories she’d tell of the people she’d helped. So, it’s ironic that she, not only became someone who needed help, but also someone who refused it. She had devoted her life to helping people in situations like hers and she did so much good. God only knows why even started taking drugs to begin with. She’d seen firsthand with so many of her clients how much drug addiction can destroy lives.

Maybe I’m a little angry at her. I don’t know.

I tell myself that I stopped missing her a long time ago, because the person she became was not the person I used to know and admire. But that’s a lie. Perhaps I’ve already mourned her and maybe that’s the reason why I’m feeling the way I do now or maybe this is another lie and I’m just stuffing my feelings for her deep down inside because this all hurts so much.

Even so, I loved her, even if right now, I feel too hurt or numb to even shed a tear.

Goodbye Gail.

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16 Responses to Requiem

  1. William Reschke says:

    This is not to sound distant because as I write this I am wiping away a tear, but not only is this post well written but heart felt and emotional. Anyone who truly knows you knows that your heart is not cold. You are not distant emotionally. You love with all of you. And we all love you, sis.

    • Blackbirdsong says:

      Aww thanks Bill. It was a tough one to write too. I miss her, have missed her, but I think she’s having more peace now than she ever allowed herself to have in life. So that’s a mercy, I guess.

  2. Carol says:

    Hi Rachel,
    I am sorry for your loss. I remember when you went to see her in the hospital, how frustrated you felt. It does hurt to see someone who is on a selfdestructive course to die like this. I know–My brother died almost 11 years ago at the age of 56. He was so committed to his bottle of alcohol that he couldn’t have a decent relationship with me or his wife or anybody. He loved my children, but they saw him (I am sorry to say) at his very worst. I wish I had not been there. But I hated him in that instance for what he had let himself become. He was abusive (I threatened to call the police), obnoxious, his foul language when he was drinking was disgusting and frightening. When he was sober, on the rare occasions when he was sober, he was a mild sweet man. But we rarely saw that side of him. He didn’t seem to know how to be sober. He lost his job, he was a prison guard and yes he did carry a gun. He pulled it on his cousin in the dark of night when Joe surprised him and scared him so much he probably wet his pants. That was the same night as our frightening time. My cousin Don finally dragged him home. The next day, he didn’t even remember what had happened. How sad—he died in his car of a heart attach, alone with no one to help him, and was found by road workers who wondered why the car was on the side of the road all day. I mourned him, not for the dear brother that he had been, but for the waste of his life and what he could have been if he had not let his life be consumed by alcohol.
    So, my dear Rachel, I do know exactly how you feel about Gail. What a waste of life. When others are struggling to live, they waste the precious gift they were given by God. But even so, our dear heavenly Father still loves them and we have a wonderful hope. We can both be grateful for that.
    Love you my friend,
    Carol

    • Blackbirdsong says:

      Carol,

      Thank you for the heartfelt response and for understanding. I think what you said definitely struck a cord. We love these people, but they can cause so much hurt that sometimes you feel you have to shield yourself from them.

      Thank goodness for God’s mercy and for our hope.

      Love you too honey,

      Rachel

  3. Rachel, I found this post very moving and I can relate to how you are feeling. I am sorry you lost your cousin. I have loved people like this and it breaks your heart that they don’t change (and you know it is totally out of your hands to change them) and gradually you distance yourself from them, so as to stop their behaviour impacting on yourself and your own family – it is like you are grieving for them while they are still alive as you know there is a good chance they will die from their addiction. When they do die, you have become numb to what has happened and maybe that is the way it has to be, as it is to much to bear to deal with the complete tradegy of the situation – such a waste and something that may have been prevented. But in the end we can only be responsible for our own lives. Take care and big hugs from me.

    • Blackbirdsong says:

      Thank you Gabrielle. I guess that’s it. I’ve already done my mourning. I felt bad for her, was angry at her, but in the end she made her own choices.

      Big hugs right back at you 🙂

  4. Les says:

    I’m sorry for your loss Rachel. I had a close friend who would rather die than quit smoking. Even when he was dragging an oxygen bottle around because he could not get enough oxygen, he was still smoking. I know what you mean about the sadness, anger and confusion. They had to see what they were doing. Didn’t they?

    • Blackbirdsong says:

      Hi Les, and yes, you would think they would realize what they were doing, but they don’t seem to or just don’t care. I think my cousin never really believed the doctors, and just thought she could continue like that forever. Maybe that’s addictive thinking. I don’t know. I just know it was a waste.

  5. KjM says:

    Rachel, I am sorry for your loss, for your family’s loss, for your cousin – who lost herself.

    Looking at the title of your post, Requiem, at the image you chose for the post, hearing the tone of your entry, I cannot say you are unfeeling. Too clearly you feel.

    And you wish her – requies. Rest.

    My wish, also, for you.

    • Blackbirdsong says:

      Thank you Kevin. You’re right. I do feel things deeply. This is a loss that’s going to resonate with me for a long time, I think.

  6. Susan says:

    Hi Rachel,

    I’m not sure what led me to come across your post, but somehow I did. It really touched me, for several reasons. I have been on both sides of the coin. I have struggled with addiction. I overcame it. Then I struggled with a completely unrelated life-threatening medical condition a few years later. I overcame that. Overcoming addiction…yes, I did make it through to the other side, but I would be lying to say that it wasn’t a fine line…overcoming or succumbing.

    My story with my battle against addiction can be found here: http://www.newsweek.com/2007/07/11/addiction-a-devil-s-disease.html. I dealt with a different type of addiction, but it was addiction nonetheless, and trust me, it had as firm a grip on me as anything I’ve ever felt in this lifetime. Firmer than the other medical situation that (also) nearly took my life.

    I’m a very empathetic person. When I read your post, I felt two kinds of empathy: one for the pain you yourself have gone through, another for your cousin’s. While I can in no way speak for her, I can tell you (from someone who was on both sides of the coin, remember) that it is easier to fight for life when you don’t have an all-consuming and intense guilt hanging over you, knowing that it is you yourself who brought your affliction on. And knowing it’s not only you that you are hurting, but everyone else around you as well. This knowledge in and of itself is…well, there aren’t words to describe how hard it is to accept. Once the acceptance and ownership comes, if it does come, then one can address the addiction. I’m so very sorry that Gail never got to see the other side…ownership and acceptance. If given another chance, with those two things on her side, I would bet she would take it.

    • Blackbirdsong says:

      Susan,

      I’m so glad that you found my post. I needed to hear what you said, because clearly I have no way of knowing what it’s like to struggle with addiction. I know what it’s like as a family member of an addict, but that’s a completely different experience. I’ve known so many who have struggled with addiction and it’s never easy. As I read what you’ve written, I feel humbled and moved by your story and your courage. I will definitely read that article about you and thank you so much for coming here and sharing your story with me.

      • Susan says:

        Thanks, Rachel.

        They say, everything happens for a reason. Perhaps there was reason I came across your post? If you ever would like to talk about things you don’t understand about Gail’s experience, or you have any questions or anything else that you want to reach out to me for, I will gladly be here. Perhaps I can help you and Gail find some “together closure” via my knowledge of addiction. Feel free to write me anytime If you don’t have my email address (from filling out the form in order to be allowed to leave a comment), then let me know and I’ll give you mine here on this page.

        Thanks again, Rachel. I’m glad we connected.

        Susan

        • Blackbirdsong says:

          Thank you Susan. Your message last week really helped me a great deal. I think my closure will come from doing something proactive to help others. Perhaps a book of essays from survivors of addiction and abuse. The idea has been mulling around in my head the past couple of days.

  7. Susan says:

    Funny, I’m a writer and an editor myself. That’s an excellent idea, and I wish you much success! Such an exciting venture to look forward to. And I think it would probably make Gail proud and humbled to see you work toward something like this. Yay you!

    • Blackbirdsong says:

      Well I’ve just been thinking about it. Hopefully it’s something I can get going. Thank you for the well wishes. Don’t be surprised if I ask you for an essay or a blurb or something.

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