Memories and Addiction – Thoughts of Jerry

The other day I received an email from a high school that I attended in Paris. (I have to applaud their Sherlock Holmes investigative work. I’ve changed my name twice since I attended high school.) The school was run for the children of military personnel, foreign service officers, and other embassy personnel. There might have been American kids there, but we were taught by European teachers. My chemistry teacher, for example, was Egyptian who spoke English with a French accent. It was a fascinating experience to attend that high school, but it was nothing like being in school in America.

(I didn’t go all four years there. My mother sent me to school in Switzerland, but that only lasted six months. They told her that I was too much an American. Go figure.)

The high school email was touting a reunion that they are having next year in Paris.

They asked me to verify if I was going to attend. Thank you, no, I said. What I wanted to tell them was that I have no earthly intention of revisiting my teenage years and all the attendant angst and trauma. Horrible things happened to me in my last two years of high school. I don’t want to remember those. However, growing up in Paris meant that I also have poignant and beautiful memories, like my first kiss on the steps of Montmarte at sunset over Paris.

Then they asked me if my brother, who was one year ahead of me, would be attending? Did I have his email so they could write him and ask? I had to tell them that my brother was dead. Of course that opened up the floodgates, especially after seeing his picture at seventeen years old. There was determination in his jaw line and his eyes. He went on to become a successful entrepreneur and the owner of two companies, with a house in San Antonio and one in Maui.

For the past few weeks the high school has sent me emails about my fellow classmates having birthdays. I recognized a few of my brother’s friends. He was very popular, being handsome, athletic, and personable. He only dated the prettiest girls and hung around with the coolest kids. He was the quintessential BMOC – Big Man on Campus. (I imagine it was rather galling for him to have such a nerdy loser for a sister.)

When I saw those announcements I found myself getting angry in a way that I haven’t been before. My brother died when he was fifty-five, which today is relatively young. He had an accident in his home, was knocked unconscious, and died of a brain bleed.

I didn’t realize that my brother had died until a few months after the fact. I’ve recounted the story before, how I Googled myself and discovered an obituary for my brother. Although we lived in the same city there was a barrier between us that I couldn’t pass. I tried, but it was only later that I realized why I couldn’t. Because there was so much mystery surrounding his death I requested his death certificate. He lived alone and one of his employees found him. The mystery was solved when I got the death certificate. He’d died exactly as my father had died:  complications of alcoholism. He also died at the same age as my father, in the same month on almost the same day.

Addiction kills. It also kills relationships in families.

By the grace of God I found AA before my own alcoholism killed me. I wish I could’ve helped my brother, but I don’t know if Jerry would have listened to me or accepted my help in going to AA or any other treatment center. He had isolated himself so well that I didn’t even know he was having a problem with alcohol until after he was dead.

That’s another thing addiction does. It makes islands of us.

With every birthday announcement the high school sends me I am angry again. My brother should be alive. He should be planning on joining his high school friends. He should be laughing and recounting stories and enjoying his life.

Instead, his legacy is one of deep sadness.

Now when I think of those years I can’t help but remember Jerry. The memories are as cutting as a shard of glass. I will always regret that I didn’t do more to insert myself into his life. I should have ignored my own hurt and refused to take his silence or his rejection. I’m not saying it would have made a difference, but now I’ll never know.

Addiction will do that, too. It leaves you with too many memories and too damn many regrets.

14 thoughts on “Memories and Addiction – Thoughts of Jerry”

  1. Family is complicated. There are so many intricacies in maneuvering within the dynamic while dealing with complex relationships, but when it’s family we keep trying. Sometimes, for our own mental well-being, we must step back and remind ourselves that we cannot live someone else’s life for them. As much as we wish to help them, fix them, it isn’t always possible. I know, I’ve tried to mend fences. I’ve tried to be a helpful member of the family and when married to an alcoholic with depression, I stuck it out far too long and was on the verge of losing my life to his illnesses. Sometimes, we just have to do what’s best for us. It doesn’t make it any easier. It doesn’t lessen the guilt we feel for ‘giving up’ and when tragedy strikes, the guilt we bear increases. Losing anyone we care about to their demons is hard and it’s a grief we carry harder than any other but in the end, we have to believe that their suffering is over and their demons laid to rest. And it’s okay to be angry. Remember the stages of grief. Sometimes, it takes a lifetime to get through them.
    As long as you miss your brother and wish for what could’ve been, he lives on in spirit. I have to believe that because I’ve lost too many too young, including a 13 yr old nephew to suicide, to believe their lives meant nothing. You did all that you could…the rest was up to him. God Bless. xo

    • That’s a great comment, Amy, and very wise. You’re right. I couldn’t live my life for Jerry and there’s nothing to say that he would have listened to me anyway. I wouldn’t listen to anyone when I was deep in the throes of my own addiction. We have to reach rock bottom – or at least a place where we are shocked enough to see where we are and what we’re doing. I mourn the loss of his talent, his abilities, and his personality and feel the same about my father. What an absolute waste.

  2. I admire you for being so open. I have two family members who are addicts Just so damn sad. ALAnon taught me so much

  3. So very sorry to hear about your brother. Thanks for sharing your story. Sometimes people are so hard to reach that we give up way to soon. I know I have been there with my first husband, that died at 47. I never gave up on my second husband.

  4. I’m so sorry Karen. Families are complex. And while you are alive and you have the anger or hurt or whatever towards a loved one—it’s easy to say “I don’t care” or not let it bother you too much, because there’s always time. You’ve expressed your regret well and I feel for you, I really do. Hugs and Kisses XO

    • This post is one of those that I felt compelled to write. Don’t know why. Sometimes, I think the message, the information, the sharing needs to be heard by someone else. Or at least that’s how I felt. Also, I was blown away by how angry I was about the whole situation.

  5. I’m very sorry for your loss and the grief that has resurfaced. All things in life bring ups and downs.

    I married and lived with a ‘functional’ alcoholic for nearly 36 years. We had ups and downs like almost everyone I know. He died 4 years ago. I choose to remember the best of times as recounting the contentious times are truly useless and since the past is the past, I like to leave some things behind. I’m grateful for what I have today and I continue to put one foot in front of the other and move forward.

    I hope that what might have been, doesn’t haunt you, as it wasn’t meant to be. Take care of yourself!

    • Regrets are probably not worthwhile in this situation. Except, perhaps, to prevent me from acting the same way in another situation. Maybe that’s the lesson I need to learn here.

  6. Ma’am,

    I am sorry for your loss. I know that you are well aware that regrets are heavy burdens. I have not dealt with what you are facing, but please remember the wonderful and be grateful.

    Take care of you.

    • I am so grateful for so many things, Annette. One of them is knowing, deep in my bones, that things change. Life is change. Life is ever evolving. Sometimes, you just have to hold on with ten white knuckles and ride it out.

      Love this quote by Whittier: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.”

  7. I’m sorry this is triggering grief again.

    I’m the daughter of an alcoholic and the sister of two alcoholics/drug addicts. I know distancing oneself from family members in downward spiral of addiction. I’ve done it.

    I’m glad you’re sober and able to live a healthy life.

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