Coping with the Loss of a Loved One

Staying Clean, No Matter What

March 20, 2009 was a day in which my life was changed forever. I woke up married and went to bed a widow. No words can adequately describe the range of angst-ridden emotions I had been feeling that week. I had a writing professor in college who claimed the only definition for tragedy was “a fall from greatness.” I’m sure what I had experienced was a tragedy, but I’m not sure it was a fall from greatness.

The downward spiral began when I lost my dream job. I was a well-paid web designer for a prestigious ad agency. I had worked very hard for many years for my success. I had been married for three months at the time of my layoff. My husband, Kenny, was a big part of my downfall. I don’t blame him though, for losing my job. That was my fault.

We met in the Spring of 2008. We were engaged that May. Around that same time, Kenny was in a car accident. He was allegedly taking non-narcotic painkillers. All the while he had been going to meetings, talking to his sponsor, but still not working. I was busy working so I could provide for us; a stable home, all our bills paid. We took vacations, I bought him a car.

When his birthday came that September, I had a nice evening planned for us. I called him on my way home from work and when he finally answered, he sounded strange. He told me he was drunk in a bar somewhere and not coming home. My worst fear had finally been realized. I went looking for him that night. I’m not even sure where I was going, let alone where he might be hanging out. He finally came home and stayed clean for over a month.

Towards the end of October, Kenny relapsed again. I finally kicked him out. I was done. I took the ring off and I was no longer going to be a part of his insanity. Then one day in early November, I had asked my father what to do, and he said to take him back. So I did. He promised to stay clean. Soon thereafter my father had a heart attack and was hospitalized. Kenny and I decided to get married in the hospital so my father could be there. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of getting married in a hospital, but I loved Kenny and I wanted my father there. Daddy died the day before we planned to get married. Thanksgiving would never be the same.

So in my desperation and infinite wisdom, Kenny and I decided to get married the day after my father’s funeral service. The whole family was in town anyway, so why not? We got married on Wednesday, December 3, 2008. It was a nice ceremony, not my dream wedding but it sufficed. It was bittersweet. I was very sad about losing my father, but I was so happy to finally be married. I honestly felt a molecular change within my being. The holidays came and went without much fanfare. I stayed clean after my father died, and so did Kenny. I felt that if he was able to get through this, he might really have a chance this time.

January and February were a blur. Kenny had relapsed again. The relapses seemed to be happening more frequently by this time. He’d stay clean a month, then three weeks, then two weeks, and so it went, on and on. He was in and out of detox. We tried to get him some sort of counseling, or a psychiatrist to get on some medication that would help him with his depression. He finally went to a mental health facility where they were completely useless. We looked into treatment, but decided that they weren’t offering anything more than a good counselor could provide along with going to meetings. Again, all this time, Kenny went to meetings. He didn’t work. He kept house; did the laundry and the dishes. There was a part of me that didn’t want him to work. If he was home, he was safe and I knew where he was, or so I thought. He did go back to school, though, to become a CNA and later on a Patient Tech. And I continued to support us, although he did get a small settlement from the car accident.

When I lost my job, I think a part of me blamed him. There was no way I could do my job and see to his well-being, too. I would have fired me! I was unable to focus. I was constantly distracted and completely preoccupied. Tuesday, March 17, 2009 was St Patrick’s Day. I have no idea what I was doing except when I tried to get hold of Kenny he wouldn’t answer his phone. I saw his books were home so the story about him being at school was a total lie. As the day wore on, I finally got some resolve and took myself to a meeting. I turned off my phone. If Kenny tried calling me, he would have to just wait for once.

After the meeting I saw that he had called. I called him back and found out he was “rescued” by some friends and was at their house. I was talking to a good friend that I had just agreed to sponsor, named Lisa. I said to her, “You know it would be easier if he would just die.” Of course, I didn’t meant it, but I still feel guilty about saying that to this day. I took a friend with me to get him. I was through with his bullshit and was going to drop him off somewhere so he could maybe get some help. The only place I knew of, wouldn’t take him since he wasn’t homeless. I had no choice but to bring him home.

Kenny had left his car down the street in an apartment complex, so we walked down there after we got home. I was livid. I tore into him like never before. I had no mercy. I was pissed and he was going to suffer the wrath of my anger. No more hand-holding and coddling. We got to his car, and his radio was missing. He made up some lie about getting it fixed. Oh and the watch I bought him was off his wrist, again. He had a habit of pawning things to pay for his drugs. I was so mean and sarcastic towards him. I really laid into him like never before.

When we got home, I holed myself up in the bedroom. He knew he wasn’t allowed in bed with me after a relapse. When I came out to check on him before I went to sleep, he had passed out sitting up on the couch, with his head propped up by his fist. I brought him a pillow and blanket and tucked him into sleep. I remember even leaving his leg uncovered, because I knew how he liked that and I wanted him to be comfortable. I went to bed with the door shut. The following day, I had already planned to go attend an Al-Anon meeting so I could learn how to deal with my husband’s constant relapses.

The next morning, I got up and got ready to go to my meeting. By the time I left the bedroom, I figured Kenny would be up. He was still asleep on the couch in the exact same position as the night before. I tried shaking him, putting vile smelling stuff under his nose, screaming… everything I could think to do to wake him, but nothing I tried worked. I finally tried to do some CPR but he spit up in my mouth and I gagged. At some point I called a couple of friends to ask them what to do, then finally called 911.

The paramedics came and got Kenny breathing by inserting a tube down his throat, which I came to find out is called intubating. They were going to take him to one hospital, so that’s where I went. Come to find out, the ER was too busy and they sent the ambulance to a smaller hospital down the street. I had a couple of friends with me by this time and we frantically rushed from one hospital to another. I finally caught up with him and they had him hooked up to everything imaginable.

I’m not sure when, but they eventually checked him into a room in Critical Care. I really don’t remember much. I remember being surrounded by friends almost every single minute. That evening, I got hold of Kenny’s sister in Colorado to tell her what had happened. Her husband called out to her saying, “Kenny overdosed again!” Again? What do mean, again? I had no idea this was a common occurrence. Having been clean a long time, I had heard about things like this happening, but they happened to other people. Not to me and to the people in my life.

For three days they kept Kenny on life support. I sat there with him, day and night. And when I wasn’t there, I was at a meeting. Sometimes I would get upset and start screaming and yelling, “Why don’t they do something!? Why are they keeping him alive like this!? This isn’t a life!” I was exhausted, exasperated and irrational. Thank God for my friends that stayed by my side., I was told that on Friday they were going to remove the breathing tube. I had invited every friend that I knew that had relapsed at one time or another. I wanted them to see what the drugs do, they don’t always kill people, they can make them brain dead before they die. I also invited his friends to come see him, and say goodbye.

I had a good friend that was a Buddhist teacher who came to pray with us. I had the Rabbi come and pray with us. And I had a minster come and give Kenny his last rites. I had done everything I knew to do, in the spiritual sense. Just before they removed the breathing tube, my friends and the minister stood around his bed, holding hands, reciting the 23 Psalm… The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want… We actually had a little laugh when the minister forgot the words, and thankfully my friend Paul was able to guide us so we could finish the prayer.

They took my husband Kenny off life support at around 3 o’clock, the afternoon of March the 20th, 2009. God took him shortly thereafter. I went home with my friends and lied down. They straightened up and made coffee. I was a widow. I had been married for all of 3 1/2 months. When Kenny died, so did all of my dreams. All ever wanted was to be married. I loved being married! I loved being a Mrs. I have no doubt he loved me and that I loved him. So maybe the fall from greatness was the great love we had shared.

Four days later, my sponsee Lisa, one of my best friends, also died. She just woke up that Monday morning, March 24th, 2009 and passed away at the breakfast table. No warning, no nothing. I had just talked to her the night before about the First Step and being Powerless. She finally realized that she just had to admit that she was Powerless today. That was it, she just had to be Powerless today. It was wonderful to know that she had died believing in the power of the program. She was so angry at Kenny for dying and leaving me. I have a haunting suspicion that Lisa died so she could go to Heaven and kick Kenny’s butt!

The night of my 14 year anniversary, was about 3 weeks after Lisa and Kenny’s passings. Lisa’s family was there, since her home group and I were going to present them with an infinity medallion. An infinity medallion is to commemorate someone that has died clean. While giving the family the medallion, I remember telling them, “Look for the joy.” Although our loved ones may have passed, there is still joy to be found in the world. For a long time it was weird to hear myself laugh. Today, I laugh often and freely.

The months that followed were filled with sleep, going to meetings and as suggested by my sponsor at the time, volunteering. There really wasn’t much I was capable of doing. I had enough money so that I didn’t have to work. I ate, slept, showered and went to meetings. If I got a shower, that was a good day. I was completely paralyzed with grief. I did some grief counseling for a while. I took art classes. I guess I stayed busy, for the most part. The most important thing I did, was not get high. It wasn’t even a thought. Yes, there was a part of me that wanted to die, but I did not want to use drugs. There was no way I would dishonor Kenny’s memory by getting high. I had a few close friends that kept tabs on me, but I think for the most part I isolated. Remember, I wasn’t only grieving Kenny, but my father and Lisa’s deaths, too. It really was a tough time for me. But the one thing I know is my faith in God never wavered. I prayed a lot, and I still do. And I continue to look for the joy.

Rehabilitation facilities like 12 Keys Rehab can save lives, don’t wait !!! The best time to get sober is right now. “… It’s never to late to start, it’s always to late to wait…”

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