Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Sunday, July 27, 2008


I don’t have the time, inclination or heart to tell the whole story now. Nor, most likely, would you want to read it. It’s the sort of mundane story that doesn’t make the news, despite what seems to be the requisite ingredients of drama, tragedy and pathos. It’s a story being enacted near you right now.

25 years ago I married a woman named Helen. She was kind and intelligent, tall, slim and lovely. Shortly after, while she was pregnant with our first son, I learned she had a serious drinking problem. The problem persisted over the years, despite several stays in treatment centres, sessions with counselors and a flirtation with AA. Her longest sober period during those 25 years was 18 months, during which stretch she became pregnant with our second child. That 18-month hiatus was broken during the pregnancy.

When we married, Helen was a registered nurse. Five years later, she was driving a cab, the first of several menial jobs. At first, she was a classic binge drinker - staying sober for days, sometimes a couple of weeks - then drinking herself into oblivion for a period of days or weeks. Later, she “managed” her drinking by holding herself to a half-litre of vodka a day. Unless she was celebrating something. Or sad about something. Or the weather changed. Then she’d double her quota.

Gradually, I gave up hope of ever having a more-or-less normal relationship. Ours became functionally dysfunctional. Several years ago we separated in all ways except for living in the same house. She lived in her space. I lived in mine. The boys learned that an unresponsive mother slumped in a chair or on the couch was their norm.

Until a couple of years ago, she managed to work at least several months a year. At that time, she took a leave of absence to help care for her ailing mother. Without the enforced eight-hours per day of sobriety her job provided, she started drinking more often, more heavily.

Last summer she began having seizures when too many hours elapsed between drinks. The boys and I simply could no longer deal with the falls, the blood, the ambulance calls. Her mother had since moved into a nursing home. We insisted that Helen move into her mother’s place a half-hour drive away, near her brothers, and she did.

She entered one more treatment centre in January of this year. Our sons were cautiously optimistic that this time she would emerge healthy and stay that way. But she was drinking again the day after her 3-week stay was over.

Last Saturday she called her brother and asked him to bring her some soft drinks. When he arrived, she was in the bathroom and didn’t respond to his call. He opened the door and found her unresponsive on the floor. Paramedics were called. They worked on her for an hour but she was gone. She was 55.

During much of our marriage, aside from our sons, I couldn’t think of many positives that came from our relationship. All too often, my focus was on the broken promises, the lies, the sense of loss, the worry, the hurt.

But it was Helen who bought Lucy, our parrot, who bonded with me and is a daily delight. And it was Helen, much to my chagrin at the time, who decided to buy a certain Jack Russell Terror and dubbed him Benny.

When healthy (sober) Helen loved to garden. Although she hadn’t worked on our garden in many years, the roses and clematis and lilies she planted 20-some years ago are flourishing during this hot, wet summer. I’ve enjoyed sitting back there this year and wanted to tell her how nice they looked. I meant to tell her when we talked briefly on the phone two days before she died. But I forgot.

So, instead, I clipped three of her beautiful roses and they were cremated with her.

I’ve come to understand that however much pain her drinking inflicted on her loved ones, her own pain ran deeper and darker. She was a good person unable to cope with a terrible problem.

Rest in peace, Helen.


Leah J. Utas said...

Not sure what to say, Frank. Sad. Bittersweet. But ultimately it is a tale of love. Somewhere in there resides sadness and loss, and perhaps a bit of yearning. I'm sorry.

Anonymous said...

If you have the inclination, post a pic, so I have an image in mind when I pray for the evolution of her soul, like I did for my grandmother and great-grandmother upon their passing.

Hug those boys.


Reb said...

I am at a loss for words. I'm sorry doesn't convey a lot at a time like this. Hugs to you and your boys.

Anonymous said...

It could've been me.

I don't know why, but thirteen years and eight months ago, I came out of a week-long binge with the realization that I was killing myself via the "slow and stupid" method. I was somehow clear-headed enough to decide that I was through. I would commit to one path or the other, but no more limbo.

Had there been a gun in the house, I would've likely chosen to end it all. But there wasn't and I didn't, and although it wasn't an easy road back to the living, I've never regretted it. Amazing and beautiful things started happening from almost the very moment I committed to life.

I wish Helen had had that same experience, but it was one of those rare "light switch" moments where something inexplicable happens in the mind and things can never be the same again. It can't be explained and it can't be forced. I'm not even sure if it can be consciously chosen. It sure didn't feel that way.

I'll be praying for Helen, that her soul find its own moment of clarity and an eternity of peace and understanding. I'm grateful to her for her example of what could've happened to me, and I wish I could show you how much it helps people like me to remember that I'm always at the edge of the abyss. It's a drink away and there for the taking.

We all have our personal demons and I'm sorry that you and your boys had to witness a loved one lose her fight. Bless you for sharing, though. It could've so easily been me.

Kappa no He said...

Oh god Frank, this is so sad and I'm so sorry for your loss. Alcoholism scares the hell out of me. I've got someone close...

Thinking of you and the boys,


Frank Baron said...

Thanks Leah. There are certainly lots of ingredients to the story.

No pic available Lisa but I sure appreciate the kind thoughts.

Thanks Reb. It helps. :)

Anon, thank you so much for sharing your story. I'm very glad you were able to sustain and build upon that moment of clarity. I wish you a bottomless well of strength from which to draw when things get tough. God bless you for taking the time to write. I have a hunch someone will read your words and draw inspiration from them.

It's a scary disease Terrie. Thanks for the comforting words. I'm sorry to hear you're one of those affected by alcoholism. You know, if you (or anyone) would like to contact me privately, my email is easily found via my website (by clicking the link on the sidebar).

Take care.

Anne C. Watkins said...

Let Lucy and Benny remind you of the good times; take comfort in their company. Many, many hugs to you and your sons.


the Bag Lady said...

Frank, I'm sorry for your and your sons' loss, but it sounds as though that loss occurred some time ago. This was just the final chapter in a tragic story. That doesn't make it any easier to deal with, I am sure.

I hope that the memory of the good times (and there must be some!) will eventually outshine the bad memories, for you and your boys.

And I'm sure you are lucky enough to have someone you can turn to for support and comfort, to remind you that the world is a beautiful place, and that life is for living!

You have my sincere condolences.

Hilary said...

We've talked long and often over the past week and a half, saying much of what was needed to be said, and listening to what was needed to be heard. And yet, I'm having a hard time composing a simple public comment on your blog. I guess I don't really need to. You know how I feel - and that's what counts.

Frank Baron said...

I'll do that Anne. Thanks for those hugs. :)

You're right Baggie. I started mourning some 20 years ago. And you're absolutely right about that support. I've been very fortunate. Hilary has been a rock. And I know I can reach out to my brothers and sisters at any time. On top of that, I have a large, extended online network whose good will means a great deal.

I do indeed Hil. Thanks for being there. :)

Anonymous said...

Frank, thank you for this story. Addictions are profoundly debilitating and isolating--which I know from personal experience, having fought my own (non-chemical) ones over the years. I'm so sorry for the destructive effect it invariably had on your family life. And I'm so sorry that Helen was unable to resolve the deep pain that controlled, distorted, and destroyed her life. It's virtually impossible to know love from an addict. But I'm certain that she loved you as best she could in the grip of her mental prison, though I know that is small comfort at best. Cherish the earlier, good memories, and put the others to rest along with her. And when your grieving abates, maybe you can again consider how to make some good memories with those sons that love brought you. Hugs to you, Frank.

Jo said...

I'm sorry, Frank. Your journey with this love sounds so very long & painful, for everyone, but I think--especially for you. It saddens me that Helen spent so much of her life sick, and I like to believe there's peace for her now. And I hope in all the difficult emotions you must be navigating, you also find a sunny place to set this down...like that garden you describe, where beauty persists.

I'm so glad you built a solid life for you & your boys. That you have each other. There's the grace that keeps us sane. Best to you, a big hug from me.

Frank Baron said...

Yes Pat, there's much to be sorry for, but I'm a glass-half-full guy and will focus on the positives. I'm glad you're winning your battle. Thanks for the kind words. :)

Thanks Jo. I sure hope she's found her peace because she couldn't when here. The boys and I will have a bit of an adventure re-learning what a normal life is like.

Thanks for the kind thoughts. They're much appreciated. :)

C. Kabat said...

I found your tribute to Helen gentle, brave and very moving. Alcoholism is so insidious and harsh. I hate it. My grandfather had 10 brothers, of those 10 brothers 8 of them died of alcohol-related conditions. Their funerals were characterized by communal sighs of relief. Alcoholism even steals the tears away from those who would mourn. More hugs to you and your family as you move through this tender time.

Anonymous said...

Very moving. Honest. Heart wrenching.

I am a mom blogger who mainly writes about my kiddos and so I have closed my blog to private, but I DO love your writing and had to comment once again.

A reminder that we do not always remember to say the simple things our hearts may dwell upon at unexpected moments. Another reason to blog.

Frank Baron said...

Thank you C. Yes, alcoholism is a thief in many ways, robbing the drinkers and their loved ones.

I'm sorry for the delay in responding. I was out of town.

Amy, thanks for the kind words. I'm amazed, and very touched, at the number of folks who've written and posted in order to share their feelings and experiences. There's sure a lot of good people in the world and you're among them.

Stace said...

Thank you for sharing, Frank. I've never seen you speak about her before, and I often wondered... It sounds cliched but I actually am very sorry. For you, and for her.

Anonymous said...

And you also!

Frank Baron said...

Thanks Stace. And you too again Amy. :)

Daryl said...

Came over via Hilary's blog .. and I am sorry for your loss.

Alcoholism is a horrible disease.


Shammickite said...

I came here from Hilary's pleasant evening stroll, and I sympathise with you and your sons for you loss of a wife and mother. But you all really lost the wife and mother a long time ago.
I was in a similar situation... my sons have now lost their dad, but sad to say, he lost himself first.

Shammickite said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shammickite said...

Sorry, blogger posted my comment twice. I deleted the second one.

Frank Baron said...

Thank you Daryl.

Thank you shammickite. And please accept my condolences regarding your sons' dad.

Kerri said...

Ah Frank, I'm here from Hilary's place and have to tell you that I have tears right now. Tears for your boys, tears for you, and tears for Helen. And tears for all of those out there that try to cope with this terrible terrible problem. My thoughts and prayers are with you!

Frank Baron said...

Thank you Kerri. :)

Daryl said...

Tnanks for stopping by, Frank ... I love blogging because it opens all sorts of new windows and doors for me .. yes, I have been a city kid all my lift but through blogging I can experience all sorts of lifestyles and locations ... and cute pups like Bennie!

Lori said...

How are you doing, Frank?

>''< said...

Frank -
I didn't know what to say the 1st time; I'm not sure what to say now except you are much loved and Helen is in a better place now. I hope her soul finds peace & that you and the boys heal quickly the holes in your hearts.


Frank Baron said...

I enjoyed the visit Daryl and will do so again. :)

Hangin' in Lori. Lots to do plus I'm trying to work in some vacation time with the boys. I likely won't surface for any length of time until the fall. Thanks for checking on me. :)

&gt(etc.) - Thanks for the well-wishing. I believe in its power. :)

Dawn Colclasure said...

Oh, Frank, I am so sorry. Please accept my most heartfelt condolences for your and your sons' loss. **hug**