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Anger, Guilt And So Many Unanswered Questions


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My sister, Ruth, died April 18, 2013 on her 51st birthday. This was the day her husband decided to turn off life support, Alcoholic cirrhosis caused internal bleeding that could not be stopped after several invasive attempts, her kidneys were failing; along with her lungs and heart and her liver was just about non-functioning.

When you hear something like the description above, your mind may go to a slobbering, 24/7 incoherent, unemployed, bum of a drunk. Ruth was a highly-educated, multi-time awarded executive in NYC. She started out at the company as a receptionist and over the span of 30+ years and a lot of hard work became president of that firm. She was also a highly funtioning alcoholic.

My other sister, my brother and I have talked with her multiple times over the years about her drinking. As we all got older and had families of our own, she moved out of state, but still close by so we'd see each other a few times during the year. And you could always count on her getting drunk. We also had talks with her husband, to no avail. When I begged him to do an intervention, I will never forget him saying, "Oh no, I could never do that to her. That would kill her." Yeah, well...

So it got better, got worse. Over the year preceeding her death, she isolated--always claiming to be really stressed/busy at work. I got that and accepted it. We talked on the phone a lot, but even that began to dwindle with leaving messages and getting no response. Really the last time I saw her was right before she turned 50. My family and I visited her and her family and had a really nice time. She drank, but didn't get sloppy until we were leaving. (I hated being thankful for things like that--"her life, her choices--nothing I can do about it")

In the Fall before she died, my other sis and I got phone calls from her husband saying she's sick and he doesn't know what to do. He said he took her to the hospital and she got admitted to the ER. He was sketchy on exactly why he brought her in or what she was diagnosed with, but we both told him, he's got to go to all the follow up with her and offered to come to them and help. We don't hear anything back. Finally when we do, she's back and work and everything's awesome. (Come to find out later, he never took her--she went to a doctor's appt and the Dr sent her in an ambulance)

I called her myself and she tried to wave everything off. Was describing how nosy the hospital staff and social workers were and I just told her, "Hunny, you were in for a detox. They're trying to help you. You need to stop drinking or you're going to get seriously sick." She told me she did stop and, in retrospect, didn't share that she was already seriously sick.

She was due to go to CA with her husband and son for a wedding late in March. She called me before they were going. I kind of dragged it out of her about the cirrhosis. She told me that she's taking care of herself and when she gets back she was clearing up a few projects at work and then was looking into a holistic rehab. We talked a lot. It was like talking to her decades ago--we talked from the heart and I'll always be grateful for the conversation because it was the last one we had.

While they were in CA, my brother came to visit them at their hotel (he lives in CA). He called us crying and saying "what the hell happened to Ruth?" He said she was in a wheelchair, was yellow, kept dabbing at a bloody nose and was so weak she could barely speak above a whisper. He said her husband acted clueless--saying she was taking care of herself. Later come to find that she was drinking while she was in CA. My brother was dumbfounded and basically threatened my brother-in-law into getting her to an ER. He said since they were leaving the next day, he would take her to the hospital in their home state.

He waited a day and took her to her doctor. The doctor sent her to the ER. The ER put her into the ICU and had her hooked up to a breathing machine and an unbelieveable amount of IVs. He called my other sis and I that we needed to come to the hospital immediately.

Thankfully I'm near the ferry that takes us to her state and we got there in a couple hours. Can you imagine this scene? You talk to her a week ago and everything's hunky-dory and now she's lying there unconscious and bleeding to death? My brother-in-law, his daughter and son had to be comforted and all I wanted to do was stand in the middle of the ICU and shout "what the hell happened here?"

The Drs did some surgeries that failed and she was on these machines for under two weeks until her husband finally gave the okay to let her go. She was basically lying in that hospital bed dead, except for these machines making her 'alive' and her husband would pinch her face (with blood coming out of her nose and mouth) and talk baby-talk to her taking away her dignity. I wanted to slap him. The moments spent with her were so surreal, she fluttered her eyes once at me when I first got there and, I swear, she said "I'm sorry" and dammit and I still cannot wrap my mind around what went down.

Even at the wake and funeral with all her associates and big business partners praising her for being such a good little workhorse, I just wanted to stand up and shout "can someone please explain to me what the hell happened?" But, we're not supposed to do that. We're supposed to suck it up and 'be there' for the husband and children and not question a damn thing. Just accept it.

I totally understand that it was the alcoholism that killed her, Growing up in an alcoholic household and being one myself (sober 10+ years thankyouverymuch) I know both sides of the fence very well. I know that you cannot blame another person for someone else's actions, but....for God's sake, she was getting sicker and sicker and her mind was gone and she couldn't make anymore choices for a while.

So, yes, I am angry at him. Two words keep blaring in my mind after almost 2 years--depraved indifference.

And, yes, I carry around A LOT of guilt. If he couldn't or didn't want to do anything--why didn't I?

So, so many questions...

If you read this far, thank you. I miss her so much and the future sisterhood that is lost forever.

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My dear JayBee, my heart just hurts for you as I read this tragic story. I, too, come from an alcoholic family, and my sister-in-law died from the effects of alcoholism. One of her daughters has since died, following years of repeated stints in rehab ~ and her other daughter still is fighting her own alcoholic demons.

As one who did everything I could to intervene with my sister-in-law, I have learned first-hand the helplessness one feels in the face of this horrible condition, and I know the grief that comes with losing a loved one to alcoholism, too.

You've identified yourself as a recovering alcoholic, but I don't know if you're familiar with some of the literature published by the Hazelden Foundation. Your story reminds me of a powerful booklet entitled A Merry-Go-Round Named Denial by Joseph Kellermann ~ a publication put out some years ago that really helped me understand the different roles that are played in the life of an alcoholic family. (That booklet is now available in a revised and expanded edition, Alcoholism: a Merry-Go-Round Named Denial and I cannot recommend it highly enough.)

I am so sorry for your loss, and I understand the guilt and the anger that you carry too. I hope you will consider a few sessions with a grief counselor or a therapist familiar with the disease of alcoholism to support you as you work through this pain. Your grief at the death of your sister is complicated by her history of alcoholism, and you deserve the sort of understanding and support that a specialist can provide.

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Thank you so very much for your heartfelt reply, Marty.

Oh yes, the roles in the alcoholic family. I've learned a long time ago that whether or not the family members drink, they become a victim of the illness. I appreciate your book suggestion and will definitely look for it. Unfortunately, I'm seeing it play out with my neice and brother-in-law. Not so much with my nephew, as he's moved out and started his own career at 24.

What's interesting is that while all of this went down, he was very casual--not stoic,but just moreso accepting of everything. People would say, "he's gonna lose it one of these days." But, I believed, (and we've since talked about it) that he simply grieved the loss of his mom a long time ago. While he still makes sure he sure he sees his dad and sister, he has his own life and is pursuing things that he likes.

My niece, on the other hand, is coping the way she was taught--make everything appear perfect on the outside and drink it away if it bothers you. Her dad doesn't seem too concerned, heck, he takes her out drinking. And, then again, he wasn't really concerned as long as she brought home the bacon and made everything 'perfect' for him. My niece basically has taken over my sister's role.

As far as my own decision to get my act together and stop drinking, I figured the buck stops here. Children need to learn healthy coping skills and, unfortunately, most of the children of alcoholics are going to follow the only thing they know.

Again, thank you!

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I am so sorry to hear about your sister Ruth's death and very glad that you have turned yourself around. Good for you. I do not have any advice only empathy for what you have endured during your lifetime. I have read the pamphlet Marty suggested to you and it does have some interesting facts. There seems to be a role for everyone in a family and I believe that choice one makes determines the direction one goes in. I hope you believe in your heart that it is up to the person herself to make the hard decision not to follow in a path that would be destructive. We can guide someone and suggest but we cannot change anyone unless they want to change. Thank you for sharing this story and I send you {{{hugs}}} as you work through all these emotions.


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Thank you (((Anne))) I appreciate your kind words.

Logically, I know that these ugly feelings are nothing but painful and destructive to me. This isn't me. Emotionally, I just want an apology from my brother-in-law. Does that sound crazy? I want him to look me in the eyes and say "I messed up." Selfish on my part, I know.

At what point does a person become a danger to themselves and others? At what point does a bystander become concerned enough to take over? I guess I need to get it through my head that he was/is just as sick as she was...

Lots of work to do with my own thought process on this whole thing. It was very traumatic for everyone.

This is a wonderful safe place to get it all out without judgement. Today my focus is on all the things in my life that I'm grateful for... :)

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I have non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver...there's no difference in display, just in cause. I'm doing everything I can to be as healthy as possible...if it's caused my medicine (Lipitor-18 years) I have to wonder about the medical community that prescribes things to trusting souls such as us...putting off the payday until it comes...too late.

I am so sorry you lost your sister. You did all that you could, the truth is, people are ultimately responsible for themselves. If the doctors tried to warn her and she didn't heed it, no one could have prevented the outcome. My daughter lost a friend to alcoholic cirrhosis and kidney failure, he was in his mid 20s. Everyone tried to warn him but it was a mental disease as much as a physical one. Sadly, he left a twin behind.

You may or may not get your apology. I'm not sure that ultimately it'd be as sweet as you'd hope...your sister is still dead, blame doesn't change that. It could be way too much for your BIL to be able to admit to himself, let alone someone else. It is his weakness.

Working through the grief on losing a sister you love, way too soon, is a tall enough order, we'd like to be here for you if that's okay. This IS a good safe place to voice yourself. Thank you, Marty, for posting the links, you always have just the right thing at just the right time!

I do hope you'll continue to come here...your focus is spot on and will aid you well in your grief journey. On our loss of spouse section we have a thread about Positives...we've learned that focusing on what positive there is in our lives is not only life changing, but greatly benefits us in our grief journeys. We can't change what happened but we can remain thankful for the good that is in our lives today.

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