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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Life's cycle...

There is a cycle to life that is often the butt of many jokes. In a perfect life, we are born into this world and our parents love, nurture and protect us. We grow into adults and love, nurture and protect our own children. When we become senior citizens, our children become our protectors. At least that’s the way it seems.

Marissa is a stay at home Mom. She has five children, two of which are no longer at home (one is in the Coast Guard and one is in college). She has asked me share her story.

Marissa is the oldest of four children. They all live in the same geographical area. Her parents have been divorced for more than a decade as a result of her father’s alcohol abuse. She has become her father, Joseph’s, caretaker. An extended family member has attempted to help Joseph by providing him a job and a room, but after four years of alcoholic insanity, they let him go. Because he had some money from being injured in a car accident, he decided to not seek out other employment.

Joseph, refuses to go to in-house rehab, but has participated in AA. His longest length of sobriety over the past four years has been only six months.

When Joseph lost his job in May, Marissa took him into her home. He was jaundiced and became increasingly worse each day. His eyes were covered by a film of yellow making them appear golden. After much coaxing, Marissa managed to get Joseph into the hospital for detox. Besides having dangerously high ammonia levels, he was also malnourished and dehydrated. After a ten day hospital stay, he was released and moved into a clean and sober house. He, once again, started going to AA and things looked bright. Marissa’s relief would only last for a couple of months when Joseph returned to the bottle and he was asked to leave the house. Because he had no where to go, Marissa, took him back into her home with the condition that he not drink and would seek employment.

Having set her boundaries, Marissa knew that it would not benefit him to allow him to cross the line without consequences. In October, she told he must move from her home. He stayed in hotels until his money ran out and began sleeping in the woods close to Marissa’s home. He came to her house and told her he wasn’t feeling so well and could he stay with her a few days – just until he was feeling better. Marissa agreed and took him in for a few days, providing him a clean bed and food. But, the following Sunday she re-admitted him to the hospital. He was released after only four days. Joseph returned to the woods, but became sick once again and asked Marissa to let him back into her home.

Joseph has siblings, none of which will allow him to live with them. Marissa’s siblings are not in a position where they can take him. They all take a “tough love” stance on the caretaking of their brother/father. They believe he should be left on the street no matter how sick he is. They believe if they allow their father to “hit bottom” he will come to his senses and take recovery seriously. Since they have very little contact with him, they can’t see what alcohol has done to their father physically. They don’t understand that there is now no turning back because his physical health is gone.

Joseph has gone through all his money. Social services give him piles of paperwork which he cannot complete because he can no longer understand how to fill out a simple questionnaire. He has no insurance. There is no longer any possibility of rehab because he is refused admittance due to the high risk factor and lack of money. Marissa feels that there are no other options but to give him a safe place to die.

Panic sets in as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches. Her son, Andy, is returning from college for the holiday and will expect to be able to sleep in his own bed in his own room. But that room is being used by his grandfather – a fact that he doesn’t know because Marissa has not shared the information for fear of Andy’s disapproval. Her one pillar of sanity in the whole situation is her husband, John, and her belief in God. John supports Marissa’s decision and will help in any way he can. They become a “united front” but Marissa must be the leader. She braces herself for the assigned task – to tell Andy that he will be sleeping on the sofa.

The next day comes and Marissa waits to make the phone call until she has completed all the many chores she has lined up for that day. She finally sees her father in the early afternoon. She had taken advantage of his “quietness” and managed to get a lot accomplished. She was waiting to call Andy until her husband was home from work.

When Marissa entered the room, she saw Joseph in his bed and breathing very heavily. She knew the situation was dire. He was in so much pain that he barely acknowledged that Marissa was there. It took several hours for Marissa to get her younger kids out of the house, her husband home from the office, have a conversation with her brother, and issue her father an ultimatum – go to the hospital or leave her house. He agreed to the hospital and it took a few more minutes to get him dressed.

It was a struggle getting him to the car. His legs hurt and he had no muscle control, so essentially, Marissa and John had to semi-carry him towards the car, but couldn’t lift him enough to get him into the seat. They called 911 and an ambulance was on the way. While holding her father up, Marissa was trying to tell the dispatcher what was going on, but she couldn’t do both. She laid her father on the ground next to the car.

Before the ambulance got there, Joseph began foaming from his mouth and turning purple. He stopped breathing and Marissa knew he had died right in front of her. The dispatcher was instructing Marissa on CPR when the paramedics arrived. They worked on him for several minutes and then transported him to the hospital. When she got to the hospital it was official, Joseph was gone.

The doctors explained to Marissa and John how they think the death occurred, but it really didn’t matter because the end result was the same. Her father was gone. As much as she loved him, Marissa couldn’t protect him from himself.

In the end, Joseph gave his family the gift of freedom. The entire family can now come together as one and celebrate his life with stories sparking both laughter and tears. The family can heal and move on. That is a gift of love. That is what a good father would do.

Ohhh… And as for Andy – he was upset that his mother didn’t trust him with the truth. If he had known, he would have left school early and been there to help her. Seems he’s already starting on the path to protecting his Mom. And the cycle continues.


Syd said...

This cycle is a sad one for so many. The co-dependency develops early on and continues until somehow a person figures that the cycle has to be broken. I hope that Andy and Marissa figure out a way to get out of the cycle.
Hope that you had a good Thanksgiving Day.

jo said...

i am simply not the kind of person who can stick any of my loved ones on the street like a unwanted animal.

right or wrong,,,its only my own life i have to answer for.

others can do it, and more power to them if they can.

i cant. simple as that. they are sick...and i cant throw a sick person out nor leave them.

Amy said...

I too can't turn my back on my end stage alcoholic. He has end stage COPD and it's past the point where I could live with making him leave. After a beautiful Thanksgiving at my daughters house (he didn't go), I got home to someone who couldn't stand up without falling and he ended up wetting his pants. I work full time and can't afford to have my job in jeopardy...so I decided I needed Home Healthcare to come in. I took him to the hospital on Friday (his ankles were swollen as big as balloons). It's amazing after all the damage he's done to his body - he's going to survive (again)...he has pneumonia, congestive heart failure, swollen liver, internal stomach bleeding, kidneys not working well, his COPD has progressed because alcohol effects lung function...but he's getting better and I'm not even sure he's suffering the DT's (like he's done in the past). The cycle will start again once he's released and one of these days his time will come. It's not the first time he's been in the hospital..I think it's been around 6 or 7 times this year. The cycle will start again when he returns home and I doubt I'll get any home healthcare..I've told the Dr's I can't take care of him, so he can't come home unless he can take care of himself. We'll see what happens - but for alcoholics the rules aren't the same as someone who has cancer. It's painful to wait for the day he's gone, so my family can heal...but there are many times I pray for that day.

jo said...

amy, is there any way you can get hospice to help? the criteria here is 6 months to live, and they will extend it another 6 months at that time. they also let them drink here. worth a shot?

im so sorry. i understand. we are all looking at this. and how they seem to survive almost anything.

btw, do you have a living will for him? it could limit his treatment and hospice requires one. they simply keep them comfortable and dont treat the other stuff. sigh. another hard decision, isnt it?

i admire your choice to not throw him out. hang in there, ok? you sound so tired...hugsssss.

Karen E. said...

I believe that if my mother had any hint of her mind left she would want this to be over for us. But she does not have the ability to make a complete sentence. She just eats (more than she has in weeks here lately), drinks her vodka, and sits in her bed and sleeps. She looks horrible physically but really not yellow, no bulging stomach..just extreme lethargy. who knows what is going on inside her body. Somedays I think this is it..other days I think she will out live me. God Bless Marissa and may her dad rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

It helps me and makes me feel so much stronger knowing there are others out there who understand and are living and coping with the same life as myself. Many family members and friends have said put him on the street with the rest of the alcoholics! I couldnt do it as much as he drives me insane some days.

I also wonder what the hell is going on inside his body, i know his liver is enlarged and corroded, he has heart problems, high chloresterol and no immune system, he can no longer feel his legs due to nerve damage and is fast loosing his eyesight. A week ago he fell and im sure he has broken some ribs but he will not go to hospital. he hasnt eaten for over a week now and just sleeps and cries. I dont feel there is any hope, its just a waiting game.