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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.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

What death looks like...

He was about 5’7”, wavy brown hair and big brown eyes. There was some meat on his bones, but he was not at all overweight. He just wasn’t thin. He had a huge smile that make you want to smile right back. He was intelligent and could talk for hours about the planets and prospects of life. He was cultured and went to plays, operas and the symphony. He always seemed to fit in, no matter where he was or who he was with. That was then.

Today he is thin. His grey hair is matted against his head. He can only open one of his eyes at a time so slightly that I wonder if he sees anything at all. He is crumpled and slumped as he lies in his bed. His frame is so small that his body almost looks childlike. His skin is now the orange color of the sunrise and against the white sheets, he almost glows. He doesn’t know where he is. He must struggle to only say a word or two at a time. There is an odor about him that is so distasteful that it makes me back up when I get near him. This is what death by alcohol looks like. This is now.
Each time a person enters Riley’s room, the person must put on a flimsy yellow gown made of something like a fabric dryer sheet. Next the hands must be washed with hot soapy water and then gloved with bright blue latex gloves. When exiting the room, the outfit is torn off and discarded in the hazardous waste can. It is to protect others from any harmful bacteria that may be emanating from Riley’s body.

I was unable to go to the hospital yesterday and I probably won’t go today either. I’ve been sick with a sinus infection and bronchitis. My weakened condition makes it unsafe for me to visit. Riley’s weakened condition would make it unsafe for me to be in the room. I cannot return to the hospital until I’m well. Riley may not live that long. However, when I call his nurse, I am told that there is “no change.”
For me, yesterday is just a blur of coughing, headaches, nose-blowing, and sleeping. But, I know I will gradually get better. I know that I will wake up, probably tomorrow morning, and feel like doing something productive. This is just a temporary condition for me.

Riley’s condition is not temporary. It will continue to deteriorate until he is no longer breathing. He will not wake up a few days from now and make the coffee. Nor will he watch NCIS or talk to the TV. He will never again be the person who laughs out loud and cries when he hears the Star Spangled Banner. Instead he will lie in that bed and wait for the end. Since he does not believe in God, I don’t know what the end will look like for him. I pray each day that he will change his mind about God and be allowed into the Kingdom of Heaven where he can be with his parents, sons and all the other loved ones who have gone before him.
When Riley was more coherent, just after being admitted to the hospital, I told him he better do what the doctors requested if he wanted to reach his goal of living until he was 104 and be killed by a jealous husband. He responded with “I think I need to re-calculate.” It was the first time I had heard him acknowledge that he might not be immortal after all.

As he lies in the Palliative Care Unit, I don’t seem to be able to find any words for him. I ask if he wants water or applesauce or pudding. But, for the most part, I have nothing to say to him. It’s as though I had a certain number of words in my word bag that was just for Riley. I’ve used them all up. Sometimes, I want to scream out – “I told you so!” But, what good would that do? I would gain NO satisfaction if he agreed with me. So, when I’m in the room with him, I struggle with talk of the weather. That’s about the best I can do.
Going through this alcoholic end of life thing, makes me want to plead with every alcoholic who reads this blog. Please don’t let Riley’s fate be yours. It is a miserable way to die. The family is so torn between anger and grief that they sometimes don’t know what to do. It is heart wrenching to watch someone as they fade off as a result of a slow suicide via alcohol – or drugs. It could have been prevented but if the alcoholic chooses alcohol over sobriety, they are sure to end up exactly where Riley is right now. Death is always traumatic, but don’t choose this route.

In the days to come, I will post before and after pictures of Riley. I’m not trying to expose his identity. I just want it to be very clear about what death looks like for an alcoholic. It’s not a pretty sight.
As soon as I’m over this creeping cruddy bronchitis, I will go back to the hospital. Maybe I’ll read to him from the Lord of the Rings just like he did for me when I was pregnant with our son. For Riley that will be a good way to go.

38 comments:

Furtheron said...

Thank you for this blog and being so open and honest.

I've read for a while now - I rarely comment as I have few words to say.

I will say this - very nearly 8 years to the day this weekend I took my last drink. I am incredibly lucky that I "got it" and got out before it headed the way it would have done.

Sometimes it is easy for me to forget how it was, the voice in the head can pop up and make stupid suggestions like "you'll be ok now surely" etc. I fought for years with the problem and the last year was a war between me and the booze, which I very nearly lost as I couldn't see an alternative to living with booze, I had to it was how I had to cope with life. Luckily I surrendered and put my trust in others for a while, then learnt what I needed to do. If you are an alcoholic in need of help please reach out you can recover I am living proof today of that. If one person was today to determine to put the bottle down and seek help Riley's fate will have at least have had some good.

ADDY said...

This was me two years ago, so I know how you feel. I pray the end will be quick for him and I pray for your serenity. It sounds from what you say as if it will not be far off. ((((Hugs))))

Syd said...

I wish that Riley had made different choices. Alcoholism is a terrible disease. I'm glad that he is in the hospital. Don't give up hope.

hyperCRYPTICal said...

It saddens me to read this Linda in that Rileys' choices damaged so many lives and he is about to make the final payment - I am certain that those who develop alcoholism never truly understand the price they will pay and the cost to their families.

You are a tower of strength to many Linda - your strength a haven for those in a similar situation.

May Riley pass peacefully and peace be brought to you for you surely deserve it.

Anna

Karen said...

I'm so sorry that it ended up this way, Linda. This brought back my own memories of my mother's sad demise. Soon it will be time to stop the countdown clock of Riley's drinking once and forever.

You've been an amazing light in this storm.

Dixie Redfearn said...

You are an amazing woman and you certainly did well by Riley, even though you too are not even married anymore. Linda, I am so impressed by your writing and your insight (and my career was as a professional writer). Who knows how many people you have helped with your honest, heartfelt blog. If you ever want to come to California, I have a nice guest room and would be honored to have you. Keep the faith.

Anonymous said...

Be brave my dear Linda.
It's so hard to hear, yet a relief that the pain will be over for both of you soon. I imagine you feel numb and surreal. I am a bit stunned reading this, although I have been expecting to hear of this time, I don't know how to feel.
I'm thinking of you
Xxxxxxx

Anonymous said...

Thinking of you, Linda. Take care of yourself. Praying for strength, comfort, and the peace that passes understanding. With affection, Deb

Anonymous said...

You both have been through so much. I hope you both find peace -and Linda thank you - I just found your blog a few weeks ago but have learned so much. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I discovered this blog several months ago and it has helped me immensely as I struggle to remain sober. God willing, I will get my one year chip in June.

As terrible as it has been to read Riley's story, it has been inspiring as well-- I have been greatly inspired to do everything in my power to avoid inflicting the pain you are feeling now on my own husband and children. The graphic details and overall tragedy you describe have been as motivational in my journey as my meetings and my sponsor.

Thanks Linda, for keeping this drunk on the right path, and may you have peace.

Wendy

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing your blog.
I am learning to let go of an Alcoholic I love, as painful as it is.

I did not CAUSE it
I cannot CONTROL it
I cannot CURE it

I hope you have serenity and peace, in realizing what a good person you are.......

Anonymous said...

Hoping you get well soon. An illness can very exhausting. Also I'm praying Riley will pass peacefully and painlessly. You will finally be able to get off the bus ride of his life and enter a plane to freely fly to yours.
In one of your precious blogs, you mentioned you were debating on how to end your book. Your blog has been about Riley and you. Two lives, not just one. It would be nice to have the book with his passing, to show his pain and suffering has come to an end. He no longer is in pain. But the final chapter should be about you, the second person who has been involved in the life of Riley. You are still living and the last chapter should show that life can go on. Your readers care about you too. They would want to incision your life for your future to be good and happy and peaceful. Things that you need and deserve. In the book somewhere representing that the weight has lifted off your shoulders, off your back and you can feel that you can fly again. Then your readers can feel good for both of you when this painful journey has ended. Peace for you both.

Beth said...

Thinking of you Linda, wishing you peace and strength.

Anonymous said...

That was an amazinging portrayal...heartbreaking as it is.
Peace to you!

Cindy said...

I'm very glad to found this website because, this site very educational and useful.

Cindy Dy
www.gofastek.com

Edmund Carrington said...

As a recovering addict myself, your words fill me with both remorse for my own failures and inspiration to maintain strength and hope. You are an amazing individual with very rare gifts. I wish you peace and comfort - may God Bless You.

timmy said...

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janet davies said...

My boyfriend died July 2nd 2014. I am still in shock from living with him for 3 1/2 years and seeing him drink himself to death. Still trying to process it all. Great blog. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

My wife of 4 yrs is struggling with end stage alcoholism at age 50. Had I known her history of prescription drug and alcohol abuse, maybe I would have reacted differently when I saw warning signs. We are in the middle of a divorce due to her drinking. She suffers from a non functioning liver, failing kidneys, anemia and wet brain. She has lost control of her bladder and bowels. It seems to have happened so fast but I'm learning that the abuse has gone on for 10-15 yrs. So gut wrenching to watch someone die such a horrible death. I've come to accept that this is how her life will end.

Cindy Dy said...

Thank you for the effort in posting this wonderful and very informative articles. I had a lot of fun while reading your post. I learned a lot too. Please keep posting and update your blog always.I am truly grateful. God bless.

Jenna
www.imarksweb.org

Martin said...

I took ayahusaca to beat my addiction. It certainly showed what death looked like. It essentially took you to it. Would always recommend.

Mike said...

Alcoholism is terrible. This blog spreads real awareness of the facts! Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. I too wish for Riley to go quickly and as painlessly as possible. You have been an amazing person in his life (from what I've read so far). I found your site two days ago because currently my sister is destroying herself with alcohol. Jaundice, ascites, HE to many things to list. This is absolute misery to watch a loved one go through, alcoholic or not. She's been in and out of hospitals the last 7 months, ICU, etc. I want to be hopeful, I want to believe this can turn around, but our human vessels can only take so much poison and then they do no more. You both will be in my prayers as this comes to an end.

Anonymous said...

Linda, you've been through so much. No one knows better than we, who have also been dragged down that path. I had envisioned a thousand horrible scenarios of death for my husband. Fortunately, his death was peaceful, at home, in his favorite chair, with a brand new bottle of cheap vodka on the table next to him. Its been two weeks since his death. Everyone says that I'm handling this so well. They don't know that I have lived anticipating and expecting that day for the last 15 years of my 41 year marriage. Everyone seems to think that I am better off without him and perhaps I am. I still can't help but feel sorrow at the loss of the miniscule chance that we might once again have our wonderful marriage back. We nearly lost everything we had built over the years. He left a legacy of hurt for his children and he will be known for all time as the alcoholic relative. That was his choice. I miss his wonderful sense of humor. I miss those days of love and working together and building a life. I have been mourning their loss for years. Despite the pain and misery of living with an alcoholic husband, it is hard to live without him too. He was only 62. It is such an indescribable mixture of relief and sadness. Prayers for you, Linda. Thank you for providing this place of support and information.

Anonymous said...

So what happened? Did he finally die? Please update since I occasionally go to this webpage to assure myself that I am not alone as my husband travels down the same road.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading this as I myself am watching my mom lie on my couch, rarely getting up and hardly talking. Hygiene is a thing of the past for her(this is a new phase of the disease), as bathing and changing her clothes PERIOD seems to be of little importance. Mind you, she somehow gets her bottle of Vodka without anyone seeing. She's had two heart attacks, a another bleeding ulcer and RBC levels are always on the low side. When I ask her "do you want to die, mom?" (she is only 68), her answer is 'no', but this is only after she's been detoxed after a trip to the ER and 3 days in Telemetry. Otherwise, her usual reply when she's intoxicated is a sarcastic, emphatic "I hope so". This leaves me feeling all different kinds of emotions- hopelessness, fear, sadness, anger and resentment. I am so mad because I consider her behavior to be selfish but at the same time I can't NOT be here for her. A few weeks ago the dr's said she has a few months left to live, as the frequency of hospital visits increases, because this is her body's way of saying her organs are shutting down. Five minutes of us being home from our last five day hospital stay, she had already found her hidden stash of Vodka, poured it in her usual glass and "hid" it under the couch where she thinks no one can see it. Since then I have stopped asking her to go to rehab because I already know the drill- she'll say yes to appease me and then stall to the point where I just give up. Anyways....I'm not one to do this type of thing, blog or whatever, I just felt compelled to share what I was experiencing at this very moment as I just so happened to come across this site.

Anonymous said...

My mom died a week ago from liver failure and heart failure due to alcoholism mixed with Tylenol over usage...she was only 59, me 25. Watching her kill herself slowly for ten years has been so gut wrenching and I always thought I'd be absolutely devastated when she died, and I am, but it's like I've been waiting for this for so long and already mourned her for so long that I'm not as lost as I thought I'd be...she could have gotten a transplant if she had six months of sobriety...I always asked her if she wanted to die and when sober she'd tell me she wasn't ready to go, when drunk shed say yes and that she just didn't care anymore. I've done this for ten years basically alone, as all other family wrote her off. I have so many regrets and guilt and feel a deep sadness for her suffering and anguish but Im also angry that she drank herself literally to death and left me here to once again pick up the pieces...what do I do now? My whole adult and most of my teenage life has been centered on taking care of her...I've never felt able to live my own life, and don't even know how. It's all taken so much effort and time and energy that I'm just utterly drained....

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. It took a lot of courage and bravery to put this into words and to share it.

I've struggled with alcoholism for about 10 years. I don't want to wind up in a hospital bed. And consciously, I know this is killing me, but it is a hell of hard fucking thing to let go. I can see myself dying from this and that really scares me.

So, thank you for this little wake up call. I can't promise you I will get sober soon. I don't make promises I can't keep. But, you've helped to open my eyes.

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Emma Claughton said...

My boyfriend died of this two years ago. He was found by his friend unconscious and yellow after locking himself in his apartment. He never regained consciousness. I never got to say goodbye and never really knew if Brian had cared about me, as he pushed me away from him a few months before. I told him I loved him and he told me to get out of his life. I still did not give up and kept trying to get him to talk to me. I did not understand what was happening. I think, looking back, he knew he was dying but he kept all his feelings to himself. He was not a very affectionate person so never really showed emotion or fdelings.
I wish I could have been there for him, I tried to be but he refused to let me back into his life. I know its been two years but I still love and miss him so much and cannot imagine loving anybody else...my biggest wish and regret is I never knew if he cared or loved me. This still makes me sad.

Unknown said...

My husband is an alcoholic. The last two years I have seen him go from functioning to barely able to walk around. He does not see this as a problem. He drinks a 5th of whisky every day. In the last 7 days I have talked with him twice. ( we live in the same house). He works as a caretaker of a camp. Last year I did a lot of his work after working all day my self. This year he is paying someone to do the work. ( I was not going to do it again). He drinks 24/7 most days when I get home from work he is passed out. He has wide gate when walking, feet are all peeling, no muscles any more, lost 40 pounds last year, high blood pressure, he falls down, loose bladder& bowels, his skin has a yellowish tint, depressed, I guess I have rambled on and on here. I have thought of leaving him. But would he just take his life? Sometimes I think I'm the reason he drinks. But I know that I'm not. I try to keep living my life.

Anonymous said...

I,m watching a person I married choose alcohol over everything that we worked hard for
He has over the last ten years or more now got worse and drinks more and more. Recently he lost his licence due to the drink and soon we will lose our home it he is oblivious to this
I have to live in the real world and struggle to keep my head high and not let people know my world is falling apart while he , buries his head in the bottle that he loves and cherishes so much
People, say they have an illness but I can't sympathise any more it's an illness they knowingly have chosen and failed to consider the effect it has on those around
I have been left here on my own with him as no one else wants to deal with the mood swings and abuse that can often be thrown my way
So for all the alcoholics out there stop and spare five minutes and think of all the others that are traumatised by what you see as a comfort, your rock the only thing that you feel close to, that bottle of alcohol . The hurt that is caused by alcohol is horrendous and painful to watch and I know because I deal with that everyday :0((((

lyn said...

Its so sad to see all these comments, These comments are so helpful to me to know im not alone in this world...I am due to marry my fiance in 4 and half weeks time, After reading these blogs i can see that he is in the end stage alcoholism, He has all the symtoms,doesnt eat,lost loads of weight( gone from a healthy looking man to just skin and bone, he has no arm muscles.His skin is slightly yellow. Ironically all his bloods tests are normal just slightly raised liver count, but i know he is very ill, out of 7 days of the week he is sick 4 days of it. All his family have judged him and dont understand why he just wont give up, well as i tell them thats like telling a depressed person so snap out of it. I spoke to his doctor the other week because i am concerned about him and the doctor said if he carries on the way he is drinking and not eating his organs will just give up. I told him what the doctor said and that i want to marry him not bury him and he just snaps at me.He is scared but he wont get the help because he has seen his freind go through many many rehabs and it helped him while he was there, the moment he left he went back down hill to in the end he lost his life to alcohol.Its a terrible terrible addiction and i so wish that there were more prevention places than cure clinics. I see also linda that you are a christian but your husband isnt ,its the same here, i have tried to talk to him about God but he just takes the micky. Its so depressing to see my finace going down hill so fast, he refuses to go to the hospital when he is being sick because of all the times we have been in there and they treat him badly because of his addiction, so he stays at home and i take care of him as much as i can. In the last month he has eaten 6 pieces of bread and cheese spread and a slice of pizza, last night was the first time that he was sick after eating it.I am very worried that i will be burying him not marrying him, i dont want to loose him but i also feel hopless because i just dont know what else to do, i cant talk to any of my freinds or family or his because they dont understand the love we have for eachother and their attitude is just leave him ,do you want this for the rest of your life, they are very judgmental..So i am very greatfull for this blog, thankyou very much for making it.
Lyn.

Anonymous said...

I just lost a sister in law to this horrible disease. I have been so heartbroken as she had one child and he told me with tears rolling down his face in hospital that this was the only way she could quit. I might add it is a horrific way to go the whole body swells up like a balloon.

Anonymous said...

I've been through all the stages but finally the pain was so great I stopped drinking and have been in recovery for almost 7 years. I feel better than I have in decades. How? I went to recovery and took it seriously. I am active in AA. I make weekly visits to my old rehab to talk to and inspire new patients. The main thing is you have to do is look outside yourself and help others. Believe you can't make it alone and accept help from others and a God of your own understanding.

Anonymous said...

I am 49 and have drunk for the past 35 years... I have now have been warned with elevated liver enzymes that I am in the DANGER zone. It's so hard because I feel no pain... YET! I don't want it to be too late for me and my family to witness.

Thank you, for sharing your story.

p.s. I am so scared...

Been thru AA and all the steps but gave up because I (so sad) think this is the only thing I have been good at in my life. I have never in my existence dedicated such love and devotion to such a false, humiliating disease such as this. I have walked miles!

Anonymous said...

My sister in law is drinking herself to death, she is also likely to lose her house very soon and become homeless (should she live that long). We live in the world of when will it , not if. She does not eat, has severe liver problems, elevated heart rate, tired, has nose bleeds and vomits blood (clotting is affected) struggles to walk as has no strength, has hallucinations, lost a tonne of weight and still manages to drinks morning to night (and worryingly we don't know where she is getting the money), has severe withdrawal symptoms within a couple of hours. She has five children, two of whom are grown, one of whom has chosen to stay at home, and two younger ones who have lived with us for 2.5 years by court order.

I feel so angry with her that she is leaving the kids this way, and as usual leaving us to pick up the pieces. She is not seeing that every day we have to deal with things that directly relate to drinking, does not see how much it rips her brother (my partner) or children to pieces, does not see what we have asked our children to accept in order for her children to live with us, does not see how much we have fought for her to be able to see her children, does not see that we have had to make life changing difficult decisions for both her family and ours to try to support her (not enable) so that she sees what is happening and stop it before it gets to late, though i fear it is now too late.

It fills me with great sadness that they only thing we as the family will get from her dying is a sense of 'we can begin our lives now and concentrate on making us all happy'. All future memories will be those of sadness as the only thing we/children will remember is how hard life has been for all of us over the last few years, and for the children the constant disappointment of lack of effort to see them or even make a phone call.

Explaining to the children that this is not their fault so that this does not impact on their adult life will be challenging, as whilst drunk my sister in law often blamed the 'difficult' child for her drinking - she will remember that forever despite everything i say/explain to her, that is not a nice memory to have have of your mum.

We will be left to try explain to the children why mum made the choices she did (impossible task) when they are older as they will ask, but the reality is we will only be able to say 'mum did love you,' because she does, however nothing we can say will change the fact that they will feel that mum didn't love them enough to stop.

Anonymous said...

I googled this. I am dying from drinking. I have been since I was 13. Went on until I was 34. Stayed sober for 16 years. The best years of my life! I was a good mother! Relaped was able to get a few months many times, 2/12 years again. Still I am drinking again, only this time I isolate. Hating the thought of going outside. Even taking a shower is horrible to me. Thanksgiving is a nightmare. I will die of this horrible sickness. I pray that you do not.