In Loving Memory of both the Sinner and the Saint

   I believe lessons present themselves everywhere, all around us. In life, in other people’s lives, and in death. Maybe especially in death.

When someone in a family meets an untimely demise, often it’s the youngest and best of all of us. I wonder why we don’t gain more perspective in the midst of this. I feel like a whole new outlook on life should be automatically revealed to us. How can it not be?

I wonder how old sibling rivalries and hurt feelings survive a death in the family, how they aren’t magically resolved as the physical remains of one of their own is laid to rest below the ground. As we look down into the void of fresh dirt how do we not gain a glimpse into a bigger picture where possessions, money or disagreements no longer separate us and instead we find the compassion that unites us all?

I don’t suggest we have to be best friends with every relative, or every person we ever meet, but at the very least we can wish each other well and engage in positive communication. We can speak life to each other and break down walls, rather than look from the cracks in the bricks and hide behind the armed guards we have stationed at every door, guns loaded.

Then I remember we are all human. And try as we might sometimes we just won’t see each other’s side of things, sometimes we just will never agree.

But why then, if we are all imperfectly human, do we treat the deceased as if they somehow found the secret for escaping their humanity? We don’t ever want to paint the dead in what anyone could consider a negative light once they are gone as if it would be an insult to their memory.

Isn’t the opposite true?

Isn’t the insult to NOT acknowledge the hardship, the humanity?

Darkness perpetuates darkness. Secrets are followed by more secrets. Silence creates bondage. But one little light can break through them all.

Recently I saw a video of four average women who were given a celebrity style photo shoot and photoshopped into cover models. One girl said something along the lines that when you take away the imperfections, there’s nothing really of you left.

I lost an uncle last week. My dad lost a brother. I haven’t seen or spoken with my uncle in years and I couldn’t make it personally to the funeral. Living across the country, working two jobs, and limited finances sets limits on last minute travel. But I’ve thought a lot about him this week, about all of this, about all the unanswered questions and how they affect us all.

My uncle was an alcoholic. It’s unclear how heavily that affected his death, as he slipped and fell…having some problems falling lately.. but I would find it hard to believe it wasn’t a domino effect leading up to the instability of his footing. He also was a heavy smoker. But any talk of this and how it affected his health was shushed by some this week. Why? Everyone smokes. Okay not everyone, but you get my point. A lot of people drink too. So why is it so taboo? Because it claimed control over him? Because he crossed over that line from pleasure to addiction? Because he was losing?

The ones doing the shushing this week meant well. I don’t doubt that. They just wanted everyone to remain in very positive thoughts and make it easier on my cousins grieving their father, and embrace only good memories during this time. I understand.

But ultimately, I think that points to a deeper, more fundamental problem in our society- how we must fragment a person and section out their flaws in order to keep smiles all around.

This isn’t anything new… I had a great-uncle whom I never met, died before I was born. He was an alcoholic and found himself in the hospital. On the fifth floor he opened the window and was found dead on the sidewalk below. It’s unclear whether he intentionally jumped or was just smoking a cigarette into the night air and fell accidentally. My dad still doesn’t know what happened because no one wanted to talk about it. If suicide was even a possibility, we sweep it under the rug. We don’t want to believe that could be true or let anyone else believe it.

Recently I read a blog on Philip Seymour Hoffman and addiction. One point said  that fighting addiction once it takes you is like learning how to fight a mountain lion with your hands tied behind your back. If you haven’t faced this battle it doesn’t mean you are superior to those that have, it doesn’t make you better or stronger. We all have different battles, different temptations, different weaknesses. And those that have never faced this may find it easy to be condescending to those that have, without having ever walked a mile in their shoes.

I was an anorexic, bulimic, and borderline. I recovered. My uncle was an alcoholic and smoker. He still struggled.

Let me rephrase, I HAD an eating disorder and borderline personality disorder. My uncle HAD an addiction to alcohol and cigarettes. These things do not define us. We are so much more. I’m also a daughter, a friend, an animal lover, a hard worker. My uncle was also a dad, a grandpa, he loved fishing and golfing.

Why do we not see this? That these things do not define us? We still speak in hushed voices and sweep certain topics under the rug and don’t talk about it, while the next generation sits in the corner with wide watching, absorbing eyes learning that suffering is better off done in silence.

At times in the past when my uncle was in rehab, he didn’t want anyone to know where he was, not even some of his own siblings. I wonder if he could do it all over again if he’d choose differently. On Super Bowl Sunday he had fallen and was in the hospital. The few that knew were told not to tell anyone else. My dad never knew. My dad would’ve gone and seen him, it would have been the last time he’d see his youngest brother before he died.

But unfortunately these are things we discover when it’s too late, when we’ve run out of “tomorrows” or “laters.” I wonder what could have been done differently, if anything could have been done? I wonder why it wasn’t enough, why my uncle couldn’t save himself? Because as I’ve learned through personal experience, no one else can save you. Others can assist of course, but rescue must come from within oneself to beat any addiction. It’s the only way. Why some do this and so many are unable to, I guess that is no easy answer…

I’m reminded, in the midst of dirty dishes and bills and long work days, it’s easy to get tunnel vision. It’s easy to let friends become acquaintances and family become strangers. Maybe we get our priorities a little screwed up. Maybe giving a smile is worth the extra effort, maybe helping an elderly neighbor with groceries is worth the inconvenience, and maybe buying a few extra Christmas cards is worth the investment. We can always find people to send them out to. In our busy lives, people get crowded out and contacts narrowed down, but we’re narrowing down things that can’t be eliminated- God’s people.

When people die, we worry about protecting their memory in the minds of the living. But underneath that veil, knowing the good, the bad, and the worse… what I remember is being a little kid at my uncle’s house playing with my cousins in the pool. He was happy and joyful and entertaining. Yeah, he wasn’t perfect and sometimes he screwed up or did things that frustrated his family. Yeah, addiction plagued him every day of his life, and he was fighting a war every day of his life that most couldn’t imagine. But the grinning host, happy among his family? That’s how I remember him.

That’s who he was. He was more. More than addiction, more than loss, more than defeat. And I imagine he is finally home now, free with his Father, and grinning from ear to ear.

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Categories: Mental Health and Recovery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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