September 12, 2006

Forty Years On

I have no idea how to write this...I suppose starting from the beginning is the best bet.

My mother's side of our family was split in half in 1964, the same year my parents got married. There was a dead relative, a will and money. The equation is brutal and familiar, made that much more complicated by the fact that my grandmother was an out-of-control alcoholic. Two of my grandmother's brothers contested the will and everyone ended up in court. Including my newly married parents, there to stick up for my grandmother. Immediately after the case was resolved, grandmother and her brothers ceased speaking. And my grandmother quit drinking.

This 40 year-old dispute had lasting consequences, as silly as it sounds. My grandmother only spoke with one of her brothers before he died ten years ago. She and her one remaining brother - Dick, about whom I've written quite a bit - refuse to speak even though they both acknowledge neither of them have a great deal of time left. All because of money, alcohol and a great deal of stubbornness.

Late last week, my mother called and left an insanely cryptic message. I called back and she got right to the issue. "If I let you guess a million years, you're never going to believe what's happening with your grandmother," she said. From her tone, I realized immediately we weren't talking about something good, like winning a million dollars or meeting Wayne Newton. I caved immediately. "Your grandmother is a raging alcoholic...again."

After 40 years, my 94 year-old grandmother fell off the wagon. I wish I could honestly sit back and say something like, "well, she made it to 94 so why shouldn't she do whatever she wants?" But I can't. She's become verbally and physically abusive and started chasing her alcohol with pain meds. Instead of raising a glass to all the old folks, I felt like someone shot Santa Claus.

I'm not 100% sure where I'm going with this; I just felt like writing it down. After the death of my grandfather last month, however, Iíve come to a few conclusions:
- It seems as though itís getting harder and harder to go out with dignity;
- Alcoholism is a bitch and I guess youíre never quite in the clear; and
- The things that come between family are, most often, stupid, especially when rationalized decades later.

Now that I've completely bummed you out, I'm off to enjoy day two of the Vacationless Vacation of 2006, Part Deux (the first part, you might recall, took place back in June). I'll give you all the highlights to date soon!

Posted by Chris at September 12, 2006 6:26 AM

Been there.

I wish your grandmother, your family, and you peace, Chris.

Posted by: Allan at September 12, 2006 7:27 AM

Been there also. Money has split up my father's side of the family. When my G. Grandmother passed away - her son stole money and all the other relatives don't speak to him anymore. Imagine stealing money from your dead mother...Yadda Yadda's very sad. I truly believe money is the root of all evil...

I wish you and yours much happiness and peace.

Posted by: at September 12, 2006 7:48 AM

I'm sorry. What an unpleasant thing to have to deal with, for all of your family.

Can she get some help? Is there any help to get?

Hang in there, and enjoy your vacationless vacation. I'm taking one, too, starting this afternoon!

Posted by: Alissa at September 12, 2006 7:55 AM

Part of the reason I don't drink is because alcoholism runs in my family. Oh, the aunts and uncles will all scoff and say they have no problems of course but when you can't function unless you've had your a.m. nip then I think it's safe to say something is up. My grandmother used to carry her stash around in her apron. She lasted all of fifty years if that. Alcoholism ain't nothing to mess with, regardless of someone's age I think. I'm sorry things are working out this way. I hope they get better and soon.

Posted by: patricia at September 12, 2006 7:55 AM

I'm sorry Chris.
I think you are right. Here we are in an age where the average life is up into the 90's and everyone thinks that this is great. But is it? I think maybe your grandmother has just given up. When your grandfather was alive she had something to keep her going. With him gone, well...
My own grandparents died within 6 months of each other. Gram first and then my grandfather, who just gave up.
A wise Indian friend of mine said once, "There is such a thing as living too long".
Hugs, sweetie!

Posted by: Maribeth at September 12, 2006 8:08 AM

It's so sad when families disintegrate over things like wills and property. We've recently had a family member pass, and I know that side of the family will rip into each other until there's nothing left. Actually, after the funeral I got to hear a long complicated story about how my great aunt and her brother stopped talking to each other over their parents' property. And yes, there was DEFINITELY alcohol involved.

Maybe not having much money is a blessing after all?

I'm really sorry about your grandma. It has to be extremely hard for your mom, especially.

Posted by: samantha at September 12, 2006 8:25 AM

I'm sorry Chris.

My Dad got sober in his 40s and every now and then my mom would joke that he could drink when he got old. But he never found that joke very funny.

Your conclusions are spot on.

Posted by: Kris at September 12, 2006 8:28 AM

I'm sorry. I've seen alcohol do terrible things to my family too...I can relate a bit, and I'm still struggling with never goes away.

Life's too short to hang on to old family rifts and to drink it all away, even if you are 94. I hope your grandmother can get back on the wagon.

Posted by: mamatulip at September 12, 2006 8:30 AM

Wow. Family. Can't live with 'em...

I wish your family the best. Try to relax and enjoy your Vacationless Vacation -- you deserve it!

Posted by: Fraulein N at September 12, 2006 8:43 AM

Yes, addiction is a bitch. Your grandmother must have been pretty strong to make it 40 years sober. Peace to you and your family.

Posted by: Liz at September 12, 2006 9:03 AM

I feel terrible for your family and hope there is some chance that wounds could heal. Extended families are difficult at the best of times without having to deal with alcoholism.

Best wishes.

Posted by: E :) at September 12, 2006 9:05 AM

I often wonder if that's the way to go out... with many drinks and some good stories to share. But it sounds like she's angry and hurtful, and that's no good. I'm sorry. Family is the toughest game to play - good luck.

Posted by: mingaling at September 12, 2006 9:09 AM

Im so sorry - I wish the best for you and yours and that you dont let your crazy relatives stress you out.

Posted by: That Girl at September 12, 2006 9:15 AM

I'm so sorry for her and for you. Alcohol is cunning, bafflng powerful, and patient. Even after almost 27 years, I take nothing for granted.

Posted by: ann adams at September 12, 2006 9:21 AM

Sorry, Chris. I hope that your grandmother can get some help, and that some of these family issues can come to an end.

Posted by: molly at September 12, 2006 9:26 AM

Sorry to hear this. Hope your grandmother can get back on track. Hugs for you all!

Posted by: Traci at September 12, 2006 9:27 AM

Thanks for sharing that. It's a good remider that, as you said, an alcoholic is never totally in the clear. That issue exists in my family, too, and it's extremely difficult to deal with.

I'm sorry that you have to go through that.

Posted by: Liberal Banana at September 12, 2006 9:39 AM

Sorry to hear about your grandma. How is she getting her alcohol? Is there anyway to cut off her supply? Maybe she's just lonely & bored.

Posted by: MrsJoseGoldbloom at September 12, 2006 9:42 AM

Wow - kinda been there?

I wish I had something sassy yet non-tacky to say about your grandmother hittiní the bottle. Iím really grateful you chose to share that information with the blogosphere - it is very important to remember that addiction never really goes away.

After years of wondering why a particular relative of mine was could be a cuddle bear, a crying wimp, an angry bully, a bossy taskmaster, a giddy play pal, or a somber nap-machine, (among other behaviors) my family discovered an entire desk drawer full of prescription medicine; this person had four doctors, none of which knew of the others. When told that the stash was going to be flushed, a silver-haired temper tantrum of comic book proportions erupted "That's good money! You can't throw that away!"

This person had encountered and survived many illness and experiences that would have caused an average person to die, from a shrewd perspective you could say that the self-serve pharmacy worked. When bone cancer proved inescapable and the individual died the survivors squabbled - three ganging up on one. Family history was lost to greed; only photos remain. Meanwhile, survivors made home improvements, padded retirement accounts, and took vacations.

Years later, I remain loyally devoted to my immediate family, but am now wary of many people I'm genetically related to. I know that sounds sad, but it is better to decide who is worthy of your affection than to repeatedly fling yourself into an ugly equation, like a moth flying into a light bulb until its toast.

I've forged relationships with friends that are stronger than anything I experienced with people I visit with at the occasional awkward reunion. I feel blessed; in the past decade, I've stumbled into a non-genetic brother and a non-genetic sister I might not have considered significant if I were busy trying to please and appease genetic relatives.

No doubt about it - it DOES BITE when a family shatters - but given the passage of time and a stubborn decision to make the best of it, wonderful possibilities begin to emerge.

Posted by: Betti at September 12, 2006 9:49 AM

wow. that.... sucks (for lack of a better phrase). best of luck and many good vibes to you and your family. =/

Posted by: Judy at September 12, 2006 9:53 AM

You are right--alcoholism is a bitch. I am thankful every day that my dad stopped drinking 19 years ago and saved my parents' marriage and his life. Good luck to your family.

Posted by: Liz at September 12, 2006 10:25 AM

Sorry. I know the feeling; money and alcohol have done bad things to my family, too. It just plain sucks.

Enjoy your week off, anyway.

Posted by: Kate the Shrew at September 12, 2006 10:28 AM

Forty years is a good long time to stay sober and, given that your grandmother's re-introduction to alcohol coincided with her husband's death, it might be that he was a source of strength for her and she feels she can't sustain sobriety without him. Just a thought. I'm sorry for this news. It's never a good time to fall off of the wagon.

Posted by: wordgirl at September 12, 2006 10:40 AM

That's awful. For as much joy as family can bring, they sure can bring more than their fair share of pain and suffering, too, can't they? And your poor mom is caught in the middle of it all.

I often wonder if my vows at age 32 to not be like my more difficult relatives will stand the test of time.

Posted by: donna at September 12, 2006 10:43 AM

It is often times disheartening how people filled with sadness choose to exercise control over a situation for which they have no control.

May she and your family find peace and balance.

Posted by: Pammer at September 12, 2006 10:44 AM

Oh, man. I am so sorry. It never ceases to amaze me how cruel families - people who supposedly love each other - can be to themselves, as they rip themselves apart. I so hope that your grandmother, and the rest of you, find some stability and peace, even though right now it feels like that's impossible.

Posted by: Kristen at September 12, 2006 11:17 AM



Posted by: shelley at September 12, 2006 11:38 AM

I know someone who deals with this kind of thing almost everyday (Mr. Q!) and, I know it's hardly a consolation, but as you can see it is extraordinarily common.

Your feelings are totally valid, for lack of a better word. It truly hurts to see that happening to anyone much less your family.

You are right about going out with dignity - THAT is the rarity these days. I would love to talk to you more in depth about it if you want. I am a good resource and this topic is a specialty for my Hubs since it's what he does for a living - dealing with families at the end of life. I'm sure he'll be happy to be pimped out!

Hugs, Chris. It's good to share.

Posted by: Ms. Q at September 12, 2006 11:50 AM

you are correct on all three counts. i'm sorry your family has to go through this.

Posted by: jodi at September 12, 2006 12:05 PM

I'm the granddaughter of an alcoholic. It isn't fun and it isn't pretty. Especially when they mix the pain meds in. I'm sorry, Chris. That sucks. *hugs*

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at September 12, 2006 12:18 PM

I'm sorry Chris. 40 years...

My grandpa passed back in April and we are dealing with some "issues" regarding the will and estate (like you described in your post). It's all so silly and I have often wondered how my grandpa would feel if he could see his kids acting this way.

I hope your grandma gets the help that she needs. Peaceful thoughts to her and to your family.

Posted by: Snidget at September 12, 2006 12:52 PM

I'm so sorry your grandma hass fallen back into her addiction. Your mom must be beside herself. She's lucky to have you and beth for support and Mia for laughs. Enjoy your vacation and know you are building a family for Mia that will always be there for her.

Posted by: Annie at September 12, 2006 12:55 PM

I'm the daughter of a recovering (though he would say "recovered") alcoholic and my husband's grandfathers were both alcoholics. We're hoping that, since we both seem to have escaped the bullet, our children will be free from the addiction.

It's never easy, dealing with family crap. I envy those for whom it *is* easy.

Posted by: candace at September 12, 2006 1:02 PM

It's all already been said.

Best for your vacation,

Posted by: s@bd at September 12, 2006 1:20 PM

Well what can I say, except...that sucks. My grandfather is having a hard time of it since my grandma passed. He has not started drinking, however he has become verbally abusive to some of his children and people who are trying to work with him, like nurses and therapists. It's a tough thing, this getting old. I'm sorry your grandmother is not doing so well. But you should focus on having a good time with your hot wife and cute kid. I'm sure they are plenty good for cheering up purposes :)

Posted by: Kate at September 12, 2006 1:24 PM

I don't have anything new to add to the comments, just ugh, I'm sorry that's happening. Sorry for you and your family, and sad for your grandmother. I hope it gets better.

Posted by: bad penguin at September 12, 2006 1:34 PM

I know how important it is to stay centered in one's own life when the shit hits the fan with family. Pay attention to your own story and your own actions and intentions, and approach the rest of it all with compassion. I believe in my heart that there's nothing else you could do. Spending a lot of emotional energy on something that is not our fault and over which we have no control is a sad waste of our lives.

And believe me, I know. I wasted weeks of my life angsting about why my brother-in-law was accusing us of trying to steal his dead wife's money (my husband's sister) and pissing on a $600 airline ticket we bought for him, after I'd spent more than a month of time caring for her - hard, physical and unpleasant labor, as well as a great privilege - in her last weeks, away from home and at my own expense. I had a single moment of clarity. I wasn't the crazymaker. I didn't do anything wrong. The relief I felt from that realization was physical.

I won't do that again. I won't go there in my mind. I hope your mother can hang on and embody compassion, too.

Posted by: bhd at September 12, 2006 1:38 PM

wow. after 40 years.
i can't even imagine what could have set her off.

Posted by: ali at September 12, 2006 1:39 PM

After 40 years, the pain must be intensified by shock. Sorry, Chris. Hope that your (chunk of the) family is able to help each other through this.


Posted by: Vaguely Urban at September 12, 2006 1:57 PM

Wow. I don't know how you even fall off the wagon at 94 after 40 years sober...

But I do know it has to be a nightmare to deal with. I'm so sorry.

Posted by: Cartwheels At Midnight at September 12, 2006 2:57 PM

I don't have any words, so I'll just send my best thoughts to you.

Posted by: Alison at September 12, 2006 5:35 PM

Dude that sucks ass. I think of somehting my grandma once said to me...I didn't think I'd live this long.

They don't know how to deal with getting old, so they do things that aren't cool. Maybe she is trying to kill herself. Either way, it sucks. Sorry you have to deal with family crap on your vacation.

Posted by: Melissa at September 12, 2006 6:30 PM

Families are so crazy. I thought mine was pretty normal and I was just reminded abruptly today that it sooo isn't. In a wierd sort of way it's comforting to read about someone elses and relate to all the craziness.

Posted by: Sijbrich at September 12, 2006 6:46 PM

Money is the route of all evil (imop).

I wish nothing but the best to you and your family.

Posted by: Colleen at September 12, 2006 10:10 PM

I'm sorry to hear that Chris. Alcohol sucks and I feel sad when people turn to it for support. I hope things get better. Love and hugs.

Posted by: Dee at September 12, 2006 11:51 PM

I'm so sorry Chris. I hope you can find a way to come to peace with it. I wish you & your family all the best.

Posted by: Nadine at September 13, 2006 2:01 AM

Nothing I can say will be enough, so I send you kind thoughts and prayers for an otherwise peaceful vacation.

Posted by: Sassy at September 13, 2006 3:03 AM

it's hard to watch our loved ones get older. i can only imagine what this has been like for your grandmother, to find herself slipping back into old addictions...

My gramma is having a myriad of problems, including a broken leg that won't heal. Her constant refrain is how she didn't think she'd live this long. How she thought she'd be dead before she'd see her body wear out. How tired she is of it all.

Getting old is so hard. It's hard on us who have to watch our loved ones go through it, but it's also so very hard on the ones who are old.

I hope your grandma can find peace, and while I wish it wasn't at the end of a bottle, I can't begrudge her if it is...

my sympathies...

Posted by: suze at September 13, 2006 11:20 AM

That really sucks. I wish I could be more eloquent, but I guess that about sums it up. :(

Posted by: Zandria at September 13, 2006 3:01 PM

I'm so sorry you're going through this, Chris. I'm very familiar with the whole family-dispute-due-to-money-etc. thing. It sucks. Glad you go this out. Now go enjoy your vacationless vacation! :)

Posted by: haley-o at September 13, 2006 11:34 PM

Wow, dude. I am sorry.

I just last week left my husband who also fell off the wagon fairly hard. It sucks.

Your blog is the first one I have clicked after a week long hiatus. Imagine my surprise to read this. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: mr lady at September 14, 2006 12:39 AM

my ex-husband? an alkie also. sadly, you're dead on with the never going away thing. even more sad, no one can help them but themselves.

Posted by: b. at September 14, 2006 6:27 PM

A Dr. I worked with once told me, 'all love turns to money.' I don't think you can ever forget when someone betrays you over money...possessions and money are not that important, but I've seen it come between family members too many times. In fact, my aunt cut me and my sisters out of her will and left it all to my cousin because my grandmother gave my mom a bracelet that she, my aunt wanted. Oh well! Alcoholism is awful and I agree with the person above who said your grandmother is probably having a hard time without your grandfather. If I remember, he had Alzheimers and that is a difficult road also for the spouse. Hope she gets better. I don't think when you are 94 you feel any different than when stuff is hard.

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