4 years ago this month, my 48-year-old brother and only sibling died of kidney and liver failure in a Houston hospital, the result of years of alcohol abuse that finally put an end to the party.
He wasn’t homeless or penniless. He wasn’t unemployed or mentally ill. He was smart, wickedly funny, and strikingly handsome. He had friends, more than most, and lived a very rich and full life. But he was stinking drunk for most of it.
He was a contrarian who rejected convention of any type, choosing instead to take the road less traveled and in some cases, the ones that led to dead ends. He did everything with the volume turned up full blast, preferring big cities to small towns, loud honky-tonks to swanky clubs, exhaust-rattling beaters to fancy new sedans. If you made a bold statement, he’d be in your face with an even louder opposing point of view, whether he believed what he was arguing or not. He loved to get people riled up and see steam coming from their ears. And just when you were about to strangle him, he’d throw his head back and laugh, flashing his perfectly straight, somehow still-white-despite-the-marlboros, cavity-free smile.
Since his death, I’ve worked to understand what alcoholism means. I finally quit drinking and joined AA. I’ve written books’ worth of journal entries trying to reconcile his death and my family’s life without him. And four years later, still nothing makes sense to me.
I know people who drink and drug hard in their 40’s and 50’s as if they were in their invincible 20’s and yet I still see them on Facebook, posing in pictures with their drinks like trophies. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want them to die, it just doesn’t seem fair that their habits seem to exceed the damage my brother did to himself, yet he was taken from us and they still party on.
I’m not alone in knowing what it’s like to lose someone close and to understand the phrase “life’s too short.” I don’t pretend my pain is worse than anyone else’s. In my struggle to learn something from his death, I feel like I should be doing more. Living more. Loving more. But loving more means the risk of losing more, too. The closer you get to someone, the more you miss them when they’re gone.
What helps ease my mind even a little is the belief that my brother is in heaven, where The Who is blasting loudly, the whiskey flowing freely, and he’s telling God a dirty joke. Now that would make some sense to me.