Death certificates

Death certificates.

Alcoholism has a long arm in my family, going back at least as far as my grandfather who was born more than a century ago. Of his nine children, all either were alcoholics or married alcoholics except one, who was epileptic and committed suicide in prison at the age of 36.

I read somewhere in this site that alcohol as a cause of death rarely appears on death certificates. Perhaps death certificates should contain a check-box to indicate whether alcohol played any role at all in ending a person’s life.

In 1975, my uncle was released from the hospital, after suffering another heart attack, with orders not to drink another drop of alcohol. He promptly disappeared and was found–literally dead drunk–four days later. His death certificate probably lists “heart attack” as cause of death.

One week later, my cousin (age 23 and son of the above uncle’s sister and her first husband, both alcoholics) committed suicide with a gun. His death certificate probably lists “gunshot wound” or some related medical-lingo damage as cause of death.

This cousin was addicted to drugs and alcohol and was despondent over his girlfriend’s death by accidental drug overdose a few months earlier.

In 1991, another cousin (in his thirties, and son of a different alcoholic uncle in this family) also committed suicide because, as he stated in letters mailed to family members back home in the Midwest that arrived after his body was found hanging from a tree in Florida, he couldn’t stop drinking and chose to die as a means of ending his addiction to alcohol.

An empty liquor bottle was found on the ground beneath him, but his death certificate probably lists “asphyxiation/suicide” as cause of death.

If you back up a year-and-a-half from this suicide in my family and a paragraph to the immediate family of the first cousin to commit suicide, the picture of how the long arm of alcohol grabbed hold of yet another generation, and extended beyond our family, becomes clear.

That cousin’s older brother is also an alcoholic. When his two older sons reached the “age of choice” in our state for children of divorce, they naturally, as teens are prone to do, chose the path of least resistance and went to live with their father, who regularly supplied them with beer and a place to party.

In 1990, on the Friday night before Father’s Day, my two second-cousins were out drag racing with other friends in the car after drinking quite a few beers.

The oldest was at the wheel and crossed the center line, slamming head-on into a car carrying two couples who each had two young children at home.

These four people, all attorneys, had become lifelong friends in college and were out celebrating the birthday of one of the husbands.

Their lifelong friendship ended that night, when they were in their thirties. In an instant, two little kids lost both their parents, two others lost their father, and six aging parents lost their adult children.

I doubt that “alcohol” appears anywhere as a cause of death on the death certificates of these three people, but it should.

Without the alcohol factor, they would probably still be alive today and, as the lone survivor in the car stated in the newspaper not long ago, raising their children together as they all had planned.

My second cousin is still serving time in prison, and I do think that somewhere in the paperwork of his trial for three counts of vehicular homicide the word “alcohol” does appear.

You would think that given all the death and destruction my family has suffered and caused with alcohol, no one I am related to would ever touch a drop again. But the disease–the lure and grip of alcohol–rages on.

My son, not yet twenty years old, is now drinking. He started drinking after he left at age sixteen to live with his father, also an alcoholic and drug user.

One of the last times I talked to my son, he bragged about how easy it was to get out of tickets for driving violations just by tossing around his legal name in the town where he now lives.

In Al-Anon we are taught to let the alcoholic find his or her rock bottom, and I know that message is the correct one.

I have to admit, though, that given the depths and consequences of rock bottom in my family, and as a non-drinking mother who wanted nothing more for her children than an end to the family legacy of alcoholism, waiting for my son to find his rock bottom is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to learn how to do.

I’m not supposed to ask God to take hold of my son and make him stop drinking, so I pray instead for God to just please make sure that my son and anyone he encounters on his way to rock bottom holds onto their lives.

I haven’t written all this down and submitted it to a web site for my son, because he knows every one of these stories about our family and chooses to drink anyway.

If it helps somebody else’s kid think twice about drinking and choose not to drink, then I haven’t wasted my time.

And if something somebody else has to say speaks to my son and makes him want to put the bottle down and embrace a life in which he–not alcohol–is the master of his destiny, I will be forever grateful.