Go in peace and light.

Go in peace and light.

My brother has been dead for 13 days today. He died the night before Mother’s Day. The last words I said to him were “I love you. Go in peace and light.” His name was Richard and he was 30 years old. His 10 year old son (who looks, walks, talks, and acts like him) never really knew Richard. My oldest brother, 34 years old, is also an alcoholic. As I write this, my constant prayer drones on in my head for the Living Brother to have enough strength to quit drinking and to live. I could write for days about how I miss my brother, about the overwhelming sadness I feel at not being able to save his life, or about the pain alcoholism has caused my family and me for the past 12 years. .. . but I want to tell you about the last few hours of Richard’s life. I want each of you reading this to see, smell, and feel the pangs of misery that cut through my soul when I witnessed his death caused by alcohol.

As I entered the trailer house that my brothers were living in, the smell hit me. It wasn’t the usual sickening sweet, alcohol-tinged smell of whiskey that I had become accoustomed to. No – the smell engulfing me was like a putrid, rancid odor. Now, remembering the smell, I think it most closely resembled the smell of a pig I had to dissect in college.

My eyes quickly became adjusted to the darkness of the living room. What I saw haunts me, especially at night when I’m trying to sleep. Richard was laying straight out in a rose colored recliner. He was wearing a pair of denim shorts which were stained with his urine. His hands were all drawn up and crossed over his bare chest. His hands looked like those of an elderly person who had suffered a stroke. His whole body was stiff. The pale skin of his chest and belly was stretched so tight against the bloat. “The bloat”. . . that’s what I call it. From his collarbones to his hips, Richard was swollen. His stomach was hard. It was not natural, and I call it the “bloat.” His legs and arms were so skinny looking in comparison.
His skin was this weird looking color. My family has fair skin. Richard’s skin looked yellowish except for the tips of his fingers. They were blue-black. I remember putting my hand on his forehead and wondering at the difference between my hand and his face. His forehead was warm.

His eyes . . . the pain, loss, fear, blankness that I saw in his big brown bloodshot eyes caused me to start praying earnestly for Richard’s peace. I prayed that God would give Richard peace, that He would make the demons go away. Richard did not even recognize me. His face was contorted and his eyes kept rolling back into the sockets. His lips were stained with crusty blood. I tried to make him see me, but he never did. He just kept shaking and moaning. A forever, eerie moan. A quiet wail like something I had heard on that movie “Shindler’s List.” There was a gurgling sound in his chest. Maybe it was from his stomach. The smell was coming from a trash can full of blood and vomit beside the chair. Floating in the bloody mess was an empty Vodka bottle.

When the first seizure came, Richard shook violently. I started crying. My whole body shook too. His eyes were filled with fear. The panic in his eyes broke my heart. I cried out to God for strength and mercy. I begged Richard to blink if he could hear me. I begged him to squeeze my hand if he wanted me to take him to the hospital. Nothing. Just more moaning and shaking.

Something came over me as I continued to pray. A peace began to grow within me. I went to the bathroom and got a wash cloth. I filled a pan from the kitchen with water. I kneeled beside my brother and began to wash his body. I wiped the grease and grime from his face. I cleaned the blood from his hands and lips. I traced his fingers that were just longer, larger versions of mine.

The moans continued. I took an old Bible down from a shelf. It opened to Proverbs. I read what it said about what makes a good man good. I knew that Richard was good. His heart was good. I prayed for more strength.

The second seizure hit him. He closed his eyes afterward. I thought he was dead then. I waited a few seconds and felt his pulse. His heart was still beating. My tears came silently. I looked at my Living Brother who was so drunk he had no understanding of what was happening. I told him to pray.

I stood beside Richard. I looked deep into his eyes, and he was not there. I leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. I said, “I love you. Go with peace and light.” I got in my car and drove away. The next time I saw Richard, he was dressed in the light blue button-down shirt and black jeans that I had bought for him. His chest was all sunk in and he lay so peacefully in the casket my mother and I chose for him on Mother’s Day. When I stood close to his corpse, I could see the threads that were sewn through his lips. His hands were still bruised from the hospital IVs.

My brother with the blond hair is dead. He drank himself to a miserable, pain filled death. Just last month I taught him how to use the internet. Now, this story is here. top of page