The Progress of the Soul

It's been two years since I got that phone call.

I can still can hear my father's voice, the way it sounded as he choked out that my brother had committed suicide.

Two years have passed and the grief of it, it still feels fresh.

Sometimes I remember the silliest things. Every time I eat pancakes, I think about how sometimes on Sundays, my mom would make pancakes and I'd get into this stupid, covert pancake eating contest with him. Even though he was almost nine years older than me, I'd try to eat more pancakes than he could.

Sometimes I was successful, but most often, not.

He was incredibly fastidious about his hair. Ridiculously obsessed with it. He always had to have his hair cut "just so". He used to spend so much time on it that I swear, he was a metrosexual before his time. After his death, when we went to see his body, I noticed how short he had cut his hair. I think it was the shortest I'd ever seen it. But it was a perfect haircut which was so like him.

I remember how he knew everything there was to know about cars, how he was an Adina Howard everyone liked him because he was incredibly charming and easy to get along with.

I often wish unspeakably horrible things on whatever high school friend it was that introduced him to drugs.

I remember the first time my parents staged an intervention and took him to rehab. I remember feeling so afraid but so hopeful that the complete insanity, the pain that had engulfed us all would be over. I know my parents felt the same way. I remember how my mom cried in the car after we left the hospital.

If only the thousands of dollars spent that first time had cured him. But unfortunately, the person does not just get a shot and then walk away from it all. That is not how overcoming addiction works.

After a few months, he'd come out into the real world and we'd all want to believe that "this time" was going to be different.

He would be alright for a month, maybe two, maybe three. But then, he'd start to look different. His eyes would get a dullness to them even though he'd be hyped up. His moods would swing erratically. He'd start talking in this grandiose manner. And we'd all know. And our hearts would break just a bit more.

Rehab turned to jail time and the sentences got longer as he got older. When he died, I hadn't seen him in ten years, hadn't spoken to him in several months. The last time I talked to him, he'd joked about coming to California to visit. I'd joked back that he'd better not because we had a three strikes law out here.

He began telling me about his big plans to turn things around for himself.

I'm sure the, "Yeah, whatever," came across in my voice even though I probably said something like, "That sounds great! I know you can do it!"

And so I keep this picture of my brother in my prayer book. I suppose I hope that always being close to those blessed words, even in the moments when they aren't being said, will aide the progress of his soul.

Truly, my brother had been so unhappy for so many years and I thank God he is finally at peace.


none said…
Drug addiction is so sad. The addiction is also tied to the crowd the person runs with and it's damn near impossible to quit one without the other.

I'm sorry about your brother. he looks like a nice fellow.

I've got a close family member that chooses that lifestyle over everything else. My wife and I are always prepared for that inevitable phone call.
I don't think many people understand how horrible addiction is. Everyone has a different body chemistry and who knows how their body is going to respond to drugs. Not everyone can just "stop".

Like you I am very close to my siblings. I can't imagine what it is like to receive a call like that.

My heart goes out to you and your family.
Mes Deux Cents said…

I am sorry for your loss.
Anonymous said…
A very sad story, Liz. It sounds like he was a really happy soul until the drugs got him. You're surely right that he is now at peace after so many unhappy years.
thailandchani said…
I'm glad he is at peace, too. Sometimes I think some people just aren't meant for this world. The only way to make it bearable is with drugs. That's incredibly sad.
1969 said…
I am so sorry for your loss.
Addiction truly affects the victim and everyone around them.

Jen said…
I'm so sorry for your loss, Liz. I lost my sister to cancer 10 years ago. We're just not supposed to lose our siblings this young. Huge hugs to you.
Jameil said…
since i don't know what to say i will just deliver and internet hug.
Liz Dwyer said…
It is very sad and I'm sure you understand very well. Unfortunately, the "crowd" was so large and varied. There was always somebody to use with. I think I sort of always knew that the phone call would come too.

I don't think people understand how horrible it is either. It always amazes me how people are not more fearful that they're going to be the one to become an addict in that way. I am sure my brother didn't think it would be him either.

Thanks so much. It makes me feel better to write about it, but even what I wrote is not the whole story. But so much of it has influenced who I am today.

Sadly enough, I don't think he was happy before he started using. I think his unhappiness actually led him to become a user and it was just a horrible cycle from there. It makes me even more glad that he is at peace.

Yes, there is so much pain and numbing it with drugs becomes a very comforting option, even if that choice is also filled with pain for the user and their family.

Thank you for that hug. I need it. I know so many people have similar tales because addiction is so common, and unfortunately, so is suicide. Folks just don't talk about it, which is sad. People feel shameful, embarrassed to say that they have someone in their family with problems. But it's all too common.

Thank you so much for the hug. I never pictured him being gone at such a young age. I don't think I pictured him living to 80 or anything, but not that young. I am sorry for your sister's passing. I find that I am sometimes very fearful that something will happen to my sister and then they'll both be gone.

Sometimes I don't know what to say either. I called my mom this morning and I was almost a little relieved that she didn't answer the phone, which sounds terrible, but it's true. But I am grateful for the hug.
Ian Lidster said…
Really poignant stuff, Liz. And, my condolences. Having spent a few years working with addicts I know well how horrible it can be for the family members that love them. Alas, any answer must come from the addict himself. Addiction can be defeated by the addict, but the process is grueling. The tale about your brother is truly sad, and I have seen many others like him, unfortunately.
Unknown said…
I just want to send you a hug and a thank you. By day I work in the court system and have done so 18 years. You just reminded me why I come to work everyday, because I have been feeling very cynical. Recently it had just come down to "for the love of my own sons" but you're passion and pain has reminded me I do it for the love of everyone's sons and daughters or family members, especially our browner ones who are most at risk. I'm just so sorry your brother succumbed to the mountains of circumstances stacked against him; it is such a battle. I just hope the world shifts just a little to give our little young men a better chance.
Find comfort somehow and a little peace...we're all with you ;0)
Anonymous said…
I have not had a chance to visit in a while...but I'm glad I had a chance to read today. It was really heartfelt and it hits home as I am fearful that my stepson may take that route as he struggles to understand why his attitude has pushed his family away....

Thank you..
Miriam said…
Liz, I am so sorry about your loss. I am not surprised you still feel it so much.

I also lost a brother many years ago to suicide. Now I can talk about it in a very flat distant voice -which can shock people but I guess its just my way of dealing with it.

Anonymous said…
I am sorry for your loss.
I read your blog often but have never left a msg before today. This entry touched me so deeply I had to say something.
Sundry said…
Thanks for telling us about him, Liz.
It's funny, I looked at the photo and thought "he doesn't look dead" (usually I can tell.) Now I know why. The person in that picture is still very much alive in your heart and thoughts. What a precious gift you give by sharing your imagine.

I've worked in addiction for over a decade and could say a lot. But the truth is that we don't know jack shit about how it works.

Just that people suffer.

At least he's really alive in your heart. That's real God-like love.

You are a blessing.
Liz, I'm so sorry for your pain and your parent's.

Keeping him in your prayer book is such a lovely thing to do, and I believe he knows and appreciates it. You are as wonderful a little sister as you are a wife, mother and friend to so many.

I hesitate to mention something as trivial as the award I've given you, but maybe a little smile is called for now.

Blessings to you. You're a sweetheart.
Wish I could say that I was a stranger to drug abuse, but I have two siblings who have found themselves in the grip of drugs.

At least, you have decided that his legacy is not in how he died, but the special person that he was, period.
Liz Dwyer said…
Just wanted to say to all of you, thank you for being so kind to me.

Thanks for sharing that and thanks for the condolences. What you say is so true. I remember that movie, Requiem for a Dream and how awful it was, but I thought it did such a good job showing how addiction on so many levels is such a part of our society. It's just hard to feel good about yourself when there's so many messages declaring that we're all "less than".

Oh, thank you for the hug. I can only imagine how hard it is to keep positive working in a system that frequently seems to lack even an inkling of justice. It really is such a battle and I know I saw through my brother's experience how much easier his life seemed to be when he was locked up. When he was out, I think the weight, the pressure of everything, was just too much.

I am so glad you're doing what you're doing.

Hey there, it is good to hear from you. Are you doing alright? I am so sorry to hear what is happening with your stepson. I know my parents did not "get" what was going on with my brother. There was a lot less education and resources for parents about how to recognize the signs of drug use, and how to get help immediately. I hope things work out for your stepson. I don't want you to feel this sort of heartbreak.

Thank you and I am sorry for your brother too. I know what you mean because I think over the past year I've become more matter-of-fact about what has happened. I've had a lot of secrets in my life and I want to be honest about this instead of whispering in a corner about it.

I am glad you said something. Thank you for it. I cried a lot as I wrote what I did, but putting it out there made me feel more at peace.

It is hard to write about him, to talk about him but it's something that is always in the back of my mind.

I wish we could figure out what is what with addiction. I know so many loved Amy Winehouse when she came out, but I couldn't get into it as much because I kept thinking about how much pain she has to be in to be in such state, and I kept thinking about her family and their suffering. My brother did have quite an energy to him that I'm sure comes through in the picture.

Thank you so much. I still haven't talked to my mom yet. I think she maybe didn't want to talk and I know how she feels. And an award is quite welcome... I do need a smile, especially since Obama lost in New Hampshire last night.

Oh, that hurts my heart to read that about your siblings. I hope they can turn themselves around. I'm thinking about you.
Dena said…
i love you, liz. :) and am thinking about you. i'll keep you, your brother and your family in my prayers tonight.
Lola Gets said…
Im very sorry for your loss. Stories like this are one of the reasons Ive never wanted to try any of the "hard" drugs. Ive got enough problems without adding chemical addiction to them.

Kate said…
That picture of your brother exudes personality. I can understand why you keep it close. I'm sorry you lost him.
Liz Dwyer said…
Love you too, Dena and thank you for the prayers. Wish you lived here instead of in cold Chicago...except then you'd see how jacked up I look from crying for the past couple of days. Thank goodness I live in LA where no one bats an idea at someone wearing sunglasses in public 24/7.

I agree. I never had any desire to "experiment" with any drugs whatsoever and have little tolerance for their use. I've seen too much what happens when people get addicted.

Thanks. He definitely had a lot of personality. People he only met once or twice still remember him. He had a lot of good things going on for him, but he made so many choices that just didn't let his true spirit shine.
Tafari said…
Thx for sharing these deeply personal memories. I am sure it was some type of therapy for you, but for me, it helps me deal with my brothers up and down issues with mental illness. I often want to post about it, but something is holding me back.

Here to good memories & pancake weekends!

katie e said…
Hey Liz,
I've been waiting to read this post for a couple days but didn't get a chance. I've been relating to your posts lately in a big way.

I lost my brother too almost 10 years ago now. I believe he was on something at the time, but he was hit by a drunk driver while driving his motorcycle.

I will NEVER forget getting that call from my Dad. never. I've written a poem about it too. That was healing. I just remember slowly falling down the wall that I was leaning on while saying, "what!?... what did you say?!" over and over.

ugh. lovely moments. My dad has been working avidly with MADD since then. And I actually feel like I've gotten closer with my bro since he went to the next world. I've had visions with him and dreams. He's like my worker angel waiting for the cues to do service. It's really special. It makes me happy thinking about it right now.

Lots of love to you Liz. I will say the prayer for the departed for your bro. and a prayer for you and your fam too.
Liz Dwyer said…
It is a little therapeutic to write about it...but I almost didn't and I suppose it's because there's so much that I don't feel I can really say. My sister read this post and said that I came up with some really good memories...and frankly, it is hard to come up with good memories after a certain point. There was a time where I felt like I was in hell with everything that was going on...I didn't need to meet a dude with a pitchfork to know it either. Anyway, I know you know what I mean so I'll leave it at that.

Thank you for the prayers. I'm so sorry that happened to your brother. I know so many people who've had loved ones killed because of drunk drivers. It's good that your dad is so involved in MADD. I'm sure it gives him a way to channel all of the emotions he has.

How amazing that you have dreams of your brother and feel closer to him. I haven't dreamed of my brother but I do sense that he really is at peace, finally.
Anonymous said…
Greetings Liz,
This post struck a real cord with me so I feel compelled to respond.
I am black and live in the UK
When our loved ones take addictive drugs,they can stop being our loved ones. Simply because this is when the devil can possess them. Some of the loveliest people in the world can be stolen in this way. Evilness and wrongness enter their hearts and deeds. They become possessed and they do things that they would never normally do.
Unspeakable things!
Uncharacteristic things!
Nice people become different people, disgusting, nasty, dirty, warped, incorrigable, pathetic and sad.
Ultimately evil and incapable of true love. Lost souls with unspoken secret crimes against humanity.
I speak from the pain of experience and knowing. My brother is still possessed by the devils drug, crack cocaine, (for the last 20 yrs), has was once I too.
By the grace of God live to tell the tale, he is still in the land of the living dead. Were he to die tomorrow, dare I say it, it would be welcome relief from his life of insanity, false dreams and hopelessness! But yet more pain for us, his family.
We hang on to the distant memories of how good they used to be and of how nice they once were. When we eventually do lose them we are torn between our fond memories, our pain and stinking shame.
We are often angry because although we loved them we also hated them for how they treated us. We often should be sad that they are no longer here but we find ourselves being glad. They are no longer suffering and they are no longer a burden to us.
They often steal from us, money, happiness and good times and replace them with tears, blind fear, anxiety and depression.
Reading between the lines Liz I think that you too know what I mean.
Your story is sad, so sad, so sad nobody would ever know but you and yours.
Thanks for sharing what you did cos it helps us all heal, if we too have experienced similar things.
Making sense of madness is not easy unless you have faith, belief, understanding and love. One of the most difficult things I found was to forgive myself of all the bad things I did to people I loved. Also, I still find it difficult sometimes, to forgive my brother for all the things that he did to our family. But then I remind myself the power of forgiveness and Gods pure true love.
No matter what he has done in the past and there has been some horrible things we still greet him with warmth and love. The consequence of this is that we hardly ever see him cos he is so ashamed and overwhelmed by that hospitality, unshakeable love and 100% forgiveness. All this even though he is still in the vice grip of demons...

Keep your chin up, erase the bad memories, pray, forgive and let it go. Heal, purify and release your magnanimous all knowing energy!
SheWhoLives said…
How sad. So sorry for you and your family, Liz. addiction is truly one of the worst diseases to live with; one of the most difficult to overcome.

Much love to you sis.
Liz Dwyer said…
I keep trying to respond to your comment, but I just can't gather my thoughts. You do understand how I'm feeling very well though. Your sharing what you did means a lot. Thank you.

Thanks for the love. You know, there's this new show on Vh1 called "Celebrity Rehab" and I watched one of the episodes the other day. It's so incredibly sad to see these people our society just worships and admires just so messed up. We're a total culture of addiction.
Anonymous said…
I felt your pain as I read this post because it reminded me of the day I learned of my uncle's death. He too was addicted to drugs. I don't think anyone can ever understand the strong hold drugs have on an individual. I certainly could not understand it. Like you, I remember the silliest things. Every time I sat down to eat a plate loaded with homemade french fries, he used to tell me that I was going to be fat. It took me years to wipe the dried tears from the lenses of my sunglasses. Whenever I put those shades on, I would think about the few good times I had with him.
Liz Dwyer said…
The number of folks who have personal experience with watching a loved one struggle with addiction is really something. I hope future generations will look back on our challenges with addiction and truly see it all as a thing of the past.

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