I woke up the next day, and my first thought was that my dad was just getting the news that his oldest child and only son had died. And my mom. She's battles mild dementia --- enough so that she's a little fuzzy on the days of the week and might not be able to name the current president -- but not nearly enough to mask the stark, crushing reality that her son is gone.
Keith's death was related to alcohol. He did not commit suicide, and for that I will be forever grateful. Because God wouldn't have forgiven him? No. Because we wouldn't have forgiven ourselves.
The demon of addiction sank its tentacles deep into Keith's soul at a young age. They say a parent is only as happy as his unhappiest child. I'm not sure if that's entirely true, but I know my parents have been through the ringer. It's frightening -- it's maddening-- to watch your elderly parents worry, worry, worry about a problem they can't possibly fix. It's frightening -- maddening -- to watch your brother battle addiction and its sobering first cousin, depression.
In the aftermath of Robin Williams' suicide, I was struck by -- I don't know which word to use, exactly, but perhaps lightheartedness captures it -- that I detected as people discussed his death. In an effort, I'm sure, to be comforting and affirming, his suicide seemed to be brushed off. He's in a better place! He's partying with Joan Rivers!
What a lark, I might have thought. But, see, I am the sister of a brother who battled suicidal thoughts. So I read those breezy comments and thought, "Yeah, well, have you talked to his kids? Have you talked to the people he left behind?" At the end of the day, someone finds the body, someone cleans up the mess, and many someones wring their hands -- their hearts -- and lament the actions they took (or didn't take), the calls they made (or didn't make), the words they said (or didn't say). You don't need to judge the families of those who battle addiction. They've already served as judge, jury, and executioner, dutifully tallying their failures for decades.
We loved Keith.
I sat with Keith and told him point blank that suicide wouldn't be better him or for anybody else. It wouldn't be a Clean Break; we wouldn't Be Better Off Without Him.
Keith fought it. Let the record reflect that He. Fought. It. Even on the day of his death, he continued to fight it, making plans to do another stint in rehab.
To those people I love who continue to battle addiction, I say press on. Pick up Keith's baton and take another stab at freedom.When the father of lies sidles up to you in frail moments and whispers those seductive words of hopelessness and despondency -- Better Off Without You! -- Clean Break! -- turn a deaf ear.
Live to fight another day.
They won't be better off without you. We are not better off without Keith.
We are not.