Thursday, June 04, 2015

Not Better Off Without You

My brother Keith died some time Monday evening. He was 54.

Early, early Tuesday morning the phone rang, and I heard my sister's voice talking to Dave. And I was up and crying and saying no, no, no. It was the call -- the middle of the night call -- we've been expecting for thirty years.

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.


claire said...

Oh Kelly, I am so horribly sorry for your loss. I have a 54 year old cousin who is in the process of dying as we speak...not of addiction, but there are other demons. Life can be so hard, but I'm glad that your brother did not give up, although obviously I'm sorry that it had to end this way. My heart goes out to you and your family.

Kris said...

Kelly. I'm SO sorry for your loss. I can't imagine not having one of my siblings. I know it will happen eventually, but I also know I will NEVER be ready for it. My step-father (who raised me) also died much too young, from the physical effects of alcoholism. He successfully was sober for several years, so I was grateful for that. But all the years of abuse took its toll on his body and he succumbed to sudden cardiac arrest one evening. I'm praying for all of you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kelly. I used to work with Keith. He trained me in my early days with VW and was a wonderful man. I also watched my brother battle depression and addiction for many years. Sadly, nearly five years ago now, he lost his battle and committed suicide. I'm terribly sorry for your loss. All of us here remember Keith fondly and have been very shocked, to say the least, at this sad news. Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with your family in this difficult time.

Anonymous said...

When I was drinking - and I drank like your brother - I wasn't living life, I was practicing death. Keith knew I quit drinking and that I am now in recovery. He reached out and my spouse and I picked him up for a meeting. I wish he would have caught the sobriety bug. I will miss him. I am so very sorry for your loss.

Kelly Dolin said...

Thanks to you all.

We all have our demons, and it's heartening to know that some people like Kris's stepfather and Anonymous overcome their addictions. Thank you, Anonymous, for reaching out to Keith. He had times of sobriety. Maybe someone will read this testimonies and catch the sobriety bug, too.

Christine Laennec said...

Oh Kelly, I am so very sorry for your loss. My sister owes her life to AA, and after more than 25 years she continues to go just about every day. It could have been otherwise, and I pray it never will be. Here in Scotland we have lost a very beloved politician - Charles Kennedy, MP for Lochaber and Skye for 32 years until last month - to alcoholism. He was open about his problem, and lost none of the high respect people of all parties held him in. But despite his efforts to battle his addiction, it killed him a few days ago at 55 years old. Your brother's death, like so many others, is a terrible tragedy. I'm so sorry for your parents and your family. You did everything you could have done.

Natasha said...

God bless you Kelly, I'm praying for your family during this unimaginable grief, and for the repose of Keith's soul.

Anonymous said...

Kelly--beautifully written. I've been haunted all week at the thought of Keith being gone. I liked him a lot. I wish I'd spent more time with him.

Kelly Dolin said...

Christine and Natasha - Thank you for your prayers and comforting words. They mean more than I can say.

Neil - Your were one of the people who supported Keith in some of his darkest hours. Thank you. Thank you.

We had a simple but respectful goodbye with family members over the weekend. A few dear friends and relatives were there to support my parents and to mourn my brother. Please continue to prayer for my mom and dad.

claire said...

Your family remains in my prayers. I'm so sorry that your family has been victimized by addiction. May the Divine Physician have the last word as your brother rests in his arms.