Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

Comments on breast cancer by proxy, written by a woman coping with the loss of her mother.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Stirred from placidness

My father-in-law is somewhere between a Utah mental hospital and his home in Montana. It’s a long drive between the two, and his wife has/had to handle it herself, dragging along her toddler and her doped-up, sedated, and anesthetized husband. We haven’t heard from her yet, but that’s not particularly surprising. When you’ve been gone for several weeks on vacation, your communications tend to get backed up a little—especially when your husband was arrested and institutionalized on the way home. Brooke counted 45 beeps between the answering machine greeting and the leave a message tone.

Brooke is sad and angry about this. She’s horrified that her father didn’t learn from his past mistakes, that he’s going to miss out on his second daughter’s life. His drug and alcohol addictions ruined his first marriage, and he all but abandoned Brooke. My MIL gave up her dreams, divorced him, and tried to keep her sanity having almost no money and a child to care for. Brooke turned out okay, and MIL is now happily married. But he’s doing it again.

He’s been in rehab a couple of times, but nothing took. He never paid child support but once when he managed to get money back on his taxes. Only he didn’t send it to Brooke. The IRS did. The school he worked for screwed up the plumbing, and he fell and hit his back on a lab bench. Worker’s comp refused to pay for the surgery he needed, and he couldn’t find anyone to pursue litigation against the school district or its contractors. When they finally agreed to settle, the necessary surgery would have cost $250K, and they wanted to settle for $12K, for less than 5% of the cost. By then, it was nearly too late. The anesthesia could do too much damage to his heart and lungs, so he was left with pain killers.

Lots and lots of pain killers.

Take a former drug addict. Mix severely disabling pain with high doses of narcotic pain relievers. Add liquor until slurred.

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic. I wouldn’t ask to be in that position for anything in the world. I’m just frustrated that no one stood up before now to say, “Hey, maybe you should seek some other kind of treatment. Maybe you shouldn’t give him those pills. Maybe you should put him in the hospital until he sobers up so that he can’t touch the liquor.”

It took his driving donuts in a hotel parking lot. It took his hallucinating that he worked for MTV and needed to interview passersby on the street. It took his burying a ham sandwich in a wilting potted plant, his explanation that it needed to be fed.

His wife is being very supportive. She’s working through this to help him, to keep their two-year-old daughter with her beloved daddy. She’s just not sure how much longer she can handle it. We know she’ll do the right thing for herself and the right thing for her daughter. I think it’s only a matter of time.

But Brooke is heartsick. She’s terrified of the answering machine now, terrified of who will have called when she gets home. She’s so angry with her father, so broken hearted for her sister and for herself. She wants him to have learned from her own childhood, learned that he needs to be there for his little one. Only instead of being absent, she’s afraid he’s going to die.


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