Too many people grow up in adverse circumstances – poverty, abuse, broken homes, drug and alcohol abuse, and neglect to name a few. Growing up in these circumstances can produce a variety of issues in the victims, that without proper intervention may have the possibility of turning into life-long problems. The very least that occurs are memories that leaves one guarded and wary in certain situations.
My upbringing started out fairly normal. Mom, Dad, brother, sister, decent house in a wooded setting in a nice Essex County, New Jersey suburb. But, things began to change.
By the time I was just short of turning eleven, my father had a massive stroke that rendered him unable to care for himself at all, keeping him in nursing homes for the rest of his life (25 years). This left our mother with the task of taking on the entire household herself, besides minding us kids. There was one serious problem, though.
She was an alcoholic.
Looking back, our mother always had a drinking problem. But, after our father was taken out of the picture, she became reliant on the bottle to get her through life. This led to some pretty weird times, some even a bit terrifying.
Public embarrassment could pop up any time. We often ate out and Mom would have her share of alcohol with dinner. One time, my brother and I had to walk her out of a restaurant, as she could not steadily walk on her own. We were not old enough to drive, so that made the ride home rather interesting, too.
One night, she decided we should all go to see a movie at the drive-in. Being an alcoholic, she perpetually had alcohol running in her system, so even an evening at a movie was not without its events.
The one thing with some people who drink throughout the day is that they can appear sober for much of the day and suddenly go into a stupor, becoming irrational and unwise. This is the way it was for my mother. My mother would suddenly get slurred in her speech and seemingly out of touch with present reality.
At a drive-in (old days of movie watching from a car), after being there for a bit, she had to go to the bathroom. But, she decided that she did not want to walk the distance to use the bathroom provided. So, she simply got out of the car and quietly squatted in a darker area between cars. I have no idea if anyone saw her or not – I was staying low in the back seat.
I remember one night at a restaurant, I excused myself to the men’s room. Upon returning, I saw my mother slouching down in her seat, drooling. I turned around and went back to the men’s room and fought back tears of shear embarrassment.
Another restaurant adventure, she had two double dry martini’s and about two helpings of wine. The ride home was terrifying, as we dodged oncoming traffic and just about every telephone pole. Once we turned into the end of our road, she was heading toward the front of a house…I yelled at her and she veered off, crossing the road and took us into a well established oak tree. We hit on my side. Ouch. Fortunately, it did not make my mug any worse.
For a while, being a passenger was not tops on my “fun things to do” list. Even to this day, while I really don’t mind others’ driving, I would rather be at the wheel.
I was thirteen, at that time. Life was weird enough just being that age. Having to deal with public embarrassments was no thrill. Of course, life at home was filled with many a loud argument between me and my mother.
That summer of the car wreck was also when her health began to decline. She began to have leg pain, which is not uncommon for people whose main diet is alcohol. By early that October, she got pretty sick and called the doctor. These were some of the last days of house calls, so he came over to see her.
After examining her, he came outside, where I was, took me aside and asked me a few questions concerning her drinking habits – how much, how often, etc. He asked me. I did say I was 13…right? I answered the best I could. Looking back, it seems pretty weird that I was the one to ask about these things. But, I guess I was the closest thing to an adult in the house (my sister is eight years younger and my brother, being deaf, was in a boarding school during the week).
Medication was prescribed for her and she was off the alcohol. However, the DT’s (Delirium Tremens) were in full swing and the medication basically kept them at bay. My grandmother (her mother) would be with her during the day and helped clean our disaster of a house and I had the night shift. It continues to be weird.
If she had to go to the bathroom, I had to help her in as she was unsteady on her feet. That is more than enough for a thirteen year-old boy to go through. But, every once in a while, she would have an hallucination. No fun there, either.
She was ultimately admitted into the hospital. She had cirrhosis of the liver and really should not have been home, at all. What us kids did not know was how severe this was and our grandparents…her parents…kept encouraging the idea of “when she gets better…”. She didn’t.
Back in 1975, liver transplants were still experimental, so that wasn’t even a thought. In her state, the disease was fatal. She died later that October.
It was the end of a very stressful, weird and surreal two and a half years.
It was even weird at her funeral. It is not as if we had a great relationship, but she was still my Mom. At the funeral, it was like I would start to cry and nothing would come out. It was also surreal, to see a coffin, knowing there was a lifeless shell of someone I was talking to only a week or so before.
~There are so many more details, but I was not about to exhaust too much of one post on this. I apologize for any apparent gaps.~
I learned a year later that God makes all things work together for the good. For some reason, I took that to heart, just about right away.
I could see how events lined up – I lived with my paternal grandmother from about a year after my mother died, who took me to church, where I heard why Jesus died and how He wanted to be part of my life and share His with me. A few years later, I would join the Navy, which would bring me to Virginia, where I met my wife. Not only has she been the most solid relationship I ever had, but we had those four great kids (and now, adorable grandkids!).
I will likely never know the whole picture. I don’t really need to. I simply need to trust the Lord.
“Though He slay me, I will trust in Him” – Job
“Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will not fear evil, because You are with me.” – King David
Many of us have or have had a weird life. A hard life. Maybe even a sad life. Perhaps a violent life.
We don’t understand. We hurt and we cry, we yell and complain, we fight and struggle. We press on, maybe walking, maybe crawling. We see light at the end of the tunnel, wishing it not to be an oncoming train. Yet, there is something that always rings true.
The Father is no less loving. He is no less God.
I survived a weird life. Some might say it was sad, or tragic. But, as the years have gone on, I have been overcoming the effects of what went on back then (still a work in progress).
There is a difference between surviving and overcoming. One gets you through, the other puts you in the victor’s seat.