On Monday I received word that one of my cousins is in a medically induced coma. Apparently, his struggle with alcoholism is to blame; it destroyed his liver, and now, after multiple organ failures he’s not expected to live longer than a few days.
I don’t have a big family. I’m an only child, and my parents have but three siblings between them, so I have only eight cousins, and three of them are my age (two of them are twins born 10 days after me). J is the ‘baby’ of our cohort. At 47, he’s a little less than a year younger than me, and his prognosis is hitting us all incredibly hard.
I’m struck as much by guilt as grief. Guilt over all the missed opportunities to speak with J, to tell him I love him, to empathize with his struggles, to be a positive influence in his life. All of that is gone. I wasted the time I had.
Alcoholism has been the biggest villain in my family, and it goes back generations. My mother’s dad was an alcoholic, and an abusive one; he beat my mom’s dog to death in front of her, and walked out on his family when my mom was a teen. My dad’s side of the family is rife with substance abuse, too. J’s dad died from complications due to his addiction, and his younger sister suffers from drug and alcohol dependency as well. She’s been in and out of rehab and jail, and has not achieved sobriety yet. To say I’m grateful for my six (and counting) booze-free years is an understatement.
This harsh reality reminds me how fragile we are, and that the only certainty we have in life is that there’s pain and difficulty and death. So it’s of the utmost importance that we have compassion for one another, forgive one another, and do what we can to love – in spite of our broken selves. The grave awaits us all. We must do what we can in the little time we have to show grace and mercy to the people in our lives. Our relationships are what matter most.