Alcoholism, Autism and Death

October 2010. 10 months into the year – the year that has decidedly been the annus horribilus of my 42 years of life. This year, I discovered I was an alcoholic, my son was diagnosed with autism and my mother died. Add into the mix an 18-year old daughter who took it upon herself to push every single boundary a parent could put into place, and you have the recipe for a melt down.

I don’t want to sound like I am wallowing in my own misery here. Well, actually, I am wallowing in my own misery and, right now, I don’t care.
It seems to me that the minute I gave up drinking, my elixir of emotional escape, life threw at me what can only be described as one massive curve ball after another. Discovering that our youngest DD has autism (not Aspergers after all, but High Functioning Autism), was a bitter pill to swallow. When he was nearly 6, he was diagnosed with ADHD/ODD (oppositional defiance disorder) and through that diagnosis, we treated him behaviourally as best we could, often pushing the boundary in an attempt to get him to move outside of his comfort zone. We had no idea that what we were doing was traumatising him because he suffers enormous sensory overload and that his ‘small world’ is an attempt to control that sensory overload to within bearable limits for him. Not knowing what life holds for him is worrying too.
DD begins high school next year, and we have no idea how he will cope with the change of school, the demands of changing classrooms for each subject and the demands of homework three or four times a week. It is all I can do to get him to do his homework once a week!!
And, as if the universe hadn’t thrown enough at me, my mother got lung cancer, after having given up smoking 26 years ago, and passed away just 8 incredibly short weeks after receiving her diagnosis. My mom was the one woman in the world who knew me, who never judged me and, who, to me, was goodness personified. I was not ready to have her suddenly ripped from life and from me.
Mom’s last days were not good. I wish I could say that she slipped away peacefully. She looked peaceful enough, but I know that is because the drugs kept her below the surface of consciousness. She did not want to die. Who does at the age of 62? As the days progressed and breathing for her became more difficult, she kept crying, saying that she was going to miss everyone so much. She worried particularly about dad. Always thinking of someone other than herself. On the Sunday before she died, I attended her and my dad’s baptism. I am not a religious person, but I wanted to share in what was clearly very important to my mom, and of course, my dad. It was emotional, and those that were there said it was ‘beautiful’. I don’t agree. I found no beauty in witnessing my mom pleading with God not to take her life, apologising for wishing she could die in the days when my dad drank, and would verbally abuse her in his drunken state. I found no beauty in her belief that she may be being punished for wanting to die at a time in her life that was almost unbearable to live, despite dad being sober for 26 years and their marriage being happy and solid since. I saw no beauty in how everyone thought it was a miracle that my mom had committed her life to God ‘only’ a couple of months before she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Where was the miracle, where was the justice?
In her last day of life, Mom was really restless, unable to urinate because her morphine interfered with her kidney operation. The doctor came to see her, and we were told that she would not last much longer. We tried to make her comfortable on the sofa, whilst we waited for a hospital bed. My sister massaged her legs, whilst the house became an endless platform of people coming to say goodbye – a testament to the love that Mom imbued. In a quiet moment, I sat next to her, holding her hand (I loved her hands). “I love you, Mom”, I said. “I love you”, she whispered, still restless. Those were the last words she would ever say to me.
Eventually, having not been able to wee for a day and a half, and after a couple of attempts to drag her to the toilet (and I say dragging because the disease had gripped her so much that she was barely conscious), the home care nurses came to catheterise her. As they did so, she cried out whilst thrashing about, wide-eyed, like a caged animal, “Help me!”. It was barely audible because her voice had been taken by the tumour, but her expression said everything she wanted to say. We had to hold her down whilst trying to get that damn tube inside her. My mom, this once poised and gentle woman, was being violated in her own lounge. She was aware she was dying, I am sure of it. Mom had said that in her dying moments she would like to utter something profound, something that people would always remember, but it wasn’t to be. “Help me” were the last words she ever uttered. 12 hours later, under the cover of a series of drugs and, no doubt, the comfort of an empty bladder, she died.
I cannot begin to describe how the loss has affected me. I am a motherless daughter and mother and I feel wretched having been forced to join that club. I do not make friends easily. I have trust issues and I find the effort of keeping friendships going quite difficult to maintain. Mom knew that and just accepted me for who I was. I have lost the one person who understood my psyche, who understood my difficulty with the injustices in the world and my inability to do anything about it. She understood my ever changing mind, and my fierce struggle for justice for Jordan. She understood the reason why I was totally overprotective of our eldest DD and she understood that even though I so desperately wanted to, I simply did not have the energy to be the domestic goddess I believed her to be. The moment Mom died, I felt all my inadequacies woosh at me, as the realisation hit me that I would never find, in anyone, the love that she had for me, warts and all.
I know that I see mom’s death not in terms of what was taken from her, but what was taken from me. I know it is selfish, but again, I reiterate, I don’t care.
In the nearly four months since Mom’s death, I have found life difficult. I have indulged in the seduction of depression, not wanting to see anyone or do anything. I have managed to get out of bed, and ‘function’, but the reality is that I am nursing a broken heart and a broken soul. People say that time heals all, but I have yet to experience that. I do not know if time will heal the hole inside of me that has been left behind by my mother. Perhaps time will enable me to cope with the wound a little better, but I am not sure if it will ever heal.
So, here I am, able to write again, which is progress in itself and trying to look forward to the next stage of my life. Our house is on the market and I am looking forward to moving into our new house in a new community. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that when we bought that house 15 months ago, it would represent a true step into a new future, leaving behind all the bad that has happened this year. I know that life is hard (Dhukka – first noble truth of buddhism) and I know that nothing ever stays the same, but I cannot help myself hoping for a couple uneventful years. Years that will allow me to get used to the notion of living in the moment, remembering the wonderful woman that was my mom and enabling me to be there for my autistic son who is going to need his own mother now more than ever.
Until next time.
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