So, We Buried My Uncle Today

Posted: November 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

Let’s make it Kafkaesque and call him K.  Uncle K.  Uncle K died on Sunday and we put him in the ground today.  The middle brother of three brothers, Uncle K.  Big brother was my Dad; little brother (now big) is the last living of the three.  Of the three, Uncle K was the only one to have gotten a reprieve from the family disease.  Only Uncle K and only for a few years.

Big brother, my Daddy Dearest, crawled from the bottle to the grave at the age of 55, some ten years ago.  I was angry and bitter at the time and, having spent a few years before his death occasionally drinking “at” him, did not pause breath just because his own lungs had stopped.  Meanwhile, Uncle K. had gotten sober, had been sober for several years, by the time my father was being serially hospitalized for alcohol-related illnesses.  I was bitter about that too–not the illnesses, but K’s sobriety.  Why him and not my old man?  (It had not yet occurred to me to ask, “why him and not me?”).

I don’t know exactly when K. started drinking again.  Some years ago.  Maybe six.  Maybe a little less.  I have often blamed in part my other uncle–baby brother–for this, though this is probably very unfair  Baby Uncle likes to have people drinking with him.  I have seen him insist on it, even with guests who abstain for stated religious reasons. He starts his carouses early with wine at lunch and knocks off an aperitif or three later in the day.  Wine with dinner.  Digestif or night cap, bien sur.   Expensive, elegant.  Easily mistaken for a well-bred fetish.  Nothing so vulgar as a drinking problem.  Nothing he doesn’t have under control.  

I can imagine the scene with abstemious Uncle K. too well.  Just a glass with dinner. No, you really must try this new Malbec…  This is a fantastic blend, honestly.  You don’t know what you’re missing, especially paired with the meat. And there it went.  Or maybe “it” went nothing like that.  It is easier to blame Baby Uncle than it is to blame the disease–that ghoulish thing that murdered Father Dearest as absurdly as any B-movie monster.  And as unbelievable.

I don’t talk to Baby Uncle anymore.  He’s over-shared one too many of his unwelcome opinions while in his cups.  (This may account for my uncharitable willingness to cast him as villain in Uncle K’s relapse.) At the hands of my father, I endured similarly whiskey-lubricated abuse.  As an adult, I no longer have to suffer it.

I’m also barely on speaking terms with my brother, who has spent the last eighteen months declaring on-and-off again that he’s not an alcoholic.  When he does admit it, he clarifies that he’s the kind of alcoholic who does not need help with his problem.  After every family gathering was canceled or made unbearable because of his drinking, my partner and I made the hard decision to tell him that, until he was getting help, he couldn’t really be a part of our lives.  (Letting go with love, as we learned in Al-Anon, doesn’t mean that a new set of Awkward doesn’t spring up in the place of the old.  Just means it doesn’t make us feel crazy and defeated anymore.)

Of the ten people who constituted that part of the extended family for the last 30 years, five are certainly alcoholics.  Two of the alcoholics are dead now (Daddy and Uncle K).  We lost my grandmother three years ago.  So, there are seven of us left; three remaining alkies. including Yours Truly.  At any one time, only one of us has ever been in recovery.  The relationships–if they can be said to exist–are a little jittery, a little unreliable. 

The source of my real grief is all of the above, not just Uncle K’s early bucket-kicking, which would knock out a few molars just on its own.

Uncle K., by the way, didn’t die of his wounds–as it were–but something weird and medical and depressing, something to do with his intestines and a botched surgery and other things that make about as much sense as the rest of the dysfunction.  But the booze didn’t get him, or at least not in any way an autopsy could immediately prove. Still, during the last two years since my sobriety, it broke my heart to see him drunk at Christmases again.  Broke my heart all over again to know he died with the obsession in tact, when he had known freedom. (For a time, I had harbored fantasies of us all getting sober and talking recovery over tonic waters and coffee.)

He was youngish, my uncle.  The doctors and nurses barely had explanations for the “complications” that were killing him.  All we knew was that, each week, it seemed like there was a new one.  From my medically-challenged point of view, it seemed simply that a rot had set in, had festered, and was now just out of control. 


I don’t normally report ‘from the ground’ like this.  I try to stay in the solution, for myself and for anyone who bothers to read this damned thing.  Today, I have only observations about what this disease does to families–how it’s a disease of ‘complications,’ like whatever it was that finally killed Uncle K.  A funeral for such a family is not about acknowledging one loss, but many.  Living losses too. 

So, today a grieved for all the brothers–the living and the dead.  For my brother, barely living.  For me, learning with painful first steps how to walk out of the charnel house.  And for the walking wounded that make up the rest of the family–who, perhaps, continue to wonder blindly why the hemorrhages keep coming and from where.  it is not about the grief of one funeral, but the grief of recognizing that, without having realized it, you’ve been living in the funeral parlor.



  1. soberblueflag says:

    Very powerful. Disturbing. Makes me feel like I want to scream. And makes me feel very sad at all the tangled loss.

  2. soberfornow says:

    Well, this piece could probably do with a lot of editing. I nearly didn’t post it, but it’s been a very challenging week, and I needed the word-spew. Thanks for reading. Makes me want to scream too, but I’m working on detachment!

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