"You loved to cheer people up or to make them laugh. "
Irene writes a letter to her son, Graeme, who died due to alcohol in 2020.
As I write this letter, it’s approaching the second anniversary of your passing. The time has passed so quickly yet it seems like a lifetime ago since you were here in our lives. You had always stayed with me, for almost 41 years, and I still miss you every single day.
I once read that there is no greater grief than when a parent loses a child, no matter what their age. I now totally get that. It’s like something I really cannot describe. There is one small irreplaceable piece of me missing, and that’s you.
The thing you had been so afraid of was a seizure. You’d had several but obviously couldn’t remember, though I did. Eventually you weren’t enjoying alcohol. As your body became dependent on alcohol you were drinking to stay alive. Over several months you’d been having those vomiting bouts which lasted for up to two or three days, when nothing was able to stay down. Nobody really seemed to take heed of our concerns. Then that tragic day implanted in my memory! In front of my eyes, a seizure that you never came round from, the 999 call, me carrying out CPR on you, listening to the operator’s voice, waiting on the paramedics to arrive, seeing my son lifeless on the floor in front of me. They did manage to restart your heart and ventilate you for 6 days in hospital.
At first, I was in a bit of a daze, it was all so sudden and everything was just so surreal. How could that have happened to my son, to my family? You were a loving son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, friend. So many people were devastated by losing you from their lives. There were many days afterwards when I felt so alone that I struggled to get up and dressed before lunchtime. We had COVID-19 lockdowns going on and I just stayed in bed and cried some days. I guess I became a bit reclusive, but I knew you wouldn’t want me to do that. It has taken me a while to try to move forward with daily life.
I do have so many memories that can bring a smile to my face though! You could be stubborn at times but were always such a kind, sensitive, intelligent, thoughtful and caring young man. Remember when you went out to the shop you would often bring me back a surprise such as a bunch of flowers, a chocolate bar or a cream cake! Or after you’d had to give up work, I would come home in the evening from work to find you had my dinner all ready. That was utter bliss after a busy day at work and I was always so grateful! At times we used to sit and watch quizzes or have a game of Scrabble together. You were very competitive with your old mum! I think it helped take your mind off other issues and helped your anxiety and low moods. I also still have your notebook with the cheesy jokes you were always making up. I suggested you could apply for a job with a Christmas cracker company, your jokes would have been great in the crackers! You loved to cheer people up or to make them laugh.
You told me that your three favourite things in life were family, football and music. Family always came first to you, but you couldn’t quite decide what came second between the other two. Over your last few years you didn’t go out much. Anxiety had taken over your life in addition to the alcohol addiction. You absolutely loved when family were coming over to visit though. You always helped me to prepare and were even known to hoover sometimes! You adored your niece and nephews and would bring down toy boxes from upstairs ready for them. You always had such fun with them and they with you too! In fact, you never really ever lost your inner child. I often talk to the children about you, their Uncle Graeme, to keep their memory of you alive.
You first went to seek help with your alcohol addiction in August 2015 and yet struggled to get the correct support and treatment over a five-year period. You used to see that I was hurting at times and would say “sorry Mum, but I don’t want to be like this”. But I was only hurting because I could see you hurting and struggling. We had to try to fight so hard to get people to take note of your health issues and of our concerns didn’t we. So, Graeme, you had no need to apologise to me. I knew that this wasn’t your fault. Addiction is an illness. It is not a lifestyle choice, although we both knew that some people saw it that way and there were times when you were treated in a judgemental manner, even by health professionals.
In a sense, I was glad we had the COVID-19 lockdown. During that time when it was just the two of us at home, we really chatted more. We had deeper conversations too and I think we really became closer and found out a lot more about each other during that time. You had opened up about the reasons from the past that had led to you turning to alcohol to block things out. The tragedy is that in the weeks leading up to your death I know that you were mentally in the best place you had been for a while. You had applied for a place of your own to stay, were still engaging with services, had started some counselling and were waiting for rehab. It was what you wanted, and you were beginning to look forward to life.
When you were in hospital on the ventilator, I was asked about organ donation. I knew at once that it was something you wanted as you used to carry a donor card. It was the only small glimmer of positivity at the end of your life. At least three people have benefitted from your organ donations. The man who received your lungs contacted me and we keep in touch. It was lifechanging for him and he is eternally grateful for such a gift.
You are always in our lives Graeme, and I continue to look out for the little white feathers and listen out to the special pieces of music which seem to appear just when I need them!
Thank you for being my son
Lots of love, Mum xx
Graeme's death was preventable.
Irene's story shows the devastating impact the loss of a life to alcohol or drugs has on the family and friends left behind.
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“I pledge to be respectful and compassionate towards those affected by substance use, including the families and friends of those who have died from alcohol or drugs.
I will show respect by using kind and non-judgmental language about those affected by alcohol or drugs.
I will show compassion by reaching out to someone who has lost a loved one to alcohol or drugs and asking them how they are doing today.”
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We have compiled some resources to provide support to people who are affected by someone’s drug/alcohol use as well as those impacted by the death of a loved one due to drugs/alcohol.