Friday, November 21, 2008

They will rest in peace... but we have work to do

Yesterday, I lost a coworker and a friend. She was young, not yet thirty, a person of snappy humor and great ideas. She could be both strong and strongly empathetic. And the hospital corridors filled to bursting with people who will miss her so much.

People were still calling and finding phone numbers to tell them about this incredibly untimely death when we were given another blow.

On the same day, almost exactly twelve hours apart, another sudden death of a coworker. This man, a man who mastered both respect and experience, was one of the few people you could say that everyone who met him liked him. He was an advocate, and a man who sacrificed a lot for a cause he believed in.

As we wrestle with these shocks, as we fight to keep our breath under the weight of the double blow we received on one day, I am engaged in my own battle between sorrow and anger. These two people did not have a lot in common, except in their death.

Both deaths were directly due to alcohol.

It was not their fault, and so it is not an anger that we direct at them. Maybe an anger later, at arraignments, at denials - but for now, everyone I speak to is moving between feeling so deeply, deeply sad, and so angry. The anger is directed at everyone and no one - most do not understand their anger, and many have moved beyond the anger into an uneasy numbness.

I am starting to understand my own rage tonight. It is the anger of being robbed, the anger of an injustice that no matter what, will never be made "okay." It is the anger of two lives taken from us, with no purpose, no reason. It was not fair, it made no sense, and there is nothing we can do about it. It will not be made right.

I was treated recently to a presentation on the high rates of alcohol in Alaska. People talked so neatly, succintly about The Problem. But I wonder, would more help come if our leaders could see the face of it?

Would drunk driving stop if all those future offenders could come and hold the hand of a mother who must decide what color her daughter will wear to the grave?

Would treatment be made more available, and easy to get to, if the funders were in the same room with coworkers literally throwing up in their grief?

Would we all be less judgemental, and more empathetic to an alcoholic crying out for help, if we witnessed friends desperately trying to get to their friend's side to say a last goodbye before the doctor turns off the life support?

Would we go out of our way to help them if we knew how many friends couldn't make it in time?

When I first saw my friend in the hospital, she was clearly suffering, and I felt so much sadness for her, a helplessness to help. I didn't want to see her after she died. I didn't want my last memory of her to be the look of suffering I saw. But when I did see her, truly at peace, her hair in braids and her mother by her side, I no longer felt sorrow for her. She was truly "resting in peace."

There has been, and will be, anger at what could have been, what should have been, but the heaviness I felt was for the dozens of people surrounding her. The people who miss her so acutely, who will cry for the loss of her again tonight, and many nights to come.

I don't have the answers today on how this must stop - I only know that this must stop. Yesterday these two wonderful, funny, caring, passionate people were with us. Today they are not. And it was entirely preventable.

The regret of the much, much longer lives they could have lived will be with me, and so many others, for the rest of my life. Today I can only pray this drives me forward, doesn't hold me back. That the people will never just be statistics, that those needing help will never find my arms unwilling.

Though reality and wishes don't often match, I never want to experience another day like yesterday. And I don't want to wake up on another morning like this morning, realizing that no, it was not all a nightmare.


Bookfool said...

You don't know me because I'm a mostly-silent reader of your blog, but still . . . I'm so sorry for both of your losses. I'm nearing the half-century mark and sad to say that nothing seems to have changed in my lifetime. Most of those who drink and drive are still given slap-on-the-hand punishment and let loose to continue the destruction. There was recently an article in our local paper about the fact that there is no national database for DUI offenses - the only nationally recorded crimes are those for which people are fingerprinted. Presumably, that means felony crimes. The third DUI apparently is a felony, in our state, but because cases from other states don't show up at all, it's not unusual for an offender to go from state to state, drinking and driving, being released on a misdemeanor charge.

CelticDiva said...

My heart goes out to you, my friend.

As a long-time recovering alcoholic, I've watched too much alcohol-related death in this state...friends who died of alcohol poisoning, exposure, liver failure and then those who died at the hands of drunk drivers.

I've then watched as the "other powerful lobby," the alcohol lobby, pours money into adds to avoid additional taxes (proven to lower consumption) and to keep our drunk driving laws some of the most laughable (and ineffective, and least enforced) in the nation. Some of the biggest muckity-mucks in that same lobby have managed to have drunk driving charges erased from their record...yeah, I know, try to prove that one.

I feel your grief and your rage and all I can do is tell you that I'm so sorry, that I understand...and that I care.

RunninL8 said...

I could not imagine gaining my breath back anytime soon after being delt those 2 blows. I am so terribly sorry for your losses. I was there once, myself, so many years ago in New Hampshire when my good friend was taken from this world.
It all seems so senseless. Yes, there is work to be done. if only EVERYONE could read your words.
Be well. The pain will ease with time.

akfnp said...

I am so sorry for your losses. My heart goes out to you.