A look at relationships, personal growth, & living/working in the 21st century.

Archive for July, 2010

Was my Grandfather an Alcoholic?

I never even considered the possibility that my grandfather had a problem with alcohol.  At least, not until he told me his doctor said he had done so much damage to his liver he couldn’t even drink diet pop.  I was shocked at this revelation.  He had never said anything before to me to suggest that he had done anything in the least bit self-destructive.  As he told me this during a brief conversation, he never used the word ‘alcoholic’ or ‘alcoholism.’  He just said that he couldn’t drink pop or anything stronger.  I thought about this conversation for a long time and I had a hard time making sense of it, given my experiences with my grandfather.  I had never seen him drunk or in any apparent way impaired by alcohol.  The more I thought about it though, when I visited him at home, he always had a certain 12oz. glass within reach, and I knew it held rum and coke.  He had a bar set up in the corner of the dining room.  It was liquor bottles and pop bottles on top of an attractive wood piece of furniture.  I always thought of it as a classy, antique or some sort, with its purpose unknown to me.  To me it signified his leisure time and one of his famous collected items, as he was a collector. 

It was at some point late in grammar school that it really began to sink in that he had had another life before he was my grandfather, and my grandmother’s husband (common-law).  Now, looking back, I see he was an alcoholic and he apparently soothed his unresolved pain with alcohol, I guess.  At his funeral I read a poem chosen by my grandmother, his wife, who adored him.  My grandfather adored her too, and I never heard him say anything bad or even passive-aggressive about her.  The way they loved and accepted each other is an example I’m glad I witnessed, as they taught me about loving and respecting others.  Anyway, at my grandfather’s funeral, his daughter and her sons were there.  As was his sister and her husband.  His daughter, who we have always had sporadic contact with, told us that her mother kept she and her brother away from their father (my grandfather).  She said that her mother told them that their father wanted nothing to do with them.  His daughter told me one way she later found out this was not true was when she saw that my grandfather faithfully paid child support until she and her brother were adults, while their mother was at the same time saying he had abandoned them. 

Long story short, anyway, yes, my grandfather was an alcoholic.  I guess you could say a functional alcholic.  I say that because he always paid his bills, kept his long-term job, took care of elder family members, and treated my grandmother and everyone in our family with love and kindness.  I’m in no position to judge anyone, and I don’t write this to in any way judge him.  I write this to let others know that people can be alcoholics, addicts, whatever and still love those they care about.  Being the ‘adult grandchild of an alcoholic’ does not mean anything to me other than to sound kind of silly.  Alcoholics, like anyone else, are all different, and trying to group them with labels is generally not helpful or fair.  As a counselor/licensed therapist I see the value in those terms (i.e., alcoholic, addict, etc.).  But I also know it’s best to keep those terms in the proper perspective, because they refer to people, not things to be described simply with a trite label. 

My grandfather was a loving person, an imperfect person, but a person who cared about others and wanted to treat them with kindness.  He may not have been my ‘biological’ grandfather, but he was all I would have ever wanted him to be.  I was a very young child when he entered my life, and, until he died of prostate cancer, I could not think of a time in my life when he wasn’t there for me.   He’s been gone a year now, and I often think of him.  I miss him and may he rest peacefully. 

Peace to you all, and be kind to yourself and others.  I’m trying to be better at doing that myself – like my grandfather.

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My Grandmother

They say write about what you know-I know my grandmother. As long as I can remember she’s been my hero, my comrade, my ally. In many important ways she’s always made sense to me. Throughout my life she’s been a force of good in my life. When I was a child, she always made me feel loved, smart, talented, and special. I cannot recall a single time when she raised her voice or in any way seemed angry with me. As I started school, she shared her love of learning with me and gave me the appetite for knowledge that still spurs my intellectual growth today. The annual trips she and I made to buy my new school clothes were magical times for me. The magic was in the knowledge that our trips were, without fail, times when I felt understood, and when I knew disappointment was not even a possibility.

She was the only elder in my life who could genuinely relate to my college experiences. She made course suggestions, only when I asked, and her ideas were right on-the-mark, as she knew me as well as I knew her. She knew I wanted and needed a higher education and an associated career, unlike any of my male elders.

I could go on and on with the accolades, and today I feel so very fortunate my grandmother is still a vital presence in my life. However, sometimes my grandmother leaves me experiencing two contradictory emotions-joy that she’s here, and fear of the day she’ll be gone.

My grandmother lives life as she chooses to, except for losing my Grandfather to prostate cancer, and the arthritis pain that hinders her mobility.  Her independence and relative self-sufficiency is truly something to be thankful for, and we, her family, are thankful.  However, we are also very afraid.

Home Alone:  My grandmother lives alone, in a 75+ year old farm house, 7 miles from her closest relative, my mother.  The house has one bathroom, which is on the second floor, atop a narrow set of 13 potentially deadly stairsteps. But this is how my grandmother wants it.  My parents suggested she move into town, where the snowdrifts get cleared by the street maintenance workers.  In town, where she would have neighbors nearby who would help watch out for her safety and well being.  In town, where she could live in an efficient, temperature-controlled, modern and fully functional home.  My grandmother scoffed at these ideas.  We tried to compromise, suggesting she tear down the farmhouse and bring in a modular, pre-constructed home, to go on the exact same spot of land.  Again she scoffed, stating that the farmhouse was good enough for her.  In the winter, when the wind blows, her pipes often freeze.  That is, unless she remembers to turn on a fan and set it to blow through a hole in the wall behind a bookcase.  I could expound upon the many quirks and potential dangers of this ancient farmhouse but I think you get the point.

Driving:  My grandmother has a current driver’s license.  Last year she had to renew her license.  She had to take the eye exam, the written test, and the driving test.  She passed them all.  Well, the eye test she passed by seeing her own opthalmologist and having him certify the acuity of her eyesight – she said she could not see through her glasses into the eye testing machine at the DMV.  Last year, on a windy day, she said the wind took the car and she hit the side of a bridge while traveling at road speed.  She quickly regained control of the car and drove home.  The car suffered damage, but was drivable, and she was fine.  She had the car repaired and went on with her life.  While her car was in the repair shop, she drove my grandfather’s four-wheel-drive pickup.  Nothing and no one is going to limit the mobility and movements of my grandmother! Thankfully, my grandmother says she no longer drives at night.  Hopefully, she holds true to her word.  But what about all the other less than perfect drivers?  My grandmother is 89, with reflexes which have certainly been slowed by advanced age.  Could she drive defensively and avoid an impending accident caused by another driver?

Pets:  My grandmother has always loved animals, sometime to the point where I wonder if she loves creatures more than people.  Just kidding, but she almost lives for her dogs.  She has been raising and breeding dogs since before I was born.  It’s a passion of hers.  When I hear my mother say something to my grandmother about being alone on the farm, my grandmother always quickly responds by stating that she’s never alone with the dogs there.  However, these are 60+ pound English bulldogs.  These dogs can be gentle and great companion animals.  But I have also seen her spoiled, often unruly dogs, fight amongst themselves to the point where she has to break up their competitions to be the ‘Alpha’ dog.  Dogs get quite careless about where they are biting when their adrenaline is pumping and their instinctual, aggressive behaviors are at work.  What if they knocked down my grandmother and bit her?  Again, I worry.

MORE TO COME…