There are times I let my mind to go a bad place in which I want to question people for not seeing what was happening with Mike, and for not stopping it.
Like his parents. I never had a good relationship with them. And neither did Mike. But that’s where he lived for the last five months of his life. (To the end, Mike never let me forget that he hated it there. He blamed me for “making” him stay with his parents. I told him to get a job and then he could live anywhere he wanted. That message was NEVER well-received.)
How could they have missed the signs of liver failure? From what I heard from the coroner’s office, he was pretty yellow.
How could they have overlooked the seriousness of his lack of muscle tone? From their own accounts, Mike was extremely weak in his last week. He couldn’t walk from the bedroom to the bathroom by himself – rooms that were right next to one another in their small house.
How could they have missed the severity of the flu-like symptoms, also self-reported by his parents?
His mom told me that she wanted to take him to the hospital, but that he didn’t want to go. She told me, “As a mom, you know that if you’re child doesn’t want to do something, you can’t force them?”
Excuse me? Isn’t that the JOB of a mom? To act in her child’s best interest, regardless of if they’re 4 years old or 38 years old? If things were that bad, why didn’t she call an ambulance?
I wonder how I will explain someday to Ethan and Lauren that these very obvious signs were grossly overlooked by two capable grown-ups who should have known better and should have taken action.
When I start going down the finger-pointing-path, I realize that if I question others, I also have to examine my own actions.
I discovered the severity of Mike’s drinking when I was on maternity leave with Lauren. Until that time, I knew he drank – he always drank. Drinking wasn’t the issue – a beer after work, a martini or two on the weekends. When I look back, I really didn’t know what was happening in my own house.
Was it because I was working so much? I held a senior leadership position and put in very long hours, especially after Mike lost his job in December 2009 and before I was going on maternity leave. If I didn’t work 60+ hours a week, would I have seen the signs?
Why didn’t I question why we were getting so many calls from 800-numbers? I didn’t know until maternity leave that these calls on my caller ID were from creditors, most of whom hadn’t been paid in two, three, four months. Still, I looked at the ID and rarely questioned why . (The cordless phone was almost always dead or hidden from me, so I didn’t retrieve the messages.)
Why didn’t I push harder for why he was spending so much time in the basement? He said he was having trouble sleeping, so he wanted to sleep on the couch down there so he didn’t disturb me. He very rarely came upstairs to bed in the last few years, maybe once every three weeks or so. I asked him about it, but he held onto his sleep story.
I look back at the photos from these last few years – the few there are of him, since he was rarely with us – and the look in his eyes is distant, funny, out-of-it. You can tell by his eyes – the expression, the amount they’re open or closed, the lack of spark – that he’s drunk. Why didn’t I ask more questions?
Mike was very, very good at lying and hiding what was going on. He was also very clear on what he wanted: “I want to drink. I’m going to drink. You can’t tell me what to do.” I heard him say this at least 500 times in the last year of his life.
I’ve learned a lot in the past few years: I can’t control others. I can’t change them. People who don’t want to change, aren’t going to change. There isn’t enough guilt, screaming, uber-niceness, threats, overly accommodating, or anger to make someone do something they don’t want to do.
And I’ve also learned to be less judgmental of others. When Ethan acts up because he’s having a rough day missing his dad, and the other moms and kids are looking at us critically, I realize that they don’t know what we’re going through – this little kid has no dad, and sometimes that confusion and anger and frustration are going to come out in inappropriate ways, and I might turn the other way, knowing that he’s having a tough time, and let him get away with behavior that I would normally not tolerate. In turn, I don’t realize what other moms are going through when they’re in similar situations.
Understanding has been one of the best things to come out of this.