How to Begin: You Just Do

Storytelling is an art. It can be a tool for change or a weapon. Storytelling is hard.

I have decided to tell this chronologically as much as is possible. Easier said than done.

Death got in the way. Death lingers, too.

Wernicke – Korsakoff is a tricky syndrome. It can take hold years, even decades before anyone is aware of the damage being done.

Chronology is tricky too. Do I begin with all the times my mother forgot to pick us up from an event, or forgot a permission slip or a teachers conference?  Do I begin with the   difficulty in convincing my father that my mother was an alcoholic or the intervention we tried once he saw the light?

Do I mention dishes flying across the room, my father ducking just in time or the fights that were waged long into the night while my sister and I tried to sleep?

How far back did her slide into dementia begin? How far back? I can only speculate.

I have decided to return to my filing cabinet. It is a large, beautiful maple cabinet, filled with files. The bottom drawer has over the years since my father’s death, become a chronicle of the destruction that comes in the wake of caring for a long time alcoholic:

A warrant for my mothers arrest, a forced tax sale for a house in Iowa that was to pay for her retirement; missing persons reports and letters from her neighbors complaining of the stench coming from her condo. Dead birds and feral cats on her counter tops. My mother’s lies; her confabulation along the way;

Burners left on, a car accident, care givers and police.

I have files upon files. Going through the drawers is overwhelming. I had to stop and start again as I let the pain of the not too distant memories in and then force them out again.

Here death now has files: I am adding a letter from my mother’s supplementary insurance company, Evercare.

“Our condolences. If you are due a refund,  please expect to see it within 90 days.”

I am adding her death certificate and  the paperwork from the mortuary.

I wish I could file the memory of my mother’s death and the nightmares that come with it.

I have an outline now scratched out on several sheets of paper: broken foot, tooth abscess, forced medical detox, medical emergencies and legal ones too. I have lists of nursing homes that would not take my mother; alcoholics dementia is not something they want to deal with. I totally understand that one.

I also have a list of the people who saved me along the way; Dr. Plunkett, Sandy Tobin and Mary Beth Leitzmann; social workers all Angels of the highest order,  Richard Vincent; an elder care lawyer with a heart.

I now add the Hospice nurses and social workers to my list.

My sister Andrea and her husband Paul and my Brother Phil and his wife Carrie; We are a team.  My husband and our son had to bear the brunt of the pain in caring for my mother. This family suffered. Watching someone kill themselves slowly is unbearable. Caring for them is unending pain. Without my family I would have been lost.

On the list of angels are my friends, the Sauna Club,  and all of you who helped me find a space in my heart for forgiveness for my mother on the day she died. I am eternally grateful to you.

A legion of Angels and this is only the short list.

No one can do this alone. It would be impossible and that was perhaps one of the harder lessons I  had to learn. I am my father’s daughter; I am tough. I am also myself and I am soft.

It is not possible to care for someone suffering with Wernicke – Korsakoff by yourself. This path breaks your heart, you need a legion of angels to help you put the pieces back together again. A death caused by alcoholism reverberates. Only angels can heal that pain.

So,  back to the filing cabinet; I have a file that contains my father’s death certificate. That file is at the front. The file will always break my heart and that piece will never be mended. I now add my mother’s death certificate. Her death is never far from my thoughts. I carry it with me now in some ways a talisman. There were many moments of peace. There were many moments of the horror of a life long alcoholics death.

I am learning to separate those moments and compartmentalize them. My mother was a serious alcoholic and  her alcoholism killed her. My mother was also a woman alone in this world who drew the short straw in life. She had her reasons for crawling in the bottle. I am sorry she could not climb out in time.

I am turning back to the filing cabinet and my outline; the chronological decline of my mothers walk with Wernicke – Korsakoff; alcoholics dementia.    I wonder if I should say ‘struggle with…’  trouble is she in many ways chose this path. There came a point when she had a clear choice: quit drinking and stop the decline or keep drinking and come undone. She chose to unravel. She continued on a life long walk.

I have come too far to turn back now. Wernicke – Korsakoff is the most under diagnosed dementia in the world. There are treatments if caught early enough. I could stop now, but why?  This story is not just mine or my mother’s it is a universal story for anyone with an alcoholic parent or loved one.

I went back to the beginning of Step On A Crack, following the trail of posts as a way of finding my way back to THIS beginning.  How do you begin again after the death of a parent? How do you begin again when they are both gone? The hardest question; How do you begin again when alcoholism has killed so many family members and people you have loved and you never know when the next alcoholic shoe will drop?

I am thinking this is how you begin;




Peace,  Jen

~ by Step On a Crack on January 15, 2012.

15 Responses to “How to Begin: You Just Do”

  1. You are one amazing, strong and soft person. You. Full stop. Your family has suffered so much. You have risen way above. I love your sauna club too! I love your stories about the “Y”. There is a great community there. Down to earth. Earth Angels. You are an important, highest-order, earth angel to me! You inspire.

    It is SO hard to read about your mom and dad’s troubles … and all the turbulence witnessed by sweet young girls. You and Andrea really withstood a lot, and you are leaning on each other in a wonderful way.

    Thanks for informing EVERYONE about alcoholism and especially the EVIL Wernicke – Korsakoff. Love, meliss

    P.S. I need to get you some wings, chick! 😉


    • Back at ya My Mel. It is hard to read your blog too and to know what you had to live through. THE HUGE upside is not just survival BUT thriving.

      Next time we are together NOT just tiaras; fairy wings too!

      Love Jen


  2. Beautiful. Deep to the bottom of your soul.

    I am honored to call you my friend. Proud you are my sister. Lucky to have had you by my side. Thank you.


  3. There is a softening in your voice here, Jen. A pain that is being faced and love that is being accepted. From your family, from your angels. This was poignant and lovely and I agree….you just start. You’re on a mission, dear friend, and it’s a worthy goal I know you will carry on.


  4. I think you begin by continuing to write. Creativity has always been a remedy for me in my direst times. I am glad that you continue to write about whatever it is you need to write about. As long as it takes! You may never be done with it but you’ll know when you are. ❤
    xx ~ Peace back atcha.


    • YOU! thank you for being here. YES. Writing is my THING. I would be writing anyway BUT not nearly as focused and certainly without support. I love this Blog Land thingy. Where else would I have met you?!

      : )

      XO J


  5. I appreciate your heartfelt thoughts.


  6. “You just do.”, reminds me of a colleague who says that after gathering information and gaining insight, the burning question is always, “In light of this, what will I do?” It seems like your filing cabinet has become a literal and figurative vault for information and insight. Now you are “doing”, setting your face toward truth lived out, and going there one footstep at a time. The fact that your “doing” includes living this journey on a public stage is our good fortune as we try to find our own way of being and doing.

    Thanks you ~ Paulann


    • Paulann,

      You are always SO kind and supportive. You are amazing and always know the right thing to say. BTW your post on children and grieving really is something important. Without the proper care my son would have been eaten up by grief. His PTSD is abating after a family suicide thanks to a therapist just like you; skilled and heart felt.

      XO Jen


  7. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small post…



  8. It looks really difficult when you begin climbing that hill, but the crest comes too soon, and then you begin the descent to the other side, where the gravity that slowed you, when climbing, will boost you later, going down.


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