Caring for a Parent Struggling With Alcoholism

Karen had a difficult childhood growing up with her father, John, who was an alcoholic. According to Karen, she was always walking on eggshells as she never knew what would happen next. The family tried everything, including an intervention, but he simply could not stop drinking. He died at the age of 70 from alcoholism. There is a strong genetic factor to the disease as his father was also an alcoholic, who abandoned the family when John was young.

Karen and her two siblings saw their father when he was at his lowest. During that time, he passed out several times at home, and fortunately, her brother found him. John’s wife, Jean, was literally at her wits end. She turned to her priest, who suggested an intervention. Everyone in the family wrote letters, and a social worker facilitated the conversation. Karen says the letters were heartfelt, and everyone described their bottom line. At this point, Karen had three children, and she wrote that she would no longer bring her children to the family home as she could not trust her father alone with the children for safety reasons.

After the intervention, John went to a treatment center for six weeks, but his sobriety didn’t last long. It was a disease that would haunt him the rest of his life. Even with the support of his faithful wife and three children, he could not stop drinking. Eventually he lost his job as he could no longer function at work. Karen says the loss of his job was the “perfect storm” for him sinking further into the abyss.

Jean and the family attended Al-Anon meetings regularly and educated themselves about the disease, even though John did not attend AA meetings himself. They prayed fervently even when it seemed that their prayers were unanswered. It was such a difficult time for the entire family, and they often felt helpless. After his death, John’s children spoke openly about the disease. Even today, they watch the grandchildren’s behavior closely to recognize any signs of alcoholism early on.

It is important to remember that it is an illness. The modern disease theory of alcoholism states that problem drinking is sometimes caused by a disease of the brain, characterized by altered brain structure and function. The American Medical Association declared that alcoholism was an illness in 1956.

Karen says, “This is truly a horrible disease that affects the entire family. It eventually cost my father everything, including his job and health. It greatly affected our family’s relationships. It is so difficult to care for someone who won’t stop drinking.” Although Karen and her family saw first-hand how totally devastating this illness can be, their prayers never stopped. In their case, it made their family closer.

What Helped:

  • Faith and fervent prayers.
  • Their priest and the social worker who helped with the intervention.
  • Al-Anon meetings.

Scripture Verses:

Psalm 69:13 But as for me, I will pray to you, Lord; answer me, God, at a time you choose. Answer me because of your great love, because you keep your promise to save.

Psalm 143:1 Lord, hear my prayer! In your righteousness listen to my plea; answer me in your faithfulness!

Prayer

Heavenly Father, sometimes it does seem that there isn’t an answer to our prayers. Help us to keep discouragement at bay and await Your glorious intervention. You are always in control, so we continue to turn to You with open and thankful hearts. We trust that You will not abandon us in our time of need.

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Going Home

I just returned from the burial of my parents in Wauseon, Ohio where I lived for a while as a child. They were buried next to my baby sister, Martha, who died at 18 months of age. It turned out to be a perfect day – beautiful and sunny.  All of my Michigan cousins came, along with my childhood best friend from Ohio and her family. Although I was apprehensive about this day, it turned out to be lovely. It helped tremendously to be surrounded by others who loved Mom and Dad so much. We had a touching burial service, followed by lunch as a big group. Everyone had memories to share, and we laughed a lot.

I have my own special memories of my childhood in Ohio.  My best friend, Jane, and I reminisced about constantly dressing up as movie stars by borrowing her mother’s clothes and heels when we were young. We performed very dramatic imitations of Sandra Dee and Annette Funicello. We actually pretended that telephone poles were our boyfriends, and we were often found hugging and kissing the poles. Jane’s mother and sisters still get a good laugh from those memories. Jane is the type of friend with whom you pick right back up. If she lived closer, we would be the best of friends again. I am grateful to know her and her wonderful family of five girls. My Mom and Dad considered her parents their best friends, and they stayed in close touch for over 60 years.

This is the end of an era for both my Mom and Dad.  All of their siblings on Mom’s side are gone, and Dad was an only child. Two of my cousins created beautiful DVDs of the lives of my parents and relatives. We watched these DVDs for hours one afternoon, and are so thankful for the effort that took. There were so many memories of the fun times with our special cousins growing up along with the many trips we took. We looked forward to those trips planned every summer by our parents. Since I hadn’t seen these cousins in 20 years, it was so wonderful to catch up and to reminisce. They are as fun and funny as ever. While we shed some tears, we laughed more, putting even the difficult times in perspective. I am so appreciative of their love and sense of fun throughout my life.

While my husband and I drove around Wauseon, we discussed how different my life would have been if I had stayed there. The people in Wauseon were literally the salt of the earth. The corn fields throughout the town are still there, as they were in our backyard at our home. The town square is so much smaller than I remember. The homes are smaller too with people sitting out on their front porches enjoying the day. It felt like a much simpler life than mine here in Dallas. I know my parents were truly happy living there and had many amazing life-long friends. Those friends were there in happy times and sad, especially when Martha died. Mom and Dad remained close to them even taking trips with these couples over the years.

As I watch so many new lives coming into the world through new grandchildren, I feel like the circle of life is complete. Mom and Dad had good, long lives and are enjoying everlasting life with the Lord. Things are as they should be, and I am at peace.

What Helped:

  • Our belief in everlasting life.
  • Our wonderful cousins and friends.
  • The faith and values that our parents taught us.

Scripture Verse:

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gifts you have given us, especially the gift of our parent’s love. Their burial was a beautiful and joyful reminder of how much they were loved by so many. Thank you for the absolute peace and joy of that day.

Click here to listen to a beautiful song about remembering our loved ones.

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