How to deal with the death of your alcohol dependent parent
Sadly there is no road map to coping with an alcoholic parent, and even less to deal with their death.
I myself, as I’m sure most of you do, had a very complex relationship with my alcoholic parent.
Let me give you some back story before I dive in.
My parents divorced when I was a little girl, I think I was around 6 or 7 and the sole reason we were given was my father’s alcohol dependency. The older we got the more we were told of his abusive tendencies too, never physical but in every other sense of the word. This abuse is something my mother is still recovering from 15 years later.
The overnight visits stopped
To begin with, we saw Dad a lot; once during the week and then we stayed the night every other Friday. One night Dad got drunk and passed out with us there. The overnight visits stopped after this.
Dad moved around a lot, having lost his job due to his condition it was tough for him to stay on top of bills. Eventually one drunk driving incident too many lost him his license and his rights to see his children during the week.
Now, my mother is a very loving and caring woman and always felt it was important for us to have a relationship with him, so while there was nothing legal entitling him to see us, she left it up to us to make that choice.
Our visits got less frequent as he was in and out of hospital and rehab and eventually moved away to be closer to his mum and older sister. The older I got between visits the more anxious my visits would make him, and in the end the only way I could visit was to surprise him so he wouldn’t get drunk and cancel on me last minute.
Eventually we both stopped trying. He spoke to my older brother nearly every day but as far as my sister and I were concerned, well he had no concern.
We sat with him a while
At 20 I moved to Bristol for university. A few months in I received a called informing me that my Dad had been moved to an end of life facility. I raced home to be with my brother and we went to visit Dad, we sat with him a while and planned the funeral, called my sister in America and said our goodbyes. We were told by the doctors that he had a few weeks max.
Over the next few months my mental health plummeted as I waited for the dreaded phone call. Every time my phone rang my heart dropped and my body tensed. I ended up moving home to be with my family and to try to piece back together my broken mind.
My Dad would end up living another 2 years, eventually passing away in the summer of 2020.
July 2020 and another call came telling us he wasn’t long for the world. I hadn’t seen him since the last time. In all honesty I had spent the last 2 years furious that he hadn’t died. As awful as it sounds I was furious that he put my family and my brain through it. Deep down I knew it wasn’t his fault but all I thought for 2 years was “classic Dad”.
He smiled and asked me how I was
But just like the last time, I raced to his bed side. He was at home now, and worse than I’d ever seen him. It took him a while to place my face but when he did, he smiled and asked me – to the best of his ability – how I was and what I was doing with my life since last we spoke. I sat with him a while and told him about my life, but more than anything I was there to hold my brother’s hand through a heart breaking process. Once again, we planned the funeral and wrote a small will at his bed side.
I would only see him once more after this. My brother stayed with him in his little house, he would help the carers and keep him company when he woke up in the middle of the night. My mother even made a few appearances to help in the care of her estranged ex husband. An oddly bonding experience for us all I think.
At 7am on August 19th 2020 my mother came in to my room to inform me that my dad had died in the early hours of the morning.
We drove up, just her and I as my brother was already there. I shed some tears as we listened to my dad’s favourite songs. I pulled it together by the time we arrived. This was not the time to mourn. This was the time to be strong for my brother, for my aunt and uncles, for my Gran. This was not the time to break down.
I shed some tears
I went into his room where he lay so peacefully. He looked like he could stir any moment to tell a joke or ask for a cup of tea. Of course he didn’t.
The rest of the day was a blur of paperwork and phonecalls. I wept with my brother when they took him away. I wept with my sister when she called from the other side of the world. But then I pulled it back together. Biologically my dad or not, he had been no more of a father to me than any other man so why did he deserve my tears?
My partner came by to pick me up after my mother and I arrived home. I sobbed for most of the night, I had no family to be strong for now.
The funny thing is, I don’t think I was ever crying for the man I lost. I was crying for the man he could have and should have been. I was crying for all the things he should have been able to teach me and all of the time we should have spent together. All of the time we missed because what was at the bottom of a bottle was more important to him than me.
All of the time we missed
My feelings since he passed have been complicated. I’ve felt anger that he left his children nothing. I felt heartbreak that I’ll never talk to my dad again. I’ve felt happiness that he’s no longer in pain. But over all I’ve felt gratitude. I’m grateful that the hardships of my childhood made me who I am now. I’m grateful that I was able to speak to my dad before he passed away. I’m grateful that I know now that every feeling I’ve felt since he died, every bit of anger and sadness is all okay.
No one tells you what to do when someone dies and they especially don’t tell you what to do when your alcoholic parent dies. If I’m being honest I still don’t know what to do. But I do know that all of my feelings are valid, they are normal and they are temporary. So have a good cry and a scream and a shout. Let out every emotion and never apologise for how you feel because nobody but you knows how you feel.
They can’t hurt you if they’re not here anymore. You are free. Let yourself be free.
The youngest child of an alcoholic.
For help dealing with the death of a parent, please find the Nacoa support pages.
Read more experience stories here.