Death at the House at Pooh Corner
I found out yesterday that my long estranged brother-in-law passed away about a month ago. Services were private -- so private that his own children were excluded.
As our family has coped recently -- and continues to do so -- with death and dying, this one seemed like it should be a simple one.
He was an alcoholic. And he was a mean drunk. He was a verbal and emotional batterer. He didn't pay child support, forcing my sister to raise two children on one salary, a difficult task for a teacher. My sister suffered and the kids suffered.
He would promise the kids the moon and deliver nothing. Nephew had to learn at a very young age that not only would Daddy not get him the fantastic toys he promised for Christmas, he wouldn't even show up. The second part was harder on the crying little boy than the first.
Eventually Niece One and Nephew wanted nothing to do with him until he sobered up. They were tired of the emotional abuse and verbal tirades; they were tired of his empty promises; they were tired of how he embarrassed them when he was drunk; they were tired of how he treated their mother.
They hadn't seen him in at least 15 years, more than half of Nephew's life.
So the news seemed like a shock, but nothing to mourn.
Until Loggins & Messina's "House at Pooh Corner" aired on the Spotify channel I was listening to while making dinner tonight. Because of BIL's nickname, this was a special song for my sister and him.
You see, Niece One was given her father's nickname, since they never expected a boy, and this way he was able to have a child named for him.
And Niece One turned out pretty darn all right. And so did Nephew.
BIL never had the chance to know that his daughter was valedictorian of her high school class and attended an Ivy League college. Or that his son graduated third in his class and became an engineer, like his father's father. Or that he has a granddaughter. Or a zillion other details about their lives.
And now he'll never know.
That's not to blame the kids in any way. They did what they needed to do to survive. No one should be forced to maintain relationships with toxic people.
But BIL was an alcoholic, and that's recognized as an illness. So it's also hard to say that he deserved what he got. He had behaviors associated with alcoholism that made it impossible for his children to have a relationship with him.
His family enabled him, so he never hit bottom. They blamed my sister for the breakup -- she did move out of the marital home when he decided to spend Christmas Eve night with his side fling instead of his six-months-pregnant wife, so yes, she did technically leave him -- and validated his anger with the kids for not maintaining a relationship with him. Even when they were in the house with him when he was drunk and put the kids in the car to drive somewhere. Somehow they justified his egregious behavior, or just looked the other way in a "hear no evil, see no evil" way.
He needed help, but never admitted it. He went to rehab when it was court ordered for work or visitation rights. Never because he himself wanted to get sober. That was the tragedy of his life. Not being able to get past needing the beer more than loving his children.
So there I was, making dinner and surprising myself by crying tears that were rolling down my cheeks and dripping onto the kitchen floor. Tears for what never was and for what now never can be. Tears for, as Niece One described, "a sad, lost life."
When it touches your family, death -- it seems -- is never simple.