My brother, the alcoholic, who lived and died in hope

I was visiting friends when I got the call to go to the hospital. I’d been expecting it for the last few years. I ran to find the ward on which my brother was lying in a bed on a ventilator.

“Am I too late?” I asked.

“No, Steve’s still with us,” somebody told me. I looked down at the bed, the monitors, assessing his heart rate and blood pressure. Things I knew about.

Then I looked at my brother and knew the doctor was wrong. The truth was quite different.

In reality my eldest brother, 17 years my senior, had not really been with us in many years. We had been losing him a little bit at a time to a disease we had long held off giving a name.

We didn’t know what to call it. Sometimes we thought we knew, other times we felt blind. We held back from labels, organised dinner without wine when it seemed prudent, with wine when things seemed all right.

We were just fumbling about in the dark.

Because what we came to accept in those final years, and what was more obvious than ever as we stood at his bedside, was that what had resulted in his latest, and final admission, had a name. Steve was an alcoholic.

But it wasn’t always like that. Alcoholism takes its time, comes and goes as it pleases for years. There was a time, many years before, when my brother pushed me about in my buggy, played at being Dad.

He took me fishing, teased me, and made me hate him by locking me in his room while Michael Jackson’s Thriller played on repeat.

Years later, he called me when his cats were giving birth, and looked after me when it was school holidays and my parents were at work. Continue reading

  • Michelle Adams is the author of My Sister, published by Headline.
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