Grief, it seems, comes in waves sometimes. Moments you never think of can hit you out of the blue.
Some weeks, Tuesdays hit me hard. This was the day my brother-in-law, Shonn, always called me. He died in a car accident four years ago.
Our routine was born from a conversation with my mother-in-law one Monday evening and Shonn called the next day to clarify it a bit.
For the six months that followed, Shonn called every Tuesday, letting me know how she was doing and checking on us. He’d ask to speak to his brother, but Lamar was never home.
We had a unique relationship, Shonn and I.
I had met him before I met my husband, thanks to him not being able to figure out how to get Venus, Lamar’s German Shepherd he was dog-sitting, back in her kennel.
She was terrorizing the neighborhood until I was able to corral her.
Had it not been for his lack of dog-herding skills, I might not have met my husband.
Even when Lamar and I were dating, Shonn was in the background, with Lamar having to take him to meetings, picking him up, and sometimes, going to find him when he had gotten himself into some sketchy situations.
While expecting, my age and other complications made the pregnancy high-risk. The morning I was supposed to receive some pretty nerve-wrecking test results, Lamar was driving around trying to find Shonn, while I went to the doctor alone.
Parts of me were furious.
But another part of me, the part of me that was about to be a mother, felt concern, fear and worry.
See, Shonn was an alcoholic.
He battled his demons on a daily basis, some days needing to drink to function, wishing he didn’t have to drink; and most days, probably all, wanting more than anything to stop.
I think some people probably judged him for it pretty dang harshly, too, maybe even some that should have loved him the most.
But being addicted to alcohol wasn’t something he chose. It was something that he had no control of and fought with day by day, minute by literal minute. I’ve often wondered what he would have done with his life had alcohol not been involved.
Shonn had big dreams. He always was trying to come up with an idea or invention to patent.
Shortly after Cole was born, he called me up and said he was going to try to get into nursing school.
“They always need male nurses,” he said. “I think I’d be good at it.”
“I think you will, too,” I said, and I meant it.
He’d call me a lot when we lived ‘back home.’
“Why do you call me?” I asked him once, a little irritated.
He was quiet for a moment before he responded.
“Because,” he began. “You might get mad, but I know you will talk to me.”
One afternoon when my mother-in-law stopped by to criticize my housekeeping skills, it was obvious something besides my layer of dust was bothering her. She finally confessed someone had told her she needed to throw Shonn out. She was quite distraught at the mere suggestion.
“I think you would worry about him more if he wasn’t there with you,” I said. “Whoever told you that needs to remember they don’t know what their children may deal with when they grow up. It’s easy to judge from the outside.”
Mama always said no one can help some of the things that life throws at them. No one grows up wanting to be an addict no more than they grow up wanting to have any other disease.
Even Granny, who usually was so full of spit and vinegar, would preach compassion when it came to addiction or anything else that could destroy someone’s spirit.
“If someone’s an alcoholic, they know it. Ain’t no need fussing at them about it,” she’d say. “All that does is make it worse for them and they’re carrying enough of a burden.”
When someone is struggling with addiction of any kind, it’s easy for us to think we are immune, when we have no real idea what someone deals with.
We see the outer problem but fail to see the person. We look at the symptoms but not the soul.
He called the New Year’s Eve before he died. I told him our menu for the next day and asked if they wanted to join us.
He hesitated before he answered. “Maybe next year. Is Lamar home?”
For once, Lamar was, and they were able to talk for a while before Lamar handed me back the phone.
“I can honestly say I’ll talk to you next year,” I said.
“Yeah, talk to you later.” As I went to click off the phone, I heard him suddenly say, “Hey” again.
“I love y’all,” he said.
There was a solemnness to his voice, and I’ve questioned if somehow Shonn knew he would pass away in a few weeks.
“We love you, too,” I said.
Lamar said later he was thankful I had those phone calls through the years, but especially in those last months of his brother’s life.
I was glad too. He had been an alcoholic, but he had been a son, a brother, a friend — just so much more than the disease he struggled with, that robbed him of his potential.
And the grief, sometimes, comes in waves.
Sudie Crouch is an award-winning humor columnist residing in the North Georgia Mountains among the bears, deer, and possibly Sasquatch. You can connect with her on Facebook at Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Humor, and Deep-Fried Wisdom. Her recently published book, ‘Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Wisdom, and Deep-Fried Humor’ is available in paperback and Kindle download on Amazon.