I lost my brother Robert, my childhood friend and confidant, to alcohol on the 30th August 2017. He lost his life and it changed mine and my family’s life forever.
My brother Robert was the one I relied on as a child, he encouraged me and I listened to his every word. He taught me to climb trees, and when I couldn’t he said you can; he taught me to dive and when I said I couldn’t, he said you can; he taught me to ride my bike with no hands and, yes, when I said I couldn’t, he said you can. He was not without fault, like us all, but my childhood memories of him are simply perfect.
I was the third of 3 children - 2 older brothers and born a year after each other. As we grew up, despite being the youngest, I took on the role of looking after the 3 of us. At times this wasn’t so welcome but we were close as children and the need to protect my brothers has always stayed with me.
Robert had a kind nature about him, he was also mischievous and a fearless daredevil who was fun to be around. His view of the world was laid back, stress free and he didn’t take himself too seriously. One of his favourite songs was Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay” I hear that song now with mixed emotions.
Robert died at the end of the August bank holiday, it wasn’t a pleasant death and just as we had been close as children, I held his hand and told him how loved he was, how he had nothing to be afraid of as I watched him slip away and take his last breath. The sadness enveloped me and I felt my strength drain from me. My role as a sister had come to an end and I had failed my brother. I looked up and thought who is holding my hand; I have never felt so alone in my entire life.
I had so many emotions, mainly disbelief, how did he become an alcoholic? When did he become an alcoholic, why did he become an alcoholic? We had the same parents, the same family values, the same childhood and we were given the best start in life that our parents could manage. We had a happy childhood and had many social gatherings at home, drinking, dancing and singing. It was a happy place. How then, as adults, could our relationship with alcohol differ so much?
I was angry, very angry. I berated myself: Why didn’t I realise? Why didn’t I fix him? Someone so precious to me had been taken away, it was a waste of a life and I had done nothing to prevent it. Of course I thought I was the only person feeling this way. I understand I was and still am grieving, but the unanswered questions, the shoulda, woulda, coulda, what ifs and if onlys torment me. As a family we didn’t see the signs, or if we did, we didn’t dare to talk about it. The stigma that surrounds alcoholism remains and so the secrets and denial continue for many families.
I started running a few years ago, pretty amateurish but it’s good for my health, mentally as much as physically. I have challenged myself to take part in the Great North Run and I want to finish in under 2 and a half hours. I don’t normally run for charity but through this prestigious event I want to raise money to help the families of addicts that are left behind with only their precious memories of loved ones.
I will be running for them and for my brother Robert and when I say I can’ go on, he will say, yes you can.
You can contribute to Caroline’s fundraiser for Adfam in memory of her brother Robert via her JustGiving page:
If you too have lost a loved one to alcohol, please find a list of information and support options below:
- Adfam has produced a series of video support sessions, including a video specifically on substance-related bereavement.
- www.beadproject.org.uk: a website with useful information and guidance for people that have lost someone through alcohol and drugs:
- Information toolkit on alcohol-related bereavement, co-produced by Adfam and Alcohol Change UK.
- Adfam's Journeys Resource provides advice to anyone suffering from a drug or alcohol related bereavement.
- DrugFAM offer a telephone helpline for families that have been bereaved as a result of a loved one’s drug/alcohol misuse, phone 0300 888 3853, along with a quarterly support group for people bereaved through substance use: www.drugfam.co.uk/bereavement
- The Compassionate Friends has a resource for parents bereaved through drug and alcohol use.
- Cruse Bereavement Care offers support and advice for people who have recently lost a loved one. Call their helpline on 0808 808 1677 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find out more at cruse.org.uk.