This photo is from our time in Australia last summer and shows the HOF family at play on the beach at sunset. It was my sons birthday this week and I read this in The Guardian recently and two thoughts came to mind. I didn’t want to be recalled by my children like the mother detailed in this letter and it also resonated with me about my father and the loving bond we had despite his drinking.
I hate it when people who didn’t know you ask me how you died. As soon as I tell them you were an alcoholic, I know exactly the kinds of thoughts running through their heads. That one word conjures a vivid, stereotypical picture. You were violent. You were neglectful. You weren’t a good mother. I had a horrible childhood. You damaged me.
But that’s not how it was. You were a wonderful mother and I had a golden childhood. You gave me everything a child needs and more. You loved me, supported me, invested your time and money in me and cultivated a deep mother-daughter bond between us. I miss waking up in the middle of the night to find you kneeling by my bed and stroking my hair. I miss the way you took care of me when I was ill. I miss your cuddles and kisses and the strong, heady scent of your expensive perfume.
You really did lead a charmed life. You were married to a good man who provided for you and took care of you. You were never short of money, attention or love. You were the life and soul of the party and people flocked around you. You were strikingly beautiful and unfailingly kind. From the outside, you had it all.
Yet appearances can be deceptive. You weren’t happy and it’s taken a long time for me to understand why. You always said you loved me more than I could ever understand and you would die for me. But then you did die and it wasn’t for me.
When you started drinking, it was a bit funny. “Oh, Mum’s drunk again,” we would giggle at parties, as you stumbled around talking nonsense. As the years rolled on, it became increasingly less funny. You changed beyond recognition and when you were drunk you became nasty and spat out horrible, unforgivable words. It wasn’t like you at all. I became accustomed to compartmentalising my feelings – the love and respect I had for my mum and the fear and loathing I had of this drunken stranger.
Things progressed badly and the drunken stranger took the steering wheel. My beloved mum gave up the fight. Your marriage fell apart and you lost your home. You were irreparably broken. I was young and selfish and, more importantly, I understood nothing of life or loss.
I’ve spent many years feeling guilty because I didn’t do more to help you. If this happened today, things would be very different. I’m a mother now and used to putting others before myself. I know what I should have done to understand you and help you. If only I could turn back time and be the daughter I should have been, perhaps you would still be alive today. At the time, I did nothing except feel sorry for myself. I blamed you. I was at a loss to understand what you had to be so deeply unhappy about. You had a perfect life and you chucked it all away.
Today, I see you with the compassion of a fellow mother and wife. Life experience has provided me with valuable perspective as to how you really felt. I am able to piece together all the little clues you subconsciously gave me until I can see the whole picture. I have suffered some heart-breaking losses, the first of which was you.
I used to be angry with you for hurting me and then leaving me. I then spent many years feeling guilty and blaming myself for your demise. Finally, I am now able to disentangle myself from all these feelings and treat everyone involved in your story with compassion. If I could have just two minutes with you today, I would take both your hands in mine and say: “I love you and I understand.”
Over 3 1/2 years sober and I continue to be so grateful for every day since I stopped.
Friday Sober Jukebox: Don’t Look Back In Anger + Tony Walsh’s Manchester poem ‘This is The Place’