Judy was my mother-in-law.
Judy died on May 19th, 2014 in her apartment from complications due to alcoholism and subsequently Cirrhosis of the liver. It was the solitary life for her because that’s what her alcoholism required. She was alone most of the time I’d known her, which was 23 years when she died. When I first met her she lived with a guy. An asshole, really. He was an alcoholic like her and it was apparent the relationship was tumultuous to say the least. Eventually Judy got tired of her guy and she bought a trailer one row over from him in the same lousy trailer park. From there Judy had steady work. She had no debt and lived pretty simply. She still drank but somehow made things work. She kept the booze and work separate.
My girlfriend became my wife in 1996. In 1997 we had our first child. His name was Dieter and he was a miniature schnauzer. Judy would watch Dieter for us. He’d stay at her trailer so we could go somewhere overnight. Like Cedar Point, or to a concert. Judy enjoyed having Dieter over. My wife and Judy had a miniature schnauzer when my wife was a little girl. We have pictures from one time when Dieter stayed with Judy. He had a look like “What the f**k is going on here?” It was priceless.
In 2000 my wife and I had our first “human” baby. Our daughter Claire was born on May 13th, 2000. Judy loved being a grandma. We saw her more once Claire was born than we’d ever seen her previously. Maybe being a grandma was her chance to do things better than she was able to as a mom. I mean, she did the best she could raising her daughter on her own. They moved often and Judy worked third shift, so my wife was pretty much on her own before and after school. In retrospect that’s one of those situations where you think “Wow. You’re lucky to be alive after that kind of childhood”, but as it happened it was just life. Regardless of the mistakes as a mom, she wanted to make up for them as a grandma.
During all this time Judy had boyfriends here and there, all of which dealt with drinking problems. None were as bad as that first guy I met, but I never wanted my children around them. They all seemed broken or ruined in some way. I don’t think Judy would have ever wanted to be with someone that had their shit together. I think she would’ve been too hard on herself. She already had two siblings -an older brother and a younger sister- that were very successful in life and she constantly compared herself to them. She didn’t need a partner to make her feel like a failure as well. The last guy she was with was Mark. He was a good 15 to 20 years younger than Judy. He was on permanent disability because of back problems and was on painkillers all the time, as well as being an alcoholic. Despite the fact that the guy was annoying, Judy seemed to be content with him. They got along, so at least she wasn’t alone.
My wife would reach out to her mom as much as she could, but you can only ask someone so many times to come over, have dinner, and see their grandkids and be
rejected before you stop calling. Though she wouldn’t come over, she always remembered the kids birthdays. By 2010 we had three children, two girls and a boy. Judy always had a birthday card for each of them, as well as for Valentine’s Day, Easter, and sometimes for no reason at all. She wanted the kids to know that she loved them despite not spending much time with them(or us.) She would come over on birthdays and every Christmas. Whether she had the money or not to spend, she’d make sure each of the kids got something from her, even if it was $10 in a plain white envelope. One year she bought me one of those novelty, battery-powered singing fish. It would start singing a tune every time you walked by it as it was supposed to hang on the wall(it never hung on our wall, btw.)
On April 28th, 2010, my wife’s birthday, we got a call late that night from Judy telling us that my wife’s brother Joe had died. He’d taken his own life. He’d struggled his whole life with substance abuse and crimes, mainly theft and disorderly conduct, that seemed more like acting out for attention than anything malicious. He’d been troubled since he was a teenager and never got on the right path. Losing Joe was what started Judy’s spiral. From that moment on Judy’s drinking got worse. So much so that within a year from her son’s death she lost her job of 15 years because she was going to work drunk. She was old enough to get social security so she officially “retired”. This gave Judy ample time for drinking. Her and Mark were more partners in oblivion than a couple. On several occasions we would get drunken calls from Judy in the middle of the night. Usually she was trying to call someone else and would call us instead. One night my wife had almost convinced her to go to rehab and get help. But at the last minute she changed her mind.
In March of 2013 Judy was walking from a friend’s trailer to her own on a Saturday night. Somewhere between those trailers she passed out and fell in some bushes. She laid in those bushes all night. She was found the next morning and an ambulance was called. She suffered from cuts and bruises as well as hypothermia and alcohol poisoning. She was in critical care for over a week in the hospital. Even after two days in the hospital her blood alcohol level was still above the legal limit. She left the hospital and went to a rehabilitation clinic. She needed to get her strength back in her limbs from the hypothermia. She was very short of breath for at least a week afterwards. She was also jaundiced from her liver being enlarged, overworked, and generally poisoned. My wife did everything for her during this time. Took her to appointments, sat with her and even set her up with an apartment at a retirement community in town.
When Judy left the rehab facility she seemed like a new person. She had color back, she’d put some weight back on, and her liver had shrunk down to a reasonably normal size. We gave her some of our old furniture and bought her a new TV and set her up in the new living situation. She was set up to make a new start, and she did all right for a couple months. Then in September of 2013 she passed out in her bathroom, fell, and broke her hip. She hobbled around on a broken hip for a good couple of weeks. She told my wife that she had just pulled a muscle. My wife finally convinced her to go to the doctor. After X-rays it was pretty apparent she’d broken her hip. During her consultation with the orthopedic surgeon(who was a recovering alcoholic himself) he asked her when the last time she’d had a drink was. She said months ago. He asked her again and she said recently. So once again she dried out in the hospital after her hip surgery.
In February of 2014 Judy called my wife and told her she needed help. She was afraid she was going to die if she didn’t quit drinking. She was drinking a 6-pack of beer and a bottle of vodka a day. We got her into a rehab facility in Indianapolis. She was there for seven days. When she left there she once again seemed to be on the road to recovery. Clear-eyed and full of potential, or so she seemed.
When someone is trying to kick a habit, you not only have to lose the drugs but the friends you used the drugs with. That means opening yourself up to meet new, healthy people to spend your time with. Judy couldn’t do that. She was too far gone inside. She could never forgive herself for not living up to expectations she put on herself. She could never forgive her mom for loving her sister more than she loved her. She could never forgive her dad for leaving her when she was a little girl. And she could never forgive herself for damaging her son to the point that he’d kill himself. Of course most of these things she created in her mind. A mind with clouded judgement. Not even having a daughter and another son that loved her, or grandchildren that loved her as well could pull her out of that black hole called addiction. It had a hold of her and despite all her efforts, late night calls for help, and the support of her daughter she succumbed to the demon.
On May 19th, 2014 Judy passed away in her apartment, alone. A self-assigned alone. An alone that you must have if you want to wallow in your own pain. The only thing that can fix that is total oblivion. Alcohol was her gateway there. Not the love of a caring and concerned daughter, son-in-law, three grandchildren, or the distant worry of siblings and a son could convince her that she wasn’t alone or that she had a reason to give up the juice for good. Judy seemed to be a whirlwind of turmoil and angst since day one, and that angst spilled over into a love of the bottle.
So I want to say this to you, Judy. You did the very best you could in the situation you were in. And that situation was raising a young daughter on your own while your ex made a new life in another state pretending he had no responsibility to you or your daughter. I thank you for keeping it together long enough to allow your daughter to grow up and be an integral part of my existence. You were riding choppy waters, but you kept your little girl as safe as you could. At least you didn’t hit the “self-destruct” button until you saw she was going to be okay. Thank you for that. And thanks for being a part of your grandchildren’s lives when you could. The board games, the cards in the mail, the trips to the zoo, and the homemade ice cream incident are all stories permanently embedded in the Hubner family history. Archived and lovingly remembered for future generations. You will not be forgotten.
And thanks for that singing fish. That won’t be forgotten either.