Last night, my husband’s grandfather passed away unexpectedly.  Currently, my in-laws live with us, so our home was a natural spot for the family members to gather to discuss the details, comfort each other, and to do all the other things that come with the notification of a sudden death in the family.   

Being freshly sober only a few years, I haven’t had many opportunities to deal with death.  A year ago while I was getting sober, my older sister committed suicide, and honestly, that was my first experience with death of a close loved one in my entire life.  All four of my grandparents had passed away before I was a teenager, but I wasn’t close with them and I didn’t learn much about handling death.

So when my sister died, I certainly didn’t drink or use, but I fumbled my way through its aftermath clinging to sobriety with all the fervor with which the drowning seize life preservers”.  I made it by the grace of my higher power, but just barely.  And it certainly wasn’t by my own willpower or self-knowledge that I survived without taking a drink.

Now, here I was confronted with the topic of unexpected death again. I was honestly terrified. Like always, my very first thoughts were all about me: What if I try to support my husband but it’s not enough or not the right way? What should I say to everyone? What should I do? What if they are so emotional and worked up that I pick up on that energy and start getting in a bad headspace myself about my sister? What if my mother-in-law is expecting me to support her more than I am able and so I let her down? What if my aunt-in-law thinks I should be playing a more active role in the matter and starts judging me? Who’s dealing with the affairs and practical details? Should I be trying to offer to do that? Is that appropriate to discuss or is it too early? Am I even capable of comforting these people without falling apart myself? What if my co-dependent tendencies jump in during a weak moment and I commit myself to some activity or task that I really shouldn’t or can’t do?…. The insanity could go on and on…

And then… quite instantly and intuitively, I started to hear this inner voice recalling the third step prayer that I recite most mornings “God, I offer myself to Thee To build with me & to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy love & Thy way of life.”

From that moment I became aware of three things:

  • That is just my self-centered fear talking
  • Isn’t it cunning, baffling, and powerful that my disease can turn something as serious as a death in the family into an issue that I think is all about me. Because it’s NOT about me.
  • I just need to show up and let God run the show from there.

Today, because I am sober, I get to show up and be there for my family, even if I’m feeling scared or overwhelmed. Today, I am OK with the fact that I am on a “need to know” basis with my higher power, and I don’t need to have all the answers before I can go do the next right thing. Because I am sober, I won’t have to carry around guilt (or make an amends) for being drunk or worse, ducking out of the whole affair. And when it’s all over, I will have this experience to draw on when building my faith that my higher power is doing for me what I can’t do for myself.

It’s not easy or comfortable (yet), but it’s a design for living that works in all circumstances… even when faced with the sudden death of a loved one.

If you feel so compelled, please share your story of dealing with sickness and/or death of a loved one in sobriety.  We can all use the shared experience, strength, and hope.