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In Memoriam

I’ve been unable to post anything the last couple of days. Unfortunately, my brother died on Monday.

His death appears to have been a heart attack, but what really killed him was vodka. My brother was an alcoholic; he had been one for many years. Looking back, he first showed signs of it as an early teenager. It stayed with him, flaring up on and off until over the last ten years, during which drinking had largely destroyed his life.

I wasn’t that much help, but I was at least more useful as a brother (helping to get him into rehab for the first time back in 1999) than I was as a medicinal chemist. We don’t really understand alcoholism enough to be able to do much about it, and the same goes for almost every other form of addiction. Alcohol’s harder than most of them to study because there isn’t a specific receptor system that you can point at (as there is for, say, heroin.) Its effects are broad and strong, and for some people, almost impossible to fight.

Needless to say, we don’t know why some people can drink and never become alcoholics, while others just seem to slide right down into the pit. Essential questions about the brain and human behavior come up immediately when you start to talk about alcoholism, and no one knows the answers to them yet. I believe that David Foster Wallace defined a harmful addiction as something that offered itself as the solution to the problems that it was causing, and that seems to sum up the tangle of biochemistry and behavior that an alcoholic lives in. Each year, my brother slipped further and further away from the possibility of a normal life.

Eventually, there wasn’t much left of the person I grew up with. He died in stages. His memory, his motor skills, his speech and his personality had all been eroded by drinking. Despite his own attempts to break free, despite stays in rehab and AA, despite terrible convulsive bouts of delirium tremens and nearly dying of pancreatitis at least twice, he was never able to find a way out. In the end, he was alone, on a couch, in a littered room that he was unable to summon enough strength to clean.

All I can do is honor his memory, especially the memories of the times before he was a damaged shadow of what I think of as his real self – the days when there was still a real self left. And I can hope to warn others of what could be waiting for them. If any of you reading this think that you might have a problem with alcohol, then you very well might. And the sooner you try to do something about it, the better your chances of succeeding.

Don’t wait. Don’t end up on that couch. Please.

42 comments on “In Memoriam”

  1. steve says:

    Sorry about that.

  2. Chris says:

    That was a beautiful and heartfelt post, and I especially appreciated the insight and advice for others with familiy members dealing with alcholism. Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this difficult time.

  3. Chris Wage says:

    Sorry to hear the bad news.

  4. David Govett says:

    As much as any of us isolated humans is able, I sympathize with you and your lost brother. As a brother myself and a father of brothers, I will be even more vigilant for signs of self-destruction. Know that your brother’s tragedy may avert another’s. Try to remember your brother in better days and let’s hope heaven exists so you can be reunited with him someday.

  5. GruntDoc says:

    You and yours have my most sincere condolences. The very best of luck to you all.

  6. Jim Hu says:

    Derek, I know from experience that whatever I might say cannot be an adequate salve to the pain, but to the extent that knowing you are in our thoughts helps even a little…please know that you are in mine and accept my condolences on your loss.

  7. All my best, Derek.

  8. Nora says:

    Derek – My heart goes out to you. You’re in my prayers.

  9. Steve Cooper says:

    My brother took his life after years of drug and alcohol abuse and I can certainly empathize with your situation. Alcoholism is an insideous disease and can lay waste to an entire family if not addressed with the seriousness it deserves. Just like your bro, mine made a choice and there was nothing we could do to prevent the train wreck that became his life. I made a choice too….I put down the bottle 13 years ago and am a better person for it. Hang in there and know that you are not alone.

  10. jeff bonwick says:

    Derek, so sorry to hear that. A dear friend of mine has a 30-ish daughter who’s been a heroin addict since her teen years. He’s tried every imaginable strategy to help — cash, rehab, living together, living far apart — and none of it makes a bit of difference. Addiction is a brutal, savage thing that we have yet to understand. I applaud you for not blaming your brother, and equally for not blaming yourself. He died of a complex medical condition that we don’t yet know how to treat. But thanks to researchers like you, someday we will.

  11. Thank you for sharing these thoughts with us at such a difficult time.

  12. Harry says:

    My deepest condolences. I’ve had some experience with alcoholism on both a family and professional (I’m an EMT) level, and its never easy. My prayers will be with you and your family as you deal with this sad event.

  13. Tony Giamis says:

    Derek, Sorry to hear about your loss. My most sincere condolences are with you and your family. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  14. sid says:

    I am sorry for your loss, Derek. Your eloquent words, I hope, will inspire others afflicted with the demon of addiction to seek help. My condolences to your family.

  15. Christopher Tyrrell says:

    I said a prayer for your brother. I am one of the lucky ones. For over 21 years I have managed through constant vigilance, to avoid the couch.

  16. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family, Derek.

  17. The Monk says:

    A sad occurrence at the end of a sad situation.
    My condolences.

  18. John says:

    All I can say is that I printed out your story and left copies of it on the table in the Faculty Lounge at the school I work in. Maybe it will make a difference for someone.

  19. I am so sorry to hear of your tragic loss. Thank you for sharing it with us… Please accept my heartfelt condolences.

  20. Bruce says:

    Hang in there!

  21. Bonnie says:

    Please accept my heartfelt condolences. Be good to yourself, eat, rest and find joy which life has to offer you each day.

  22. Paul says:

    I am sorry to learn of your loss and extend deepest condolences.

    Alcoholism is a hard nut to crack – I know from having spent time in medical school working specifically in a program that was meant to be a departure from the “usual” approach. However, I don’t think that it succeeded to any appreciable degree more so than anything else.

    It rests in an uneasy place somewhere between a disease, a mental disorder, and a physiological condition. By the last I mean that certain folks (and this occurs at fairly predictable percentages within certain ethnic groups) react to alcohol in such a way as to make ingestion unpleasant, while others find it exceedingly pleasurable.

    There are no easy answers, and until some answer is found, tragedies such as you have just experienced will continue. Here’s hoping that some brilliant person cracks the edifice of the barrier to the cure sometime soon.

  23. My sincerest condolences.

  24. steve says:

    Please accept my condlolences on your loss. Thank you for your candor; it may help others.

  25. Jay Manifold says:

    My father escaped that couch some years before he died, for which I will always be grateful. Adding my thoughts and prayers to those mentioned above …

  26. otey says:

    Please accept my condolences.

  27. Pete says:

    After years of drinking and many bad situations I finally managed to quit. If I knew how I did it I would bottle it and get rich.
    As it is, I don’t. I have people in my life that should quit, and I can’t help them.
    My condolences and best wishes.

  28. Peg C. says:

    A very moving and important post. My mother was an alcoholic so I know some of what you’ve gone through. My sympathies to you and your family.

  29. Linkmeister says:

    My condolences, Derek.

  30. Acme says:

    I am sorry for your loss. I lost a father and brother-in-law to alcoholism. You are right, there just doesn’t seem to be a way to help.

  31. Joss says:

    Derek, you have my most sincere sympathies.

  32. qetzal says:


    We only know one another through your blog, but I am deeply saddened to hear of the loss of your brother. Please accept my heartfelt condolences.

  33. Patrick says:

    My uttermost sympathies on your loss. My father died of alcoholism, as did my sister and mother. My own brother, whom I have been estranged from for years, had his life destroyed by drinking. I don’t know if he is alive or dead, but as with your brother, he became a shell of the man he once was.
    The question is why? And of course, we don’t know. I think DFW’s point that addiction is “something that offered itself as the solution to the problems that it was causing”, hits close to the mark. It reminds me, oddly, of a quote from Homer Simpson, “To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems!”
    And that is the insidious truth of it. Alcohol gives something to its victims even as it is killing them, and it keeps giving until they are dead.
    Again, my condolences on your loss.

  34. Boris A.Kupershmidt says:

    Sorry for your loss.
    As with most self-inflicted affictions of others,
    there is nothing that could have been done by anyone
    except the person afficted.

  35. Murph says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with you. I am so so sorry.

  36. Pwylla says:

    Derek – my condolences, as well as appreciation for your post. I have lost many family members and friends to addiction, as well as been blessed with several others who have been able to maintain recovery. I empathize with you, and applaud your perspective – cherish the real person that was there before the self-harm, and know that he is free from whatever he was running from now.

  37. M says:

    My sympathies, Derek.

  38. Scott S. says:

    My brother-in-law was an alcoholic, and he tried many times to quit. He finally made peace with his addiction, and although he still drank, he was able to maintain a life. He told me he would rather drink and die young than not drink. He passed away at 44 from the disease.

  39. Charles Hill says:

    My heart goes out to you. Being actively involved with recovery for the past 20 years I am convienced that only reason we fail to recover or stay recovered is because we stop or fail to grow spititually. My heart felt prayers for you and yours.

  40. Nancy says:

    One day at a time is all that any of us can do that live with,survive & yet die with a loved one who succumbs to alcoholism….having to help a child survive the loss of a parent to the complications of this disease(suicide)and the anger that goes with it is something I would not want anyone to experience……the pain lessens with time…..but it is important to forgive that person who has caused the pain……( a stranger in passing)

  41. Diane Axent says:

    I sent to you and your family my heartfelt condolence for the tragic loss and the pain his death has brought to the hearts of so many that loved him. My own father had this addiction and after finishing with booze he went on to live 30 more years. But he never got back what he lost to booze. No,it did not give me back the years lost without him in them and only recently have I faced the truth of that loss within myself. Why some poor souls suffer so, I do not know.
    My sympathy goes out to all those that struggle to overcome every kind of addictions that has captured their heart and controls their minds. Sometimes it just isn’t so easy to say no even when you know you should.
    Be well….. you are all in my thoughts and prayers, Diane

  42. David says:

    It pains me to hear about your brother. My brother died 11 years ago when he was only 24, and it stays with you forever.
    I hope you and your family grieve as best you can.

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