A Tribute to my Friend: A Life Well-Lived

Doris was the first person I met in the community where I’ve lived for almost 18 years. She passed away in May at the age of 92.  I chided myself for not visiting more during her last months. Doris suffered from dementia and other ailments, so I’m not sure she completely recognized me when I did come to see her. I could have done more, I thought. I felt better after writing a sympathy note to one of her daughters. Knowing Doris, I was convinced she wouldn’t want me to spend time or energy feeling guilty. Doris wasn’t like that…she lived her life to the fullest and didn’t keep a record of offenses.

I met Doris at the Thursday night Al-Anon meeting at the “The Barn,” the local gathering place in our small town. I was a newcomer when I hesitantly entered the cavernous building and walked to the small back room, “The Hen House,” where weekly meetings were held. I instantly felt like I belonged.

That’s the way it is with Al-Anon. No matter where you go, there’s a sense of connection and support. All those years ago when I was dealing with my husband Randy’s alcoholism, it felt good to find a place where I was accepted and understood. Doris was so good at that. She had a quiet way about her as she shared her own story; her experience and hope. Somehow it was hard to believe that she’d ever felt as stressed or had been an emotional basket case like me. She assured me she had been exactly where I was… and that if I kept coming back, I’d also make my way through to a more positive place.

Every time Randy and I left the city and came over the mountains from Seattle, I made it a point to show up at the Al-Anon meeting. I can’t remember a time when Doris wasn’t there. Her faithful presence gave me courage and helped me decide to move to the Methow Valley with Randy several years later, in spite of his tenuous sobriety. I knew I would never be alone–no matter what happened.  

There are people who come into our lives and we are never the same. Doris was one of those special friends who gently and profoundly touched my life simply by living hers. When she became too frail to live on her own, her family moved her into a group home in another town several hours from here. Last fall, they brought her home to the valley she loved to live out her final days. I miss Doris–but I know she completed the work God had given her. The same work I feel privileged to pass on to others who are struggling in much the same way as I did.

If you’re feeling in despair because someone you love has a drinking problem, why not try out an Al-Anon meeting? I can almost guarantee you will find a Doris there who will help change your life. 

What I can give is never as much as I get from the giving. ~ Al-Anon Family Group

Raise the White Flag!

I called my homeless brother yesterday. I only wanted to say that I love him. He couldn’t hear that. He thought I was trying to intervene, judging him. He told me his life is miserable, the party’s over–not that there ever was a party, I thought. I tried to interject hope into his hopeless comments.

You don’t have to do this alone, I said. But he couldn’t hear me in his deafness to allow anyone to help him. I’m going to recover on my own, he insisted. I don’t need anyone to help me.

My heart aches for him. I’ve walked this road before with my husband, Randy, as he struggled to find freedom from his addiction to alcohol. And as I struggled to let go, to finally admit there wasn’t anything I could do to fix or change him. 

It’s funny how we think we have the power to help someone else choose life over an addiction or other destructive behaviors. Fear got in the way of my ability to surrender my husband. I believed I had the power to decide for him. I thought if I let go of Randy, he would die. That’s a scary place to put ourselves in–and rather presumptuous. Do I really think I have that kind of power? Hm…I don’t think so. I am thankful there is One who has all power–and that one isn’t me!

Surrender!

There comes a time when we need to raise the white flag. We not only surrender our loved ones, but we also surrender ourselves to the Lord. We let go so God can work in our lives and theirs. We let go so we can be free from the anxiety that is destroying us. By surrendering, we choose a way that brings life to us–and possibly to our loved ones as well.

There are no pretenses or illusions about any noble efforts to save someone you love. This is rock-bottom where the rubber sole meets the road. You admit that what you’ve been doing isn’t working. You don’t have what it takes to motivate another person  to change their behavior. Only God can do that. Finally you give your impossible situation to God.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they describe surrender in three steps:

  1. I can’t do it.
  2. God can.
  3. I will let Him.

There’s something powerful about recognizing we can’t do what needs to be done in our own strength. This might sound depressing. If we can’t do anything…who can? Ah…that’s the very place God wants us to be. He doesn’t need us, really. He has access to infinite resources. Sometimes the most we can do is simply get out of the way. We intentionally let go of our loved ones. This doesn’t mean we abandon them or stop loving them. Instead, we lovingly entrust them to Jesus. He loves them more than we can imagine. What better place for them to be! The Lord knows every detail about them. He even knows every hair on their heads. He loves them with an everlasting love. Our love pales in comparison.

Author Jan Johnson says it well: 

Letting go is both too simple and too difficult. It looks like weakness instead of strength, like losing instead of gaining, and it is. As we relinquish control and admit weaknesses, we remember who we are and why we’re here…This need to control is rooted in fear, but I need to do the thing that is rooted in faith–surrender.  

Once again, I find myself in a place of letting go. This time I know it’s the very best for me and for the brother I love so dearly. 

Is there a situation in your life where you need to surrender?