Morphine Drip

My grandmother is dying. I spent a long weekend in West Virginia saying goodbye and watching my family quietly fall apart. It’s weird, really, to have inane family bullshit spin out of control around her deathbed. Weird because, well, we’re poor.

It’d be one thing if my grandparents were loaded, because I can understand pettily fighting over the fate of millions of dollars while a loved one slowly slips away on the bed beside you.

We’re not even fighting, really. The family is, more or less, dismissing the event. It’s a sound strategy, often used by lower life forms and truckers: If you can’t see it, it can’t see you.

My family is emotionally distant, anyway. When I was growing up, a good, solid slap on the back of the head meant “I love you,” and saying “I wish you were dead” was an extreme term of endearment. That was mom, and thank god she killed herself, because talk about cancers on the soul… Dad, well, he left when I was 12.

My family used to have money. Ice cream, of all things. A big name in the DC area. The singular supplier for the White House from JFK to Reagan. Secret recipes (the secret is actually in the process, not the recipe) stolen while my dad’s father worked on a dairy farm in New Jersey. He brought the “Recipe” back to DC and, because my family is also one of the lesser founding clans of Silver Spring, MD, used some cash to set up an ice cream parlor. Great timing, too. The Depression was upon us. Everyone wanted to escape one way or another.

By the time I came around, we were doing very well. I remember being moneyed and, yes, money is happiness. When people tell you that money doesn’t lead to happiness, ask them if they’ve ever had money. I mean, real money. True that money can’t buy happiness. What it can buy, though, is the freedom to pursue happiness.

My grandfather died in 76 and left the company to dad, who spent the next ten years embezzling everything. When he had finally created some secret empire somewhere, he took off. And he cleaned out everything – from the salaries and pension of about 50 employees to my little kiddie account, which only had about $400 worth of allowance money in it. He even cleaned out my mom’s small personal accounts by forging her name.

Then he vanished but good. PI’s couldn’t find him, regular cops couldn’t, nor the IRS. He resurfaced after mom killed herself in 99 to sue me for her estate – which was worth $100,000. Except she owed the IRS $150,000 because she had decided to stop paying them in 1995. When that surfaced, dad dropped his lawsuit and let me shoulder the responsibility of her estate, which was bankrupt.

He finally died in 2007. Late stage emphysema. I sat at his bedside for six hours and watched him suffocate. It was a touch disturbing but, in hindsight, strangely gratifying. Except that he died in massive debt, as well. He’d long spent or given away the millions that he stole, and had been supporting his emphysema for seven years – buying oxygen and paying doctors out of pocket.

Medicare? Nope, because, when he died, and his death was recorded, the IRS showed up in my life yet again. Whereas mom had spent the last few years of her life avoiding the government, dad had dropped off the radar in 1976. He hadn’t paid taxes since then, and had hidden himself away. Often doing business under his father’s name, and keeping non-existent people on the payroll at the family company. (Part of the embezzling scheme, I suppose.) In fact, as far as the government could tell, he hadn’t existed since 76. Which might be why he was able to so completely vanish between 86-99.

A weird aside: I tore his house apart looking for answers. He bought a house and had it triple-mortgaged to the hilt in 2003. In that house, he had five pieces of furniture. There were vast, empty rooms. No pictures, no cards, no letters, nothing to indicate that he existed prior to 2003. In the front closet was his briefcase and the clothes that he wore when he walked out of my life in 1986. The briefcase was full of all the papers from that day, seemingly untouched. You can get deep into that because, obviously, he had moved at least once since vanishing in 86. Did he always put down his case and hang his jacket as if he had just come home from that fateful day? I suppose it’s kind of sad and lonely but, really, fuck him. I asked him, when he sued me in 99, why he left, and took all the money, and never tried to help, and he answered: “I thought it was best.”


Smarter and wiser, I walked away from dad’s estate (which owed bills to everyone on Earth) and dodged the 15 month probate bullet that consumed my life after mom died.

My grandparents had hitched their wagon to dad’s star early on and, when he left, they lost everything. Then found themselves having to support my dysfunctional mother. My grandfather is 82 and he still has to work full time just to meet the monthly bills. Often driving upwards of a thousand miles a weekend for special consulting jobs. Money that turns right around to providing 100% support for his youngest daughter (52), who is a passive-aggressive version of my mother.

Mom was just aggressive. My aunt has the same squiggle in her head, but it’s tempered by two great controlling factors: She’s dumb and she’s a coward. Sure, maybe it was the drugs, but mom was always wildly confident and violent. And she was smart. A dangerous trait for a schizoid psychopath.

So we come to today. My grandmother is the mother I never really had, so I’m a wreck. In fact, I’ve turned to my secret stash of painkillers. Totally ineffectual when I was suffering from Trigeminal Neuralgia, they have since proven to possess a certain recreational worth. I’ve been up for about 60 hours straight, and I’ve driven a thousand miles in that time, and confronted great demons, so I had this little headache that just begged for the old brick-to-the-head dose of oxycontin.

I’ve never been much of a recreational drug person. I’ve only ever tried pot a few times, and I’ve never enjoyed it. And my adult life was spent in a haze of heavily-medicated pain that was never enjoyable, either. So now I’m at a weird place where I feel like I’m too old to get into drugs, but would like to nonetheless. There’s no real point to it, though. Even after brain surgery, I didn’t bother with the oxy too much until the operation-related pain started to consume me.

All a good thing because, now, on the two or three occasions a year where my back’s out, or I’m looking to escape something horrible like Battlestar Galactica getting canceled, just a little oxy does it. 5mg and I can sit back and spend an hour saying to my inflatable dinosaur: Maybe there is inherent good in Mankind.

Some elements of my family trace the problems with my mom and aunt back to my grandparents and beyond. We’re not emotional. Not at all. A hug and an “I love you” is, often, too much to ask. It’s there in times of dire need, and it’s known, but there’s really something missing. There’s no real sense of support. There’s enabling, and entitlement, but not really support. So my aunt, at 52, bleeds my grandparents dry. Here’s a woman who makes 50 grand more than I do and, thanks to the fact that I started a publishing company, has an overall debt that’s 10 grand short of my current hideous debt. Yet, driving out to West Virginia to see my grandmother, she can only afford five bucks to help with the gas. Once there, instead of visiting my grandmother, or supporting my somewhat shattered grandfather, she burned through a couple grand shopping for shit stuff at Wal Mart and West Virginia Strip Mall Boutiques. Which is roughly like giving a couple grand to a wino to fish used Chinese food cartoons out of a dumpster for your collection.

This is her problem – and her weekly routine.

Try to talk reality to my aunt and it’s tears and blubbering. Fake migraines and heavy duty medication. Or that maddening thing that crazy people do: “My therapist says…”

I hate it when nutcases throw up that soft science bullshit. Your therapist is treating you. It’s a very specific thing. Observations with your therapist should not be shared or applied to other people’s lives. That all falls under sharing your prescriptions with people, in my book. It’s also a slippery slope to try and offer advice when your first words are admitting that you’re not able to deal with your own problems, so you’re paying someone to help. Not that my aunt offers much advice. She treats her therapist more like a religion – a crutch. Instead of trying to improve, she embraces her dysfunctions simply because her therapist has diagnosed them.

My cousin, who, at 14, weighs about as much as my car, can eat three huge breakfasts in a row (we’re talking IHOP, McDonalds, and Bob Evans), and recently announced that she was “proud” to have “memorized her birthday” is the one who gets the most benefit out of my aunt’s compulsive spending. If she wants it, she gets it. From piercings to horses. Yes, live horses. Like the animal. And, because they live in the suburbs of a city, that means the stupid animal needs to be stabled somewhere, and needs someone to take care of it because my cousin can’t even flush the toilet or get out of bed (she hates flushing the toilet so, monthly, it literally overflows with shit and piss and whatever, which is when my aunt finally takes action and cleans it out).

Not surprising, then, that my grandmother’s death becomes, simply, a side show to the increasing psychosis of the family.

I should, by now, be a bit stronger when dealing with this stuff. But my grandmother’s death is hitting me harder than I thought because, you know, I loved her. Deeply. She’s a great woman, and has really been the reason I’m here today. She and my grandfather saved me from true darkness.

Last weekend, while my cousin sent text messages and photo messages to friends, and while my aunt begged my grandfather to give her his car (like, for good), I took some private time with my grandmother and thanked her, said goodbye. She’s pretty much brain dead, and has been for days. Off the machines, the doctors are just little her die slowly with a morphine drip cooling her pain. I don’t know if I was talking to myself or if she could hear me, but at least I had that moment of humanity. Now all I have to do is sit back and watch my family go insane. No peace for the living.


I wrote this article last night, in a bit of a haze myself. My grandmother died at 3:40am, March 25th.


  1. Loyal Reader
      March 25, 2008

    A powerful entry. Keep writing as much as possible.

  2. Feylian
      March 26, 2008

    I hope life gets better for you or at least stops force-feeding you broken glass.

  3. Fza
      March 26, 2008

    My condolences.

  4. eve
      December 6, 2008

    So sorry.