A January 7th can not go by without me recognizing that this is my big brother George’s birthday. George was born January 7, 1950 and died of cancer on May 4, 2004 at only 54.
George was my first best friend, being only 3 years older than me, and he remained one of my closest friends until the day he died. He went through a tough period that lasted twenty years, from 15 to 35, when he fell prey to alcoholism. He and I saw each other over this time, but he was tough to know as he fell deeper into that disease. Finally, our mother organized a family intervention. George’s addiction was so bad at this point that he was waking up in the middle of the night to drink in oder to stave off DTs and his ankles were so swollen that he could hardly walk. After each of us told George how his addiction had affected our relationships with him over the past years and his wife Sandra issued the fateful words, “If you don’t get help, you can’t live with me or our daughter anymore,” George went into a alcohol treatment program. The doctor there told him (and us) that if he hadn’t come in, he would have been dead in a week. Much to our surprise, this particular treatment took in a way that previous attempts to obtain help had not. George embraced AA and remained clean and sober for the rest of his life. The minute he stopped drinking, he was right back to being the brother I remembered before alcohol and drugs started clouding his mind. He was back to being my big brother and my best friend.
When George was diagnosed with terminal cancer in his early 50s and was given 17 months to live, I have never in my life felt more forlorn. I curled up in my bed in a fetal position after he called and told me that news and I kept thinking over and over, “Not George, Lord, please. Not George.” I was not certain I could live on this earth without this brother of mine. However, I was lucky enough to have 18 months of time with him and pretty much daily contact. He and I had a chance to talk about a good many things over those months and as he felt more at peace so did I.
George asked me to write and deliver his eulogy after he died and this was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. Not only was it difficult to find the right words to communicate my love for my brother, but I had to find the courage to stand up in front of a whole church full of people without breaking into constant sobs. One thing that was important to George was that he wanted me to tell his “whole story,” meaning his years of addiction. “There will be people there who have never seen me take a drink,” he said, “and others who pretty much never saw me sober. You have to address both groups.” I did that to the best of my ability that day and that is one of the reasons I mention George’s addiction issues and recovery today. He believed in the miracle of AA and NA and was a walking example of God’s grace. He worked those 12 steps painstakingly and it showed. He became one of the best human beings I have ever met before he died.
Happy birthday, brother. I have managed to make it everyday here without you, not because I have wanted to but because you modeled, “One day at a time.” I fully expect to see you at the Pearly Gates (assuming I don’t have a major stumble) and I look forward to seeing your sweet smile and open arms. I look forward to that day though I do hope to be old and very gray before that time.
That is, of course, if the Good Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise.