Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Do you kick someone when they're already down?

When someone is already down, what should you do? Help them up? At least ignore them? Or, if you're a monster, you might keep kicking them. In fact, there are some people out there (and thank goodness it's not the norm) who think that it's perfectly fine to not just continue kicking, but to maybe jump on their head and spit on them, too.

Such is the story of Robert and Lisa. Lisa was one of my best friends growing up. She stayed in our hometown of Bishop, married her high school boyfriend, Robert, and they had four kids together. Robert and Lisa's life was far from happy. Robert became an alcoholic and drug addict and, as you can imagine, chaos ruled the day. Finally, after years of abuse, Lisa divorced Robert.

Lisa and I during one of my visits to Bishop (1999)

One day while I was at work, I got an email from our mutual friend, Beth. Lisa had just been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer that had spread to her stomach and kidneys. It was a death sentence, though she tried very hard to fight it.

Lisa, Beth and I during a visit to Bishop. Lisa was undergoing chemo in an attempt to fight stage IV pancreatic cancer. She died less than three months later.

Five months after her diagnosis, I drove to Bishop to see Lisa and I knew it would be the last time I would see her. Lisa looked healthy. One would never know the horrible treatments she was going through. That's what's tricky about second-guessing someone who is fighting cancer-- sometimes they look as sick as they are, and sometimes not. With Lisa, most of her hair was still intact and she looked fantastic. Behind that fa├žade, her cancer was raging and growing by the minute. We had a great visit and I cried every time I was out of Lisa's presence. During one of our talks, Lisa told me that she knew that her marriage to Robert had made her sick. Robert's abuse had slowly poisoned her soul and her body. Yes, how well I can relate.

Because Lisa didn't have a lot of money, many people in Bishop came to Lisa's aid. Rusty's, a saloon in town, hosted a fundraiser for Lisa. That night, while Lisa was at the event, Robert showed up drunk and started screaming at her. Another time, Robert called Lisa and told her that she deserved to get cancer because she had divorced him. Shocking, disgusting, immoral and evil.

Lisa died in October 2006 just days after her 38th birthday. She left behind four children ages 15, 13, and 4-year old twins. Because Robert was in no condition to be a father, Lisa's 28 year old single sister took custody and moved them all to San Diego. She has been an incredible mother to those kids and I know there is a special place in heaven reserved for her.

Lisa's oldest daughter

Morgan with Lisa's twin sons. I used to take them for the weekend once per month. That ended abruptly when I married Bob because taking the twins for the weekend meant there would be hell to pay afterwards. I still took the twins but it went from once per month to a few times per year. I felt such huge sadness and guilt over it because I had promised Lisa on her deathbed that I would help and I felt I was letting her down.

The reality is that life with an addict is never good. Still, that doesn't excuse Robert's behavior in the wake of a cancer diagnosis. Simply, when one is down, you don't keep punching and kicking. At a minimum, you back off and walk away. I used to think that Robert was the most vile and evil person I have ever known. I now know that I, too, had my own Robert and that he was capable of the identical behavior.

The last time I was in Bishop, I visited Lisa's gravesite and talked to her for a long time. Tragically, we share many of the same experiences. I can relate to her hell and it makes me angrier and sadder than I was back then. Chaos, anger, bitterness and sickness results from that life.

After Lisa passed away, I did my best to take the twins for the weekend once every month. It gave Lisa's sister a much needed break and it allowed me to fulfill a promise I made to Lisa in the last days of her life. When I married Bob, taking the twins became much more difficult for me. While Bob paid lip service to being supportive of taking the twins, every time I did was just one more excuse Bob had to drink more and be more angry and awful. One such weekend involved the police being called out to our home to calm a raging aggressive Bob. When the police were still at the home waiting for Bob to pack his belongings and leave, Lisa's sister and her oldest daughter showed up. It was so humiliating for me. No longer could I pretend that my life with Bob was as happy as it appeared. In fact, she learned that night that I was living in hell. She distracted the children until Bob and the police left and, once they were gone, she sat with me and hugged me while I sobbed. She knew all too well what I was going through-- her sister lived it, too.

Lisa's story is tragic. I'm still haunted by her story and I think of her often. I lost so much faith in humanity with Lisa's passing and even more during my time with Bob. Time heals all wounds and, thank goodness, I have the time to heal.