The old adage “when it rains, it pours,” may seem a bit too upbeat when it comes to family crises, so I am forced, here, to reflect on my internal, bittersweet response to so many in my family getting sick. It started with me in May with a multi-viral infection that lasted three weeks.
My doctor told me it was serious, and then blew me off when I needed the most attention, while my family watched me 24/7 until I was well again. Then my dog got sick because I wasn’t caring for him. No one knew he needed a daily allergy pill, poor doggie.
If it all had stopped right there, I would’ve counted my blessings but it didn’t. My aunt, from Northern Virginia, a lifelong nonsmoker was found to have cancer in one of her lungs. My cousin from Hollywood, Florida, a healthy eater by all standards, became ill with “nonspecific” symptoms.
A sister with breast cancer, not interested in chemo. An aunt with shingles. A mother, who went into the hospital shortly after this news was revealed, was diagnosed pneumonia that led to sepsis that led to a heart attack, all the while, according to doctors, without an ounce of heart disease.
My uncle, Tinito, who died from who-knows-what in the wake of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, one of the 3,000 dead for how-many-days when my other uncle, Tin, pronounced teeng, found him decomposing in his kitchen. Because everything is so backed up in P.R., no one knows when he will be buried.
Then, as if all this wasn’t enough for one year, a close cousin of mine, named Denise Torres Leakakos, also died. She was only 51.
You’re forewarned: Here’s where my bitter takes over my sweet.
My best estimation is that she passed away from a seizure caused by a life of extreme hardship, preceded by decades of child abuse by her “devoted mother” and various styles of other abuse while she was an adult. That’s not what it says in her obituary.
I have a problem with that, with the lack of truth in writing, with the lack of honesty about what really happens to people who die too young. It sickens me to hear people quoting 2 Corinthians 12:9 while saying, “Let’s celebrate her life,” when many of these same people didn’t give a “rat’s ass,” as Denise would say to me, when she was alive.
What would be accomplished by telling the truth? Why, truth, of course.
But if you tell these truths, living people will be hurt. It would create pain.
I respond that pain is always considered a path to growth, while secrets perpetuate the vicious cycles of abuse that poor Denise experienced. This piece is not a get-back; it’s a release of good information that can and, I believe, will help others.
I write this to help break those patterns I attributed to Denise’s life, to help break the horror of her abusive upbringing and to ensure that people who allowed this person’s soul to be broken so early in life will know what it did.
It’s the black sheep syndrome. I know about it because I was, and still am, the black sheep of many members of my own family. It’s the labeling of family members that leaves no room for that person to grow. I extricated myself from that but not Denise.
Denise passed away on Monday, 10/23, at about noon, exactly one week ago. She lived with her grandmother who thought she had been “asleep” too long, when late in the afternoon she was found her in her bedroom, cold and dead.
As far as I know, Denise was the only person in my family to use heroin, so much so that every square inch of her body creaked with extraordinary pain. Because she had abused this one drug, doctors refused to prescribe her pain medication, which I believe, realistically, would’ve left any normal person wanting. That was just one of a litany of side-effects of this addiction that she explained to me: that people didn’t care about her pain, not even the doctors.
She was introduced to heroin by ex-husband Kevin in the crazy-80’s, one who hounded her disabled and unemployable body for money for years before she finally passed away. I heard he wailed like a cat in fierce pain when he found out that Denise had passed away.
Was that an indication of love? Or was it that he could no longer financially abuse a corpse through the court system? Of all the conversations I had with Denise about this man, not one indicated that he loved her.
She was an addict with no way out. She was surrounded with accomplices, enablers, some pretty judgmental people, and some pretty abusive people. The worst part, though, was that she was unable, or more like disabled from changing these people, at least getting away from them, which meant that she could neither change places nor things, a requisite for surviving any addiction.
That is what ultimately doomed her to this terribly sad end: an early death. She wanted so much more than that, but none of it was within reach. She was stuck in every aspect of her life. In the end, she was financially bullied and unnecessarily vilified.
She didn’t deserve much of the torture that she suffered, but she couldn’t cope. She in fact needed her escapes because the real world was not behaving real.
While Denise did manage to maintain her friendships with family and friends, the ones who loved her unconditionally, she didn’t have the wide base of friendships needed, human resources needed, to survive. She didn’t want death at an early age; what she wanted was a chance to succeed again, just like she had done when she was a vibrant, ready-to-take-on-the-world youth.
May Denise’s passing teach others to be kind to each other; to send flowers to the living because the dead have no use for them; to reserve judgment for god; and to serve as a reminder to all that, when it comes to addicts, we are not here to indict. We are each responsible for helping addicts change people, places, and things.