I suppose, in retrospect, my cousin’s death should have been labeled as a suicide.
Her depression and self-medication with copious amounts of vodka might have served as a premonition of her early demise. Her controlling, narcissistic, Catholic mother doled out plenty of guilt after my cousin’s divorce. Loneliness was her steadfast companion, along with a usually almost-full bottle of vodka.
My cousin and I were close, in that we wrote and spoke on the phone often. However, we rarely saw each other as adults. I didn’t know of her depression, though I often heard a slur in her voice when we spoke on the phone, and I definitely saw her duck down behind the basement bar at her brother’s wedding and down three shots of vodka in quick succession after a day-long drive in the car with her mother.
My fondest memories of my cousin are of the two of us at the county fair, pitching dimes into plates; that’s where I won my first record album, Carole King Tapestry. I recall our grandmother defending our brothers when we accused them of stealing the prizes that we had carefully hidden under my grandmother’s living room couch. “The boys would never do that,” our grandmother said, as our brothers snickered behind her back. Grandfather sneaked us an extra bottle of orange pop to make us feel better.
I’d already made a plan to visit her the year she died. On the day of my departure, my phone call to her house was picked up by her mother, who callously told me my cousin was dead—from alcohol poisoning, self-inflicted as a result of dehydration after a stomach virus.
“Did you know she was a Catholic?” was my aunt’s question of me, about my non-church-attending cousin who drank even before work each morning; about my cousin who was dead at age 47; about my cousin who couldn’t endure her mother’s verbal abuse and so turned, powerless, to alcohol after her divorce.
My trip ended up being to her memorial service rather than to visit her. I brought home a small glass cat figurine to remind me of our day at the county fair. No one used the word suicide, but they really didn’t have to. The evidence lay on her night table—a full water bottle next to an empty bottle of vodka.
Julie A. Dickson
Exeter, New Hampshire
The National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline number is 988.
The Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support
to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress
24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the United States.
Call or text 988 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.