Trigger alerts for: addiction, depression, and bitter sweet holiday memories.
The last Thanksgiving that Mario and I had together was in 2020. It was the pandemic year, so we didn’t have a large group. It was just his dad, my parents, and a friend of ours.
No one really knew it would be the last Thanksgiving but by that point, Mario had been diagnosed with a failing liver. He ballooned up with ascites (where pressure on veins in the liver allows fluid to collect in spaces within your abdomen and sometimes legs) and was on diuretics to help control it. He had been sober since September 15th, 2020 at this point and I was hoping that he’d be an outlier after the diagnosis (typically, people do not live more than 2 years once ascites sets in from liver damage).
I know, especially now, when the ascites kicked in, he pretty much gave up. He was resigned to his fate. He put on his best face of positivity and didn’t directly acknowledge the dire situation he was in. He did not tell friends or other family about it either. I had a suspicion about that, but it was only confirmed during his last days in the hospital when I reached out to contact friends and family.
It was a hell of a spot to be in because I strongly feel that if someone is contemplating their own demise and does not want to discuss it, you shouldn’t force them to. If someone does not want invasive medical treatments (which was something we discussed), you shouldn’t try to force that on them either. When all hope is lost and a diagnosis is dire, I think it’s time to just be there for that person and let them make the decisions they want or need to make.
Loving Mario was a hard life-lesson in the fact that you can not force someone to do something. Especially when it comes to addiction, success rates can vary drastically with intervention methods. When you’re dealing with someone who flat out said, multiple times over the years, “do not ever do an intervention on me” because he would not be a willing participant, it kind of cancels that out anyway. Mario also refused to go to any form of therapy. I even consulted with my uncle, a PhD who taught Psychology in L.A. for many years, for anything I might be able to do to help with either the depression or the addiction. Nothing I tried worked.
Some people find out suddenly that their depressed spouse has chosen to end their life, and some know deep down for years that the path their spouse is on will eventually lead to the same end. They are both heart wrenching, terrible scenarios for all parties involved.
One small bright spot was that when he did get sober a couple months earlier, the old Mario I knew was back, if only for a short while. He made some art, he cooked (he always loved cooking), and he made it clear in no uncertain terms how grateful he was that I stuck by him and how much he loved me. He just wouldn’t talk about the end, at all. I weathered the storm of depression and alcoholism by his side as difficult as that was at times. He wasn’t an abusive dude to anyone else but himself and I guess that helped. It was only about 5 months, but it meant a lot.
And so, that Thanksgiving of 2020, I remember trying to focus more on the dinner I was preparing and just live in that moment and try to enjoy it. I do enjoy cooking and baking and I enjoy watching people happily eat the food that I make.
This particular Thanksgiving, Mario ate more than he had in years (most long term alcoholics slowly replace food with alcohol and he was no exception there). It was a great dinner that everyone enjoyed and one I’ll always remember with bitter sweet emotion.