Cause of Death: Immediate, Hypertensive Cardiovascular Disease
Other Contributing Conditions: Hepatomegaly, Hepatic Steatosis
Monday morning, the death certificates arrived at the funeral home, the signal I’d been waiting for to say the toxicology report was finished and the autopsy officially complete. I talked to the medical examiner Monday afternoon. He seemed as shocked as I was that the toxicology came back completely clear.
You see, after Marrett died, my sister found a bottle of vodka hidden in the closet of his daughter’s room downstairs. I knew immediately it was his, for reasons I don’t need to detail here. As disappointing as it was to find that he had recently relapsed in his recovery from alcoholism, it was also a relief and made sense of so many of the fights we’d had and my conviction that he’d been keeping secrets from me.
And oh, the secrets I’ve found. They hurt worse than his actual death, and there have been days when I’ve wondered if anything from our marriage was actually true. Thankfully, I have a loving chorus of friends and family who remind me that the truth of his life is more than the struggle he’d been in before his death.
The medical examiner couldn’t tell me exactly how he’d died, but only his best guesses given the facts he could scientifically prove. He indulged all of my questions and theories with a kindness and compassion I didn’t expect. Could the alcohol have contributed to his death? Could he have been trying to stop drinking on his own and complications from withdrawal have killed him? Could he have been depressed and unable to seek the help he knew he needed? Could the two conditions between his heart and liver have caused his death all by themselves, regardless of his addiction?
The questions are endless, and some days drive me to a place that feels insane. But after Monday, I have some relief from the internal barrage. I know now what is possible to know, and the medical examiner gently reminded me that there are many things we can never know with certainty. That was the permission I needed not to ride those questions all the way to crazy town anymore.
It will always break my heart to know how alone and scared he must’ve felt in his last days, not able to trust even me and his best friend with the truth of what he was facing. I will always wonder if his life could have been saved if I’d known more, if I’d done more, if I’d nagged and pleaded and manipulated more, to get him to care for his own needs.
But I will not make myself responsible for his death. That would be a disservice not only to myself but to the lessons he taught me in my own recovery from lifelong habits of co-dependency. What happened to him is not my fault. It’s not truly even his fault. Addiction is a disease and a demon, one that lies to both the addicted one and their family about who they are. It overtakes people in exactly the way the bible describes demon possession, causing harm beyond the control of either the addicted or their community.
But the lies have not won. The demon of addiction will not have the last word on Marrett’s life. Because his story is now mine to tell. I get to choose how the narrative lives on. In so doing, I have the power to quash the lies that led to his death.
Yes, Marrett was an addict, but that’s part of what made him beautiful. His disease gave him compassion for those others had long given up on. His understanding of his own fallibility heightened his innate kindness and made him an expert at acceptance. His truth-telling about the disease of addiction literally saved lives, my own included. It was his love and accountability that gave me courage to face my self-sabotaging habits in marriage. It was he who gave me the clearest picture I’ve yet had of God’s unconditional love.
When we were both our best selves, it felt like nothing in the world come come against us and prevail. We were a squad (his words, which I always hated!).
I will never know with certainty the cause of his death, but the story I will tell myself and my children is this: Marrett was a beautiful human who’d overcome so many struggles and helped me to do the same. And though it may look for now like his demons defeated him, even in death we continue to learn from him. His legacy will be love and kindness. His story is now in my hands, and I will not allow his death to be the ending.