A Mother's Love in Death and Dying Fosters Hope in Life and the Living

Mark Funkhouser

Spring has arrived and fifty-seven is what I turned, which actually sounds like a leaf in the fall or navigating a corner on the way to somewhere I mostly want to go. I also often think of the journey we are on, hopefully desired, everyday, and I would like to take this opportunity to invite you in a little deeper to the telling of my experience. This history involves a life of privilege wasted away yet fortunate outcomes prevailed through little or no credit of my own. I could begin by elaborating on the better things about my personal experience or on my professional “work,” in all of the ego I could muster, which often comes naturally to me, but I want to share with you the humbling, sometimes humiliating, concept of “lived experience.” Of course, we all have our own storied experience in living.

Thirty years ago last month, on March 3, 1987, a second short stay in jail set the stage for the final intervention by my family, primarily my mother, who was the only one I would have dared call to bail me out and take me to treatment (Actually, she is the only one, aside from my father, maybe, who would not have hung up on me, but I don’t blame him or all the others who felt powerless enough to wash their hands of me.). At my mother’s insistence after picking me up from jail, I entered a 28-day treatment center for substance abuse and mental health recovery. I had also struggled with depression and anxiety in conjunction with alcohol and other substance use and don’t know which came first, the mental health issues because of substance abuse or vice versa, cause-and-effect is hard to determine, but either way, there were choices I made in responding to life.

Although never talked about or diagnosed, there were also significant mental health and addiction issues in my generational family of origin. In fact, my own mother in her seventies died from complications of legitimate physical and mental health issues that resulted in a pain killer and tobacco addiction. My mom, the one who I allowed to enable me nearly “to death”, and the one who, perhaps, was the only one who could disrupt my descent into living hell and death by self-destruction, was unwilling and/or unable to overcome those same deadly dynamics. Although we may always wonder how she really died or if there was something more we could have done, our repeated attempts to control, stop, circumvent, and derail her impending death had failed. And although I had prepared for her passing years in advance, we are never really ready. We pretty much resigned ourselves to recognizing our powerlessness over her gradual descent and sudden death in her sleep.

I share this out of the utmost respect for family and, especially my mother, who cared for us as children and endured significant pain and suffering over the years, some of which we caused, and some most likely from her childhood. She was a wonderful woman, a survivor with great passion for life and loving her family and her community and her successful work as a realtor, business woman, and bank loan officer. She had legitimate physical health issues that she suffered from and, I’m sure, did not set out to smoke and abuse pain medication as long-term coping mechanisms to deal with her physical and mental health issues, but that’s what happened. The very determination that allowed her to survive seventy-four years of life most surely did her in. As many of us do, she had trouble surrendering and letting go — asking, or admitting her need, for help — and therefore working through, reducing, or managing the emotional pain and suffering to find the peace that transcends the pain. There comes a time when the lines between being unable and unwilling to change are not so clear, and it’s often “both/and,” not either/or. From a lay standpoint, it seems that the connection between physical and mental health and addiction issues is difficult to discern, for example, where does the cause and effect stop and start?

And this story is what leads me directly deeper and deeper into the personal and professional work of recovery — the recognition of the great need of families and individuals who need recovery from mental health and addiction issues. I often say, that since I’m not a doctor or a therapist, I leave the medical and therapeutic treatment of health and addiction to the professionals who specialize in such things, but I know from my own personal and professional experience that those three aspects often go together —- general health is often inseparable from the nature of mental health and addictions. While not all mental health issues involve addiction, addiction often involves mental health struggles including cause and effect, and physical health is always affected by both, and, indeed, cannot be separated. Physical, emotional, and mental health and well-being are necessarily connected and recovery and stability in life require integration of successful methods and modalities of support and accountability along with diligence on the part of the individual and families needing help. Acceptance and having realistic expectations are also critical.

So, in closing out my story for now, my hope is to continue the profound and honorable work of individual and community recovery, a “soul-work” of passion in the “re-enchantment of every day living,” as Thomas Moore would say. I also do not consider it a coincidence that I work in mental health and addictions peer recovery, more and more, perhaps to redeem my own past transgressions but also in honor of my mother and on behalf of all the friends and families and individuals who are affected by such issues, indeed the entire community. My hope is to bring recovery and connection to those throughout the spectrum — from “mere” loneliness and isolation to the more serious addiction and mental illness issues. Perhaps we have the privilege, indeed an obligation, to continue this work for ourselves and for our families; indeed, our very lives depend on it. So, dear old and new friends (and foes as well), please join me in the movement of recovery, a sheer celebration of hope and the ability to enhance our own wholeness, health, and well-being by “carrying the message” and providing opportunities for others to find that same stability and experience in a “life worth living.”

Last Updated: 04/25/2017