Reflection on the death of a stranger

The following is an essay written by a Prescott House marketing team member as a reflection on the untimely death of an old friend’s young husband. We are sharing it as a testimony to the ripple effect of alcoholism.


I didn’t know Mark Thomas. I think maybe I had met him once, in passing, a dozen years ago when he and his wife were in town for an event or something. Mark’s wife, Kelly, was a friend of mine from college. I haven’t talked to her or seen her in years, except on Facebook, and I’ve never met her three elementary-aged daughters. So, clearly, this is not a family I’ve had close ties with.

But I haven’t been able to get them out of my mind since Mark’s untimely death last week.

I just keep thinking about those three sweet little girls, who are, I don’t know, probably 8, 10 and 12. How do you process the death of your daddy at any age, really, but especially when you’re that young? And sweet Kelly. Loving, generous, ultra-Catholic, kind Kelly. How do you even begin to figure out how to start picking up the pieces when your husband of 15 years passes away at the age of 42? And worse, this is not the first tragedy to befall Kelly over the last decade: her dad died of cancer 10 or so years ago, and then cancer took her mom’s life just a few years later. And now this—the death of her husband.

And here’s the thing: Mark died of complications from alcoholism.

two-sad-girls-at-a-graveI don’t know if I really realized that was still a thing—dying from alcoholism. Well, I guess I did know that it was possible but it didn’t seem like something that really, truly happens to anyone. That is until it happened to my friend’s husband. But how did it ever happen to him? Even though I didn’t know him personally, I have surmised Mark was a delightful guy. From what I can gather from the overflowing expressions of extraordinary sadness about his death and the ringing endorsements of his character, he was quite a special fellow. He came from a good family, he was an exemplary athlete who parlayed his talents into a career, yet he was humble and kind. He loved his daughters and his wife fiercely and he was a salt-of-the-earth friend to all.

And…he was an alcoholic. Like a lot of people living with addiction, he was a good guy who had a demon. And unfortunately, his demon killed him.

I found all of this out while reading a Facebook post written by Kelly’s sister that referenced Mark’s alcoholism and alerted their family’s friends to his imminent death. Condolences and teardrop emojis immediately began coming from every direction. Real-life teardrops poured down my face. Prayers for a miracle – that he might actually turn a corner and survive. How could this happen to Kelly? She is a good person. Like, a really good person. She delivers Meals on Wheels to people in need. She’s super involved in her church. She takes her daughters on epic adventures every summer. She is too good of a person to lose her husband to alcoholism. Right?

Of course, that’s not how it works. Alcoholism, as they say, does not discriminate. I know this because I’ve had some exposure to the addiction industry. But not everyone understands how alcoholism works. That it’s a disease that consumes a person just like any other horrible disease would. Case in point: after I told the story of Mark’s death to a friend of mine, his response was, “Ah, that’s terrible. Especially since it was something that was kind of self-inflicted.” Those of us who understand addiction at even a basic level know alcoholism isn’t any more self-inflicted than lymphoma or Parkinson’s or ALS. It’s a disease. And it can strike anyone.

Kelly’s heart-wrenching eulogy, which she posted online, told the story of a man who loved and was loved immensely. She said she considered not bringing up Mark’s addiction but ultimately decided to address it in the hopes that even just one person might take a lesson from their family’s grave loss. Alcoholism struck Mark in his late 30s and he was never able to shake it. He developed liver disease, then was hospitalized one night after falling ill, and never made it out of the hospital. His liver and kidneys failed, he was read his last rites and then he died the next day.

I am crying as I type this. It just breaks my heart to know of a family shattered by disease and untimely death.

Death by alcoholism is, indeed, a thing. A terrible, terrible thing.

If you or a loved one is fighting a demon of alcoholism or another addiction, please seek help. Don’t let your story end the same way as Mark’s. Contact Prescott House now to find out how we can work with you to start the road to recovery.

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