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Sunday, 16 January 2011

Little Ole Wine Drinker Me

There's a lot of death around at the moment. I don't mean in the world generally - it's pretty prevalent around the globe: Brazil, the USA, Sri Lanka, Australia etc.

I talking about around me.

My cousin died at the beginning of the year and on Friday  an e-mail popped up with the header "News of a Former Colleague". The adjective was  doubly cruel. My former  work colleague had died on  the 8th of January.

He'd died of liver failure at the grand old age of 54 leaving a wife and kids. He'd been retired on health grounds at the end of March 2010.

I first met Mike in 1978 when I was  sharing a room with a "fast streamer". Mike had recently joined the Civil Service also as a "fast streamer" and my room colleague was his mentor. Mike moved on, that's what "fast streamers" did, moved from job to job learning about the business so they could take over the reins of government  in short shrift.

I lost touch and wasn't very close to him anyway. In 2002 I went to my last job and there was Mike, bigger and rounder and far less assured than I remembered him. When I saw his name on the door I knew him; I told him we'd worked together years ago. The details matched but he didn't immediately remember me or my name.

It was clear that his fast streaming days were long past.  

As I was new to the department I held meetings with all those I was to work with, including Mike. The first thing he told me was that he was an alcoholic. I remember that he mentioned some measure of his liver function;  a protein in his blood. According to him his reading was in the thousands when it should have been in the hundreds. He explained that that was the reason why he had to stop drinking.

He apologised for dropping that on me but he was determined to control his addiction and that meant everyone had to know.

Our boss and the department were extremely helpful. They enabled him to go to an expensive addiction clinic: his kids were told that "Daddy was away on business". It seemed to have worked. He was great at work, got the job done and people really liked working for him.

I'd drop in to see him during the day - he was good fun and we'd talk about the old times and have a laugh, usually at our boss's expense. But sometimes he could be snappy and his staff would be quiet and reticent. At such times I thought I'd catch a hint of alcohol on his breath. He'd go into the loo for a drink of water and once I swear I caught him secreting a bottle in the cistern.

In January 2008 one of his staff had a fatal heart attack shortly after work. I saw Mike shortly thereafter.  The death had had a devastating effect on him. For some inexplicable reason Mike felt responsible. He found it really hard; apparently work suffered and he was obviously drinking again.

A year or so later I met up with some ex colleagues. Things were bad; he'd moved out of the family home and he was on extended sick leave. I heard later reports that things weren't improving and that work was difficult for him,  his colleagues and staff. And so his early retirement on health grounds. And now he's dead. He was in hospital over Christmas but his wish was to die at home and he did.

 Life is far too dangerous for the living. When you pop out of your Mum's womb you have no idea what lies ahead. For some it's a great adventure: for others it's a valley of pain. A small weakness, in your body or soul, can crucify you and others.

Take a deep breath and smile. Kiss those close to you and tell them you love them. And if you're in pain share it with them - they'll love you even more.

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