I learned of Amy Winehouse’s death when I signed onto facebook today, two days after she was found dead in her London home at the tender age of 27. I missed the news as it broke because we’re on vacation, internet service is sketchy up in these parts, and anyway, facebook and internet aren’t all that important when one is trying to get away from it all with one’s family. Still, when I did see this morning that Amy Winehouse had been found dead a couple days ago, it stopped me in my tracks and a feeling of sadness washed over me. Another one bites the dust.
It’s widely assumed that she died of a drug overdose. Probably a pretty safe assumption, given the notoriety of her addictions. So young, so much talent, so much life ahead of her, so much to live for … gone.
My first husband was 33 years old when he died of a drug overdose. The autopsy report and subsequent death certificate listed the cause of death as “respiratory arrest due to acute cocaine intoxication.”. The autopsy report indicated that there were needle tracks on his arm. It was a slow demise, and a part of me saw it coming for a long time. As teenagers, he and I partied and played with illicit drugs together, but there came a point when I realized it was no way to live, the all-night benders, chasing the next high with money we didn’t have, not being in possession of all our faculties. I realized that I much preferred a safer existence and having my wits about me. So I stopped – most certainly before it became an addiction – and I haven’t touched an illicit drug in about 25 years.
He didn’t stop though. He had me fooled for a while, but it wasn’t long before I realized he had a drinking problem, and a pretty serious one at that (I grew up with a severely alcoholic father, so the signs were not at all alien to me). Then it became clear that he had a pretty serious pot problem – as in, he smoked it every single day, two or three times a day, and lied constantly about it. The cocaine, though … It wasn’t until a couple months before he died that I learned about that, though I knew something very strange and scary and crazy was going on with him for some time.
I’ll never forget the day the county coroner came to tell me he was dead. I had finally filed for divorce about two weeks prior, and he was staying with his parents. It was a Saturday, and I was cursing him for never showing up that day for what was supposed to have been his first supervised visit with Kevin. A phone call to his parents revealed that he had never come home the night before. I had lived through plenty of those nights, the fucker.
So I’m out in the garage vacuuming out my truck, with the big garage door open, and Kevin upstairs in his room napping. A plain white sedan pulls up in front of the house and a man gets out. I assume he’s lost and intending to ask for directions. Instead, after verifying my identity, he informs me that my (estranged) husband was found dead that morning. In some stranger’s front yard. Preliminarily, I was told, it looked like a drug overdose. I had seen it coming for a long, long time, but it still shook me and shocked me and stole my breath away.
His parents had such a hard time grappling with it that they recasted his death to the general public (including family and friends) as a heart attack. A heart attack at age 33. My own brother, who looked up to him, convinced himself that (a) there was foul play/some sort of conspiracy involved in his death, and/or (b) all the mud he slung about me after our very contentious breakup must have been true and I drove him to his death.
Such is the nature of wrestling with the senseless death of young people who seemingly have everything to live for. It is extremely difficult, I think, for humans who love somebody engaging in self-destructive behavior, to accept that they did it to themselves, that they couldn’t or wouldn’t stop, that they might have been only one good choice away from living instead of dying.
My ex-husband’s death was categorized as “accidental,” as Amy Winehouse’s probably will be. But the truth is, with drug overdoses in the drug addicted, it’s impossible to ever know with any certainty: was it accidental? Did they believe they were invincible? Did they just not care about living or dying anymore? Did something finally happen that made death seem more appealing than life?
Impossible questions to answer. In any case, however, those who loved them and watched them slowly self-destruct, who on some level likely saw it coming – they are left to try to make sense of something utterly senseless.
My heart goes out to Amy’s loved ones … and everyone touched by a death like this.