This morning, thinking over all the years of teaching Prime for Life, my thoughts went to Nancy. Nancy was a woman probably in her late 40’s and had a long history of drinking problems. At that time I was teaching version: 7 of Prime for Life.
Nancy came into the program in denial of just how bad her problems with alcohol were. The class had just started when she said out loud “I really do have a drinking problem, I didn’t think so just a few minutes ago.”
There was another student in the class, a young woman (we’ll call her Kate) and Nancy was speaking with her when they realized that in the past, Nancy and Kate’s mother were best friends all through their school years. They had lost track of each other after graduating high school. That evening when class was over, Kate excitedly took Nancy outside to see her mother who was there to pick her up.
During the class, Nancy was very open about some of the things alcohol had taken from her, especially custody of her two children. One was living with her parents the other with her ex-husband. At that time she was denied visitations with them.
On the last day, there was an exercise asking the participants to write a letter to someone they cared about telling them at least three things they had learned in Prime for Life. It was suggested maybe to a younger person in their life. Nancy wrote feverously, softly crying the whole time. I could not help but wonder if this communication was to her children.
The next weekend, I was home reading in the den when the phone rang. It was Kate calling to tell me that Nancy had passed away! Immediately my response was “Oh no, she didn’t start drinking did she?” I was assured that was not the case.
Kate’s mother had encouraged Nancy to move in with them for a little while, even though Nancy had her own apartment. She had gotten Nancy a job working with her and Nancy had committed to start attending church with her. Thursday after work they had gone shopping and Nancy bought a dress and shoes to wear Sunday morning.
Kate said, that evening, they were all watching TV when Nancy started to have an asthma attack. She at first refused to go to the emergency room. Finally, Kate’s mother told her she had no choice they were going. Upon arriving at the hospital Nancy died while walking into the emergency room. The viewing was the next day, Sunday afternoon.
I arrived at the funeral home and entered the viewing room. An older man came over to me and stated, “You must be in the wrong room.” I responded “No, I am here to pay my last respects to Nancy.” He then demanded to be told how I knew Nancy. I did not want to say she had been one of my Risk Reduction students as even in death we have a right to anonymity. I responded, something to the effect that I was there to pay my last respects and would be leaving right after. By his stance, I believe he may have thought I was one of her drinking friends.
He insisted that I sit on a couch with him to talk. Again, I would not say how I knew Nancy. He then began to talk about her drinking and the guilt he felt as they would often drink together. Next, he said that she had attended the DUI class down the street. I told him I was the instructor. He said she had really changed after that and she had not had a drink.
I then told him to look for her Prime for Life workbook and explained the letter. I did not know what was in the letter but I believed it may have been to her children. He stated that he had seen it but had not known what it was. It was still in her apartment.
At that point, a young man about 16 years old came up, her son, and Nancy’s dad asked me to tell him about the letter. I then got up to go over to the casket. The dad caught me by the arm introduced me to a young woman, Nancy’s sister. He then instructed me to tell her about the letter. I did, and again tried to move toward the casket. Next, he caught me by the arm and led me over to Nancy’s mother, instructing me to tell her about the letter.
After doing so, a younger child about 8 or 9 climbed up on her lap. She told him who I was and asked me to talk to him about his mother. I then quickly asked God for the words, as I did not know what to say. I said something like your mom loved you very much and was changing her life so she could be with you. He jumped off Grandma’s lap put his hands on his hips and loudly declared “Yup, she don’t drink anymore.” Then he asked if he could go out and play.
I felt that I needed to leave even without saying my goodbyes, to Nancy. At the door, I met four people (two couples) one young man put out his hand and introduced himself as Nancy’s brother. I told him who I was and the woman behind him said that Nancy had called her telling her all about me and the class, and that she had been making major changes in her life that week.
I quickly left the building, the air was very hot and I almost passed out going to my car. I was exhausted. I felt like all of the life was gone from my body. Looking back, I can see how it was helpful to the family and it possibly gave her dad some relief from his guilt. It was validated that yes, Nancy had changed.
I have seen Prime for Life change so many lives. I proudly remain an instructor and instrument to share their message.