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The First Time I Planned a Funeral

By Laura Birks 06/26/16

I lost my boyfriend to alcoholism on May 10, 2004. It changed my life forever. 

The First Time I Planned a Funeral
via author

I met his family at the funeral home. I walked into the parlor and saw his younger brother. He is somewhat hard to miss standing over six feet tall. Skinny with long arms and even longer legs, he looked awkward milling about the small room. Sitting in the corner was his stepfather. He looked toward the door as I opened it, then looked away, unwilling to see the pain and heartache on my face. His father paced the oriental rug with tears stained on his cheeks.

The director walked in, wearing a dark suit and brightly patterned tie. He introduced himself and asked if we wanted to begin. I didn’t. I wanted to wake up from this nightmare. I said nothing. His father asked if Ian was on the premises. I begged not to know the answer. Yes, the county dropped his body off that morning after the autopsy. I thought about all the medical documentaries I watched and knew that his body had been cut and dissected like a high school biology project.

The tears started to fall again. He handed me a tissue and I cried harder into it. His father insisted on seeing his body. The director warned him that it wasn’t a pretty sight and to wait until they had a chance to clean him up. He was unfazed. He asked if I wanted to go down into the basement, too. I declined. I woke up next to him. I saw his death. I didn’t need to see anymore.

I walked out of the parlor through the enormous wooden doors to the porch. I let out an audible sigh and lit a cigarette. As I drew the smoke into my lungs, I wondered how my life got here. Twenty-three and planning my boyfriend’s funeral. I sat on a bench and looked around, life was continuing all around me. Cars driving down the street, people walking their dogs and I could hear the children laughing on the playground at the school right down the street. But for me, time stopped on May 10, 2004. The grief stopped time. The pain in my heart cemented my feet to the ground. It would take years to chip away to get my feet free.

I walked back through the dark wooden doors and was greeted with a pamphlet about cremation. I read it. I agreed that this was what he would want. Decision one complete. The door to the basement opened and his father walked out. He looked like he was going to throw up. It confirmed that the rest of us had made the right decision not to walk down those steps.

The director ushered us upstairs to a brightly colored boardroom. All the decisions made in that room, were mine. In those moments, we all realized how little his own family actually knew about Ian. I wrote the obituary, and decided on the church. I knew that I wanted him cremated before the service, so no open casket. I would put together a photo collage from his 27 years on this earth. Mourners could look to see happier times in his life, not a bloated corpse with a Y-shaped incision in a casket.

As I walked through the wooden doors again to leave, I lit another cigarette. I stood on the wraparound porch and breathed in. The smoke slid down my throat into my lungs once again giving me the courage to drive two miles to the apartment we shared until the day before. I pulled into the parking lot and stared at the house that was made into four small pitiful homes. I could still see the police and coroner walking through the stairs. Ghosts, but their images were imprinted on my brain. I could hear the first responding officer asking me if I could call someone to be with me. I could smell the flowers blooming despite the death that surrounded me everywhere.

I walked upstairs and opened the door to what used to be our apartment. The police searched through the drawers and in the closet looking for the cause-of-death-drugs. There were no drugs. He died an alcoholic, all the evidence was right in the recycle bins. A mound of empty vodka bottles waiting to be discarded. His legacy was in the bottom of a bottle.

He had so much more life and love to give to the world. He couldn’t see it and I couldn’t convince him. He went to meetings; he drank when he came home. He sought counseling, he drank when he came home. He detoxed himself many times, but always drank again. We were young, wild and free, or so I thought. He wasn’t free. He was trapped by a disease that owned every part of him. I couldn’t see it. Maybe I didn’t want to see it. No, I know I didn’t want to see it. I made excuses and gave ultimatums, I broke every one of my self-made rules to stay with him. I loved him so deeply nothing could tear us apart, until death.

As I walked into the church that Friday I was greeted by all the people that walked out of his life. The look of remorse in their eyes made me angry. The tears stains on their cheeks made me gag. These people walked away when it got hard. These people were part of his problem, I thought. It never occurred to me that, maybe I was part of his problem, too. Twelve years later, I realize that we all either enabled him, walked away, or gave up on a man that could have done great things. 

He was my drug. I was his dealer. He was my black knight and I was the princess he couldn’t quite save. There will always be a hole in my heart with caution tape draped across the middle. That hole is meant to be there. That hole has his name stuffed down inside.

Laura Birks is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. She has a husband and 5-year-old twin boys. She is a regular contributor for and regularly writes for She spends her time finding the silver lining in this thing we call life. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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Laura Birks is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. She has a husband and 5-year-old twin boys. She is a regular contributor for and regularly writes for She spends her time finding the silver lining in this thing we call life. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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