Some months back, my family went through something tough that none of us wanted to happen. My cousin, Manj, died because of his alcohol addiction. He was 35. For a while, it’s been something I’ve thought about writing about. It’s a difficult thing writing about a family member who’s no longer with us.
Manj and I used to be round each other’s houses all the time when we were younger. As an only child, I enjoyed visiting my cousins a lot, and Manj was the closest who lived to me, and closest in age for me to play with. We’d have sleepovers, go to the park, and play Lego a lot. I mean a lot. We had bags of the stuff. It was because of him I got into Lego at all. And Michael Jackson. He said he liked a song from the Bad album, and I duly made my Mum buy me a copy. But he had such imagination when it came to the Lego that it was the primary thing we enjoyed.
In later years, computer games became the thing we started to share in common. Actually though, he just used to enjoy watching me play. I had all iterations of Nintendo, and Super Mario was the common game across all the new devices. I’d sit there and try and complete the levels, and he’d sit there just watching and guiding me on. He was my first experience of having someone coach me to do better and more. Through gaming of all things!
During our late teenage years we started to grow apart. He was quite a social guy, with a lot of friends, and enjoyed having a drink whenever he could. It was quite some years later when we found out that it was far more serious than we had realised. I would still make the effort to go over to visit him and hang out, and movies became the thing we had in common. He loved movies of all sorts, but in particular he loved sitcoms. Friends was his favourite sitcom. When I used to work at Blockbuster Video, we took good advantage of my discount and he ended up owning all the seasons on box sets.
The early to mid-twenties came and went as a blur. We’d meet when we could, but life was just getting in the way. I was at uni, my own things going on. He dropped out of college and never went on to study further. He was in and out of work and never had a permanent job. One night my Aunt rang the house asking my Mum and me to come over as he’d had too much to drink and didn’t know what to do with him. He self-harmed that night.
His sister’s and Dad tried to convince him he needed help. He was far too stubborn about this and never accepted it. They made sure his friends knew what extent things had gotten to, and that they supported him. But it just got worse. Over time his anger levels got worse and he would lash out at his parents, sisters and nieces and nephews.
As happens as you grow older, sometimes you fall out. And we did. I know it was because of the drink, but I didn’t excuse it. I was angry with him about some things and would not forgive him easily. After a while he would apologise. He contracted diabetes in his late twenties. He stopped working altogether and was claiming benefits. Here was a clever guy, who could have a very intelligent conversation with you and was sitting in his bedroom staying closed off to the world. He stopped attending family functions except for the big important events. He was convinced the family were talking about him and saying how he had brought shame on the family.
On my wedding day I asked him to be the equivalent of my ring bearer. He did me proud that day and I am grateful he did this for me. My wife remembers him for being someone in the family who would always make time to talk to her and make her feel welcome, for which she was grateful as a newcomer. When my wife was pregnant with the twins, and she had to spend weeks on and off in the maternity ward, he would visit. When they were born he was happy as Larry and made the odd effort to come and visit. He had gout by this stage and had lost immense weight. But he wanted photos with my boys and he was protective over them when others would try and smother them.
In August last year he went into ITU because he was having a hypo. He had tubes coming in and out of him and we had no idea if he was going to make it. Thankfully he pulled through. But he just wasn’t the same since. After many weeks in rehab and being cared for he was sent home. He succumbed to his desire and went out for a drink. That week he was back in ITU. On the morning of 4th March he took his last breath.
Today would have been his 36th birthday. Thanks Manj for the memories, you were a loved brother by your sisters and I looked on you the same. I pray to Waheguru that you have gained peace and you are in His grace. I’ll be sure to make sure my kids know who their Uncle was.