It's been 10 years since my friend Bulmaro Junior passed away. His death was one of three that escalated my already heavy drinking. He was my good friend, and he was also my drinking buddy. We loved drinking together. He lived across the street from me and we called ourselves "backyard neighbors".
Anyone who is close to their neighbors might know what this means. We can be polite and friendly in the front yard while bringing in our groceries, and then be our real selves in the backyard.
This usually included drinking, smoking, and swearing for me.
Sometimes tears and always rip-roaring laughter about the dumbest stuff.
The way he mimicked our kids tossing their Capri Sun straw sleeves in the yard is…to date…the best stand-up comedy routine that I have ever seen!
As a father of five, he had to keep his sense of humor.
There’s nothing I appreciate more than someone who can make me laugh.
Junior made me laugh at our first meeting and every interaction since.
He was a major party boy.
Jagermeister shots and icy cold Modelos for everyone upon arrival.
There was always salt and limes on the patio table.
Always have a cooler full of drinks.
He never ran out.
He had the best playlist in town.
He introduced me to the Gipsy Kings music.
He was the shortest guy with the tallest personality.
He confidently owned every room he ever walked into.
He was Mexican, funny, and generous.
A talented and feisty boxer with the strength of a bull.
His backyard was one of the few sacred places that got me out of my high-strung, stressed-out, perfectionist nature and allowed me to be free.
His wife is my best friend, B. She is redheaded, gorgeous, and so honest that it gives me a lump in my throat.
When we lost him, she lost everything.
He was one of the best buddies I will ever have.
A favorite memory is when he bought me a coconut bra as a souvenir from Florida.
Without going into details, let’s just say we got our mileage out of that joke for a long time.
Looking back, his death came right after my Dad’s. I remember him being so sad for me when my Dad died. His empathy and compassion for this touched me. He knew me on a deeper level than most men did. He was a real friend. I told him stuff that I usually save for girlfriends only.
His funeral was one of three eulogies that I performed in three short years. The honor of eulogizing the lives of my loved ones was my excuse to not let myself feel the pain of loss. I performed instead of feeling grief.
I told myself that, “The show must go on! Get over it.”
These one-after-another, out-of-order deaths all came without warning.
This was the beginning of the end for me.
Alcohol was the only solution that I had to stuff my grief and pain away. I shoved it in a corner and never looked at it again. I did what I thought I needed to do. Move on. March forward. Be there for his family. Do not allow myself to feel. I am just his friend; his wife and kids are the real victims here. I did not allowe myself to feel.
When I was first called to the hospital with the news that Junior was sick, I dropped everything to be there. I saw for myself what grave condition he was in. I hate to use the word grave, but that is how morbid it felt. That was how morbid it was. I told him I was on his team. Just like Nemo in the movie, when he’s caught in the net, we will all just swim down. I was swimming down to save his life. I was using all my power to just swim down. We could fix this. It was bad news, for sure, but it was just temporary. I demanded he swim down too. He agreed. He smiled. He had just watched that movie; he knew exactly what I meant.
It was our pact to just swim down. Hard.
Then we laughed about how much my husband sweats when eating hot foods because we just had to stop with the swim-down/death talk.
I locked eyes with him. We knew what we
I came home and told my family the sad news. I begged my husband to tell me that I was wrong. I begged him to tell me I was being my usual dramatic self. That Junior wasn’t dying. It would all be okay. Stop catastrophizing.
The next day, I went back to the hospital with my whole family and a care basket. The coconut bra was tucked in the back. I reminded Junior of this favorite Coldplay song and sang to him, “Well, that was when I ruled the world,” before I left and thanked him for being King of our tree-lined street. Reminding him of the empire he built and of his power. My little sick friend was losing weight; his skin was the wrong color. He was standing against a wall with his IV and hospital gown. You’re the King, buddy. Remember that. Swim down. “Get well”, I said as I left.
That was not the last time I saw him.
I was drunk the last time I saw him. There was a huge fundraiser for him, and he was too sick to attend. This was a shock because the whole event was planned for him to be there. No one wanted to admit that he was as sick as he was. We were all denying this fact. He knew it, though. I know he did. I knew it too, even though I was ignoring it. Everyone wanted to see him, but very few actually could since he couldn’t make it to his own fundraiser. I had a backdoor pass. I was invited back to his house after the party. I marched in and sat on his lap. I laid myself on his sick body. Drunk and emotional. I told him all about how much he was loved. I was excited to tell him everyone that showed up. Even the people we mutualy disliked. He tolerated me laying on him. Talking too close. Slurring too much. He appreciated my attempt. I know he wanted me to get off of him, and he needed to rest. I know he knew that our drunken antics were over. He was no longer joining in with my drinking and avoidance of reality.
The end was near.
He was gracious and polite to me. He was not judgy. I was still swimming down hard, determined to save him, and ignoring anything to the contrary.
A few days later he left for a spontaneous trip of a lifetime with his family to Mexico.
After a week in the beach sun his wife B, flew back home with their kids.
His best friend flew home with his body the next day.
He was born and died in Mexico.
He was floating down a river the day before he died. I think he was swimming home, like we talked about. Not in the way I was begging him to do. To stay with me, but instead floating to his next party in the afterworld.
For 10 years, I’ve been letting go of his net. Learning to live without him. Being friends with a widow. It is a heartbreaking task most of the time. I have stopped swimming down hard like it was my job. I have stopped shoving my pain in a corner. Sometimes it comes out sideways. I will talk about it now. I go on any podcast that invites me, and I talk about it.
I put down the drink, and I picked up permission to feel my feelings.
My drinking buddy, Junior, would have loved me sober. He would not have made it weird like many people do. He would invite me to the party, as he always had. He would have my (bullshit) alcohol-free beers to share, and he would greet me at the door in a coconut bra. I know it. Not because he’s dead and a legend, but because he was inclusive and he loved me. He would love me anyway I showed up. He would be proud of me, and to be honest, he would probably be relieved that I quit too.
I like to think that.
I spent his 10-year death anniversary on the treadmill, listening to The Gipsy Kings. I’ve had many losses since. I’ve even done more eulogies. I’ve gotten more bad news about loved ones being sick. I know how to take care of myself now. Sobriety taught me that.
Grief is the topic of our INSIDER Masterclass this month led by Chief Grief Officer, Barri Leiner Grant of The Memory Circle. You get this Masterclass plus another one (new Masterclass Recordings each month), weekly group coaching support, and 24/7 private mobile all for connection. $29 a month cancel anytime. Join us Insider Community We’d love to have you and support you wherever you are in your alcohol-free journey and your grief journey too.