The Life and Death of Riley: The Last Days of a Chronic Alcoholic

Many of the unattended deaths (or undiscovered deaths) that our team at Eco Bear is called upon to address involve people who’ve died as the result of alcohol, drug abuse or addiction. Such was the case with a 40-year old man I’ll call Riley, changing his name for privacy’s sake. Certainly, Riley’s story has its own unique features. Nonetheless, the tale of the end of his life is quite like that of many other people in Southern California and elsewhere in the U.S.A. that die every year as a result of alcohol, drug abuse or addiction.

The Life of Riley

We never did learn much about what Riley’s life was like before alcoholism consumed so much of him physically, emotionally, and mentally. By the time he reached 40-years of age, his addiction to alcohol had wreaked havoc on his body. His alcohol addiction stripped him pretty much of everything he may have owned at a prior point in time in his life.

There was nothing particularly complicated about Riley’s life in those final months. He had taken residence in a trailer owned by a woman who also lived there. We weren’t sure how long he lived in the trailer. His room was stark and generally unkept.

Having a small place to call “home,” Riley set course on pretty much the same routine every day of the week. He would wake in the morning but kept himself on his bed until just before the nearest liquor store opened for business. Day in and day out, Riley experienced truly uncontrollable shakes when he awoke every morning. Indeed, he’d come to believe that the shakes were what woke him up each morning.

He had precisely computed how long it took him to walk from his room in the trailer to the liquor store, pulling himself out of bed with just enough time to walk the several blocks to get to the merchant at the time the doors opened for the day. He called the ritualistic morning trip to the liquor store his trip to pick up his “medicine.”

Once inside the liquor store, Riley would waste no time buying a fifth of Burnett’s Vodka. In the past year, he always downed a slug of the sharp liquor the moment he took a bottle from the shelf in the store. The shop owner and workers didn’t care. Riley always paid and was always polite. He didn’t hang around the store begging for change or drinking, as was the case with a considerable number of shop regulars.

If the weather was decent, Riley would wander around for at least part of the day. Inclement weather brought him home sooner. Most days, rain or shine, Riley was back in the trailer not long after noon. He typically would watch television and drink. He particularly enjoyed the television court programs. The plights of some of the people on the shows sometimes made him feel a bit better about his own situation.

The Death of Riley

Riley knew that his kidneys and liver were in a sorry state. That all came to a proverbial head on an otherwise ordinary day. He returned to the trailer with his daily allotment of booze, crawled onto his bed to watch television, and unceremoniously died early in the afternoon.

Riley’s landlord, who shared the trailer with him, was an older woman named Bethany. She’d been battling cancer for some time and only recently learned that she was cancer-free after undergoing several rounds of chemotherapy. She had a light step in her pace and was spending more time that unusual out and about with friends and family. Within about 24 hours of Riley’s death, she realized that she’d not seen him for about a day. She didn’t barge into Riley’s room and in fact went about her business for a second day. Riley had ended up arrested for public intoxication several times, including when he lived in the trailer. Bethany assumed that was the state of affairs.

As the third day dawned, Bethany wrongly believed she heard Riley in his room. It was morning and time for him to make his liquor store run. Believing she heard him, but not seeing him, she knocked on the door of his room and received no answer. She called his name and them opened the door a crack. It was then that she saw the slightly discolored remains of Riley sprawled on the bed.

Bethany called the police and within a short time officers were on the scene as well as deputies from the county coroner’s office. While they were on site, Bethany contacted our company to arrange for our biohazard cleanup services.

When the remains were removed from the trailer, our work at the premises began. As we were undertaking the biohazard cleanup, a tired looking older woman arrived at the scene. The woman was Riley’s mother.

She made one request of us. She really didn’t want any of Riley’s possessions – not that he had many anyway. (Certainly, she could have taken anything of Riley’s she may have desired. She asked if she could have one item. She asked if we could give her one of the pillow cases from her son’s bed.

With one of Riley’s pillow cases in her hands, she hugged the piece of bed linen close to her as if it were her son himself. She smelled the pillow case in a way a mother does with her newborn baby.

In that moment something stood out with brilliant clarity. No matter the sad tableau before us in the small trailer, for that fleeting moment a grieving mother was able to hearken back to a time when her now-gone son was but a little baby she cradled in her arms.