The Big Bingo

Montrose Daily Press [June 16, 2016] Kathryn R. Burke

When Granny went to that big bingo in the sky, she left her 3 grandkids a winning card. Judy, the oldest, used hers to get a divorce—she was in a bad marriage—and to pay off the mortgage and raise her two kids. Jenny, the youngest, was just 17. She used her share to go to college. She is now a marriage and family therapist.

John, the middle kid, spent his on cocaine. While the money lasted, he was a popular guy. John picked up the tab for the whole party crowd. He found a wife along the way, who had even more problems than he did. They both started hitting the bottle as well as snorting coke and, not surprisingly, sunk into a deep drug depression together.

Granny’s daughter, JennaLee, has been a close friend of mine for a long time. I’ve known those kids since their diaper days. JennaLee’s husband, Dick, is a builder, and he’s a good man. They met in college, and she, a math major, helped run the business since they opened their own firm.

JennaLee and Dick hoped John would join them one day, make it a real family business. John was a whiz on the computer and had mastered Cad Cam by the time he was 15.

By the time he was 17, John was a junkie. He was a high school senior when he drew Granny’s bingo card. A buddy gave him his first hit. John got hooked, started skipping school, hanging out with his buds. His grades dropped and he was held back a year. John was a skateboarder. He wore those silly pants with the boxers hanging out the top and legs constricted by the knee-level crotch. He got tangled up and fell frequently, repeatedly hurting his back. The doctor prescribed painkillers; he should have prescribed common sense—for both John and his parents.

JennaLee blamed John’s tardiness and erratic behavior on prescription drugs. Blissfully unaware he was self-medicating, she kept enabling his bad behavior. Dick was aware, but turned a blind eye. Jenny, studying about family interactions, got it, but she didn’t want to make waves. Judy, after her own bad experiences with an alkie hubby, kept quiet too,

John continued downhill. He tried working at the firm, but was habitually late or didn’t show up at all. The police brought him home drunk or stoned several times. After he married and moved out, his parents rarely saw him, other than when they were called to bail him out or haul him to the hospital for detox.

John is 43 years old, now, and on the list for a liver transplant. He lives at home again, sleeping on an air mattress in his parent’s living room. The wife is gone—she took off when the money ran out. John can’t work; his brain is fried and his liver is shot. JennaLee and Dick are retired. She has a serious chronic disease. Their retirement income is taking a hit from her illness and John’s escalating medical expenses. Both parents take turns driving John to and from doctor appointments. For the first few years after he returned home, he slept most of the day, was still doing drugs, and continued to be a heavy drinker. That has stopped now, and John is in serious therapy and medical intervenetion for his former drug and alcohol abuse as he waits for a new liver. Which he can’t get until he goes through counseling. Which is difficult to attend when he keeps winding up back in the ER with yet another, associated bad-health issue. Meanwhile, JennLee is literally wearing herself out trying to manage his health and her own.

This story is not going to have a good ending. It raises a lot of questions we parents need to ask ourselves. What could/should JennaLee and Dick have done to help this kid? When should they have intervened, and why didn’t they? Both of John’s sisters could see and recognize what was happening to him. Why didn’t they speak up? When are children old enough to be responsible with money? Is it wise to bestow an inheritance with no restraints on how or when it will be used? Why didn’t the family doctor call ‘Foul!” when he surely saw where John was headed.

Kathryn R Burke is the author of The Caregiver’s Journey series:  Navigating the Path and Building Your Care Team. Both are available at, which also lists current speaking engagements and book signings.