My friend Frank

I want to tell you about my friend Frank, and why it took a month for anyone to realise that he was dead.

Image description: black and white photo of a chair with a bunch of flowers laid on it.

This story is about alcoholism and it contains graphic descriptions of death.

When I moved into my flat over three years ago, Frank was the first neighbour I met. He was a cheerful ball of energy, he was a character. For my moving in present he brought me a chair. “Have you nicked this from the beer garden downstairs?” I asked. “Yeah, but no one saw me.”

Almost every morning we’d sit out on his patio drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and talking absolute shite. His catch phrase was, “Well this is it, isn’t it?” It never really made sense. It’s strange the things that stick with you when someone’s gone, the loveable little quirks. But as the years went on, those mornings became few and far between, and eventually they stopped altogether.

The first thing Frank told me when I met him was that he had seizures. “Hi I’m Frank, I live at number eighty, and I have seizures but don’t be scared of me!” I knew I liked him already, and we bonded over seizures as I have them too. Sometimes we laughed about them and sometimes we were angry, but we got each other. I remember once when I was outside my front door in tears and throwing up, he rubbed my back and told me everything was going to be ok. He was kind.

Frank really was a beautiful soul, until he drank, and then he wasn’t Frank anymore. He was sober when we met, but that slowly changed, and this is when we started to drift apart. Frank always drank alone and wouldn’t be around anyone when he was drunk, which meant I saw him less and less. I don’t think he liked himself when he drank, and I think he knew that other people didn’t like him either. That’s hard to say, but it’s true. During times of recovery, we’d grow closer, but then he’d relapse and we’d grow apart again. It’s just how it was. His illness wanted him to be alone and it succeeded.

But even when it was at its worst, I’d still see him every now and again when I was doing a late night laundry run or nipping outside for a smoke. He’d always be returning from the 24 hour booze shop, that’s the only place he ever went when he was drinking. White carrier bag in hand, bottles clanking, Frank only ever bought alcohol past 3am because he knew he’d be less likely to be seen. And he didn’t want to be seen. I still liked Frank, but at this point Frank was so buried under the illness, he had become almost invisible.

Eventually, they found his alcoholism was causing the seizures. After that, I think his neurologist stopped seeing him, or he just stopped going. I assume he was referred onto another service, but he never went. He never received any help or support.

I never judged him, but I told him what I thought. I told him he needed help, I insisted that he should get it, and as time went on I got quite aggressive with my words. I tried to shock him into realising how poorly he was, and how desperately he needed support, but nothing worked. He couldn’t stop. And eventually I stopped trying to make him.

Over the last year I don’t think I ever saw him sober. He’d often tell me that it was his birthday, I think because he felt he needed a reason to explain why he was so drunk. And he really was as drunk as a person can be while still being able to stand. The last few times I saw him he didn’t look or sound like Frank anymore, in fact he barely resembled the man that I had first met.

Yesterday my neighbour knocked on my door and told me he’d called the police after smelling something coming from Frank’s flat. It took them half an hour to batter the door down, they walked in and straight back out again. The smell which seeped through the smashed down door was the most harrowing thing I’ve ever experienced. “He’s gone” one said.

The coppers said he had collapsed, most likely he’d had a seizure, and this had caused his death. He was last seen around a month ago, and the police believe this is when he died.

“Do you see this kind of thing a lot?” I asked one of the coppers after he’d interviewed me. “Never this bad.” he replied. I hadn’t quite grasped the severity of the situation at this point, I still don’t think I have now. “There’s a body to put in the coffin though, isn’t there?” I asked. After a painfully long pause, he replied “Mmm.”

Later on, after Frank had gone and everyone had left, I swept away the shattered door pieces. I put his chair back into its usual place, the very spot we used to sit and drink coffee together. And as I laid a bunch of flowers on his seat — something I know he’ll be pissed off about because “Why would you waste your money on flowers, you twat!” — I wondered how it had come to this.

How can an illness take over a person in this way? How can it isolate them so much that no one even knows when they’re gone? How do we live in a world where this can even happen? It was normal for me not to see Frank for months at a time, but that doesn’t stop the guilt I feel in the pit of my stomach. And the question going round and round in my head, one which I haven’t found the answer to, is how do you help someone who can’t accept help? Well this is it, isn’t it?

Frank is not my friends real name.