Sunny days seem to hurt the most. I wear the pain like a heavy coat. I feel you everywhere I go. I see your smile, I see your face, I hear you laughing in the rain. Still can't believe you're gone.
-- Kenny Chesney
She hates that she cries, calls herself a "sissy" as she brushes away the tears, but the anguish that has taken up permanent residence in Dolores Presley's soul surfaces anew as she shares the last note her son wrote to her.
"Mom, I know you will never understand the hate I feel for myself is greater than your love for me."
Presley takes a moment to compose herself.
"He was in so much pain," she says. "In the end his kidneys and his liver just shut down, and his body retained every bit of fluid it produced. He literally drowned."
William Earley Presley was 48 when he died on June 6 of last year. The health complications that led to his untimely end were attributable to extreme alcohol addiction.
"He went to five treatment centers, but he never lost the cravings that were always with him," Dolores Presley says of her son. "Some people who knew him said he had an addictive personality and that made it easier for him to become addicted.
"He wanted so badly to beat this, but he couldn't. Bill was so smart. He told me once that with alcohol addiction it ceases to be a physical thing and becomes a brain thing. I walked that lonely road with him as he tried so hard to get his life back, but he just couldn't. And it was such a lonely, hateful road."
Presley smiles as she talks about the son who was happiest in the outdoors, a hunting rifle or fishing pole in his hands. She proudly notes that he'd taken her admonition to "live life to the fullest" to heart.
But alcohol became more and more a part of Bill Presley's life, so much so that it finally consumed him.
"He grew up, spent a summer working at Avalanche Peak in Yellowstone National Park, fell in love, married his college sweetheart, did the things he always wanted to do," Dolores Presley says. "But little by little he became an alcoholic, and he hated himself for it.
"He burned two kitchens down, flooded two apartments, lost his family, lost his home, lost all his adult toys and eventually lost his pride. And the alcohol took control. I know I was something of an enabler, but I couldn't just stand by and let him fall to his rock bottom. I made sure he had a clean bed, made sure he had groceries and I took his keys so that he couldn't drive when he was drunk."
Friends have told the grieving mother her pain will eventually subside, but the seven months since her son's death have not lightened the burden that weighs constantly on her heart. She has, however, started back doing some of the things that had long filled her busy days: playing bridge with friends, going to movies, reading, working out at the gym.
And she's decided she wants to help other mothers avoid the pain that is her constant companion.
"It's all around us," Presley says and she ticks off the names of children of prominent Albany citizens who also lost their lives to alcohol and drug addiction. "This disease knows no racial, cultural or socio-economic boundaries. It's not just street people; it's everyone.
"I want to do something; I want people to know this horrible disease is out there. They can call me, and I'll talk to them. The thing is, though, the same way my son couldn't explain addiction to me, I can't explain losing a child. Until you walk in those shoes, you have no idea."
A wistful smile crosses Presley's face.
"I can remember my Bill and his two young buddies who used to do everything together," she says. "Now all three of them are dead, taken by their addictions to drugs and alcohol. It's not supposed to happen that way.
"I don't know what I can do, but I've asked God to use me to help other parents who are hurting. If I'm not able to help them, I can at least cry with them. And I can tell them about my Bill. I've never been ashamed of him, and I never stopped loving him. And now I don't want his life to have been meaningless."
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcheralbanyherald.com.