‘A drunk with hopes and dreams’

One of my favorite readers has submitted this obituary from the Rapid City Journal for our continuing series, “The Art of the Obit,” which highlights those obituaries that break the cliche and chronicle the life of the deceased in a more human way.

It doesn’t get more human, perhaps, than a young woman who drank herself to death. Her funeral was today.

Erin Wagman, also known as Erin Borgmann, died of acute alcohol poisoning on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, in Rapid City. She was 42-years-old. She died alone.

Erin was born Jan. 15, 1971, in Rapid City. For her new, 18-year-old mother, she was a handful — precocious, bossy, cranky — and unusually independent for a tyke who still wore diapers.

She attended Rapid City schools, where her favorite classes were Art and Music. Her favorite place was her grandparents’ ranch, out in the paddock where her grandmother taught her horseback riding. She loved grooming and could turn a burr-snarled mare’s tail into a salon-worthy coif like a pro.

Erin loved Duran-Duran, double denim, and — after a hellish time learning how to drive a stick — her crummy little first car, a tiny white two door named “Shoe.”

In spite of her rocky “wild child” adolescence, Erin graduated from Stevens High School in 1989, then went on to earn an MFA in Studio Art from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She then attended Eastern Virginia Medical School, where she was granted an MS in Art Therapy.

She became a Licensed Clinical Therapist in Denver, where the steep Rocky Mountains and a crush on Lance Armstrong turned her into a devoted cyclist. She joked that her bike was worth more money than her car and for years, used the power of her own legs to commute 20 miles to and from work.

Surely Erin’s descent into alcoholism happened incrementally, but most of us witnessed just the four final years, the point at which she had fallen so deep that she couldn’t be reached. Like that independent toddler, Erin did alcoholism her way, and along the path — tragedy after tragedy and crisis after crisis — her strength never wavered. She was an optimistic drunk, a drunk with hopes and dreams, a drunk that was going to make it. She hoped someday to write a book about her recovery.

Erin is survived by her son, Charlie Borgmann, age 9, of Westminster, CO; by her sister, Rachel Bredemus, her crazy dog Hope, and her parents Bruce and Deborah Wagman, all of Lawrence, KS; as well as her grandfather, Mick Vickers of Rapid City. She will also be loved and missed by her friend Lawton Thompson of Tulsa, OK.

With heartfelt gratitude, the family thanks all of those who cared for, counseled and even incarcerated Erin during her journey.

Erin’s memorial service will be at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, at Osheim & Schmidt Funeral Home, 2700 Jackson Blvd., with Fr. Brian Lane officiating.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Pennington County Humane Society.

Though she died alone, her online guestbook is overflowing, including this touching one from a classmate who also struggled with alcoholism:

Erin’s death has touched my heart in such a way I can’t express. I went to school with Erin and I also have had a tremendous and life changing battle with alcoholism in the past 4 years also. I had numerous loss and tragedy in my life which lead to using alcohol as a way to “check out”. I too had legal battles and everyone fighting for my life, except for me! I have now found myself again and every day battle those thought to pick up that drink to numb the pain. I have the utmost respect for you in telling Erin’s story, people need to understand the emotional hole in a person’s life but also know, until I was ready to fight for my own life, my children, parents, friends, doctors etc….could do nothing. We are not “bad” people, we are just lost people looking for a way to stop the hurt! Please know she knows how hard you fought for her…and you have no idea how much her story will affect the struggling alcoholic! I pray for you and your family to understand this loss, but I also know that Erin’s pain is gone now and she can finally have a peaceful soul! Prayers to you and everyone who loved Erin.

(h/t: @kcmpls)