Text by Katie Kerl, Copyright 2018
Slideshow: Kerl Family Archives, Copyright 2018
FAMILY: TILL DEAT H DO WE PART?
A statement usually made at weddings. In this circumstance I am talking about when family members get sick, or pass away. Nothing breaks up a functional family like death, inheritance money, and assets. I come from a very large family. My dad is one of 9 children, and my mother is one of 5 children. I could not have asked for better family as a child on either side. Everyone supported each other, huge holiday parties, happy hours, and summers on the River.
When my grandparents died on both sides the family dynamic changed drastically. All of the sudden everyone was arguing over possessions. A grieving family left behind is a dangerous thing if nothing is sorted out before the death occurs. A sibling who feels slighted in a grieving state only becomes resentful, and is almost impossible to console. A decade later some of the family is still divided. I hope one day they can drop the superficial issues they have with each other. You never know when someone walks out the door if that’s the last time you will see them.
In a totally different situation, I had back to back years of my parents getting sick and almost dying. The experiences were like night and day. Having gone through it to a certain degree, I get it. I sat in the hospital numb, with my mom and her newly diagnosed autoimmune disease crippling her muscles. Polymyositis is a muscle disease that involves inflammation of the muscles or associated tissues, such as the blood vessels that supply the muscles. A myopathy is a muscle disease, and inflammation is response to cell damage. My mother went from being healthy to lying in a hospital bed not being able to lift her head or swallow. Her best friends were amazing. I would not have survived that time if not for them. My mother’s other two brothers and their wives were also a great help to her, along with everyone who contributed to her new home.
I have my own built up anger towards superficial cousins from that side of the family. They wouldn’t come see my mother in the hospital, help move her from her place, visit the assisted living home she was in, or help move her into her new place. Yet, I was receiving invitations to wedding showers, weddings, and holidays. To me there was nothing to celebrate. When their only excuse for not seeing their aunt was, “we were living our lives”. My response to their most genuine invite was, “excuse me while I get to live mine again”. I did not want to take part in celebrating their lives when my mother almost lost hers. She is in remission, working, and will be on disability for the rest of her life.
On the other hand, I have my father who I am the spitting image of. He had been sick with cancer for quite some time. Last winter it took a turn and I almost lost him in the emergency room. This was a totally different experience despite having to work through it. When I could not be there I received text and call updates from every friend and family member that stopped to see him. His hospital room was like a party at one point. That is how I imagined support to be going through something like that. It only confirmed that I should feel that way about the previous experience. My cousin Mike takes time out of his work day to go to doctor appointments I cannot take off for, being an only child that means the world to me. We are very lucky to have him and everyone else that has been there for us through this time.
My mother and I are very different personality wise. She is a saint, and way better human inside then I can strive to be. She taught me to be resilient; to get up when life throws you down and become a better person. She didn’t let me give up on myself when I was recovering from my car accident, and always reminds me it is the little things in life that truly matter. She deserved that same level of support that my father had in the hospital. If I have learned anything from both situations; it is to pick and choose my battles and be happy in the moment.
I also believe in choosing your family. After experiences like these I quickly found out who would be there for me when it counted. Even if I don’t get to see them all the time, I have some very irreplaceable friends that I consider family. My boyfriend Oliver also refused to give up on me through all of this. I was pushing him away unintentionally with my emotional highs and lows, I did not want to put all of that on him. I was used to dealing with it on my own, that I knew how to do. Letting him in took some time to break down the giant wall I had built up. He took me to the hospital after his 12 hour days, sat with me, wiped every tear from my face, and made me laugh when I thought I forgot how to.
As the holiday season approaches, before you start arguing over who will be hosting what party, and making what dishes. Ask yourself, “Is this worth the argument”? Ask your single family members “are you happy”? Not “when you are going to have a family”? Take photos with your parents. Ask them if they need help, as we age if you are tired your parents are exhausted. Keep the traditions your grandparents started, bake cookies, and decorate. Be there for your friends who may not have family here. I am very fortunate to celebrate another holiday season with my parents. I am going to remind both how far they have come, and how truly grateful I am to have such strong resilient parents. Happy Holidays!
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