Over the past few months I’ve noticed a lot of people dealing with family turmoil. When I say turmoil, I’m not referring to a crisis from a death or serious illness. What I’m talking about here is families not getting along for one reason or another. I find this very sad.
For me, where my beliefs and values on family came from is where it was taught to me. My foundation is the family that I grew up in. My mom, dad, and brother to be exact. I know now, when it comes to family, I am lucky. I grew up in one that was nurturing and loving. While my mom and dad were quite strict (yes, you were!), they too were always there for me, no matter what.
They still are.
I can’t tell you the number of times my parents helped Ken and I move, watched our dogs, took our pet as a pet (oh, college days), or strapped a mattress to the top of their car and drove it from Pennsylvania to Virginia (this didn’t work so well, but they still did it!). They also understood the pain Ken, Kari and I have been going through and have done everything in their power to make it easier. When we needed space, they gave it; in fact, they took this as a chance to rally troops in Pennsylvania to help out. They also, with a single telephone call, dropped everything to help move Kari into her new college house this year. And of course, my brother and sister-in-law and nephew joined them and did the heavy lifting.
They’re family… it’s what they do.
When Ryan was attacked, I never once thought to myself, I wish I would have done something differently when he was growing up. I truly believe in my heart that I was always there for Ryan. Sure, there were times when I was thoroughly exhausted and he would want picked-up or want to sit and talk for hours (usually this was the middle of the night). I never said no to him. Never.
The number of times I picked up the kids late at night are too many to recall. I actually enjoy it. I loved being with my kids and their friends. And I love being a mom! I also have memories of some of the more “crazy” nights. A few years back (I’m sure some of Ryan’s friends will remember this) I was the driver in a “toilet papering” escapade. Now I know ignorance is no defense, but I grew up thinking it was a fun prank kids did to their popular friends’ houses. That’s how it was where I grew up and having it done to you was hoped for. Apparently that’s not the case in our hometown of Ashburn. Our “escapade” ended up with the kids (and ME) taking the toilet paper back off the house in the middle of the night so the homeowner wouldn’t call the police. It was my most embarrassing moment, to which Ken only asked, how does it feel to be me?”
Ahhh, the good ole days.
Back to my point. While I desperately struggle each moment with what happened to Ryan, I have no regrets as his mom. And for this I am thankful. I don’t think I could live with myself if I did have regrets. I just couldn’t.
But, it’s not just my relationship with Ryan, it’s also Ken and Kari.
I’m a mom, it’s what we do.
Daughter and Sister
My sweet, sweet Kari. Wow, where do I begin? She epitomizes family. When Ryan was attacked, Kari was just a teenager beginning her senior year of high school. Prior to that tragic night, she spent her days on schoolwork, hanging out with her friends, and playing varsity lacrosse. Life was great.
When everything happened it was hard to know how she would handle it. Kari went above-and-beyond any, and all, expectations that I could have as a mother. To say she went from a teenager to a responsible adult overnight is an understatement. She put her life on hold. Everything was about Ryan. She came with us to Atlanta and tirelessly spent every hour of the day taking care of Ryan.
As a reminder, Ryan spent a few months “storming”; yes months. These episodes usually lasted about 18 hours each day. As Ken describes these to people, “it is the mind and body in chaos”. During this time Ryan’s heart rate would be up (150+), blood pressure sky-high, and temperatures frequently 105+ degrees (109.8 was his highest. I don’t know how he ever survived that). He would moan in pure agony. They were life-threatening events where Ryan was at risk of a heart attack (pulse), stroke (blood pressure), or catastrophic cellular protein breakdown (fever).
Kari went back-and-forth from Ryan’s room to the kitchen to get ice, then put the ice in latex gloves or baggies and bring them back to ice Ryan down. Her hands were numb, red, and raw; but it never stopped her. She would also wipe his body down with iced wash cloths, all the while comforting him. She worked so hard she was actually confused for a nurse in the ICU!
When Ryan’s temperature would come down, it often went the other way… fast. I remember more than a few times he was so chilled that we couldn’t even get the thermometer to register (he was below 92 degrees). Kari then went back-and-forth to a dryer (on the other side of the hospital wing) to warm blankets for him. She never complained. To her, it was her big brother that needed her and she was there. Ken and I needed her and she was there.
Still, to this day, she puts Ryan first. In fact, on Ryan’s birthday, Kari surprised us by coming home from college. She simply said, “it’s Ryan’s birthday, I would never miss it”. She is truly incredible. To think a young girl would selflessly give up everything to devote to her family is monumental. As she always says, “Ryan would do the same for me”.
But to her, she is a “sister”, it’s what sister’s do.
Husband and Dad
Next, my beloved husband, Ken. Wow, again. When we said our wedding vows 26 years ago and we promised for better or worse, I don’t think either of us ever imagined the “worse” being this bad. I also don’t think I could have ever imagined how my husband would honor this commitment. His dedication and devotion are beyond belief. He is a man of principle, honesty, and conviction in its purest form.
I don’t know how he does it. Ryan’s body is in incredible, just incredible, condition. And this is all Ken. He works with Ryan ALL day. EVERY day. He never complains. Well, I take that back, he does complain, but not about working with Ryan. For Ryan and our family, he is our rock.
The pain Ken endures, both mentally and physically, is heartbreaking. His body is bruised, scratched, and achy. He doesn’t realize it, but I sometimes see the tears welling up in his eyes and watch him push them away. I just wonder if the hurt he is feeling at that moment is from his body or mind (or both). But he’d have it no other way.
As I look back on our years together, I’m not sure why any of this would surprise me from him. Ken has always been a remarkable dad. He exemplifies fatherhood. He just couldn’t get enough of Ryan and Kari. He just wanted to be with them all the time. And they loved every moment with him.
Ken’s also considered the “cool” parent. He’s gracefully athletic, unbelievably smart, and so very, very funny. He makes us laugh all the time. I know I’ll later regret saying this because Ken’s head will swell even more than it already is, but he’s also quite handsome. Both of my kids take after their dad in many ways. That’s a good thing (for the most part). And, just like Kari, never once has Ken considered any other path in life.
When the kids wanted to play ball, he didn’t just take them in the yard and play with them, he also coached their teams. Anytime they needed a coach, Ken was the first to raise his hand. He took every opportunity to be their coach, on and off the playing field. He did this with precision, authority, consistency, and compassion; even when it meant doing nothing and letting them solve their own problems.
Like the one day I can still remember when I came home and Ken was “coaching” Ryan. Ryan was probably fourteen or fifteen years old at the time. Neither one of them knew I was there. I hear Ken from the other room (I remember it almost exactly because this should go in some sort of book):
“Ryan, this is your problem because you created it and allowed it to happen. Hiding from it up in your room or acting as though it never happened is never the answer. You own it and now you must deal with it. Make it right, but you should try to make it more-than-right. I am here for you, but I will not protect nor excuse you from your actions and obligations. You are young, but old enough to learn that adult decisions and behaviors have adult consequences. My son, you are fully accountable”.
That is being a father! Oh, how I wish every man would raise their children with so much wisdom and guidance. I’d bet Ryan would be with us today if they all did.
To Ken, family is first and foremost. When he says, “I’m the dad” he means it.
He’s a dad… it’s what dad’s do.
Don’t Miss the Chance
While I’ve always felt family comes first, the past three years have shown me just how important family is and how tragic it could be if petty differences pull apart.
So I leave you with a closing thought. As Thanksgiving rolls around in just weeks, take a look at your family. Are you doing everything you can? Would you have any regrets if something were to happen? Believe me, life can change in split second, and you might not get a chance to make a change. Reach out to your family, let them know how much you love them.
All my love…Sue