Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sheila

There is no saying that makes me crazier than when someone remarks, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” I find it so lacking in spiritual empathy and warmth that it seems more like a pat on the head. I understand that people are trying to be helpful while saying it, but it seems to me that it puts a burden on the grieving to snap out of it because God just wouldn't dish you a crappy hand unless he was sure you could take it. Are tragic events and devastating health crises doled out based on your perceived backbone and fortitude? I'd like to think not.

My dad’s brother, Paul, married Sheila after a long courtship and shortly after, she became pregnant with twins. While driving home from a movie one night, they were hit head-on by a drunk driver who crossed the center line and slammed into them. Sheila was seven months along at the time and went into labor. Their twin girls were born but did not live more than a few hours and all the anticipation of welcoming those babies was over and done in a single night. Instead of soon-to-be parents picking out cribs and bedding, they were picking out caskets and burial plots. A year and a half later, Kerri was born followed by her brothers, Matt and Jason. On Thanksgiving day of 1983, their family came to my parents' house to celebrate and the following day Kerri went into cardiac arrest. She could not be stabilized and was moved to intensive care at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. She would never leave the hospital and died in February at the age of 14.

What caused her to have such critical heart issues at such a young age could never be determined while she was alive, but an autopsy revealed that she had Freidrichs Itaxia – a rare congenital defect that attacks the muscles surrounding the heart. With that knowledge in hand, her brothers were tested for the disease and Jason was found to have it as well. He was given a heart transplant but the very drugs he took to prevent rejection of his new heart caused cancer. He died at the age of 19 and for the third time they were in a funeral home picking out a casket for a child.

The marriage between my uncle and Sheila did not survive after Kerri's death and both of them dealt with crippling depression. Sheila's would result in hospitalization, alcoholism and shock treatments. The years dulled the anger between the two of them and though they couldn't be married to each other, they remained friends. Through it all, Sheila was the family photographer and all of us have countless photos from her with the date, event and subjects clearly marked on the back.

Now the unofficial memory keeper for our family is losing her own memory to Alzheimers. She still seems to know who my mom is (or maybe she's been well-coached) but the name of her only living child who has become her caretaker sometimes escapes her and surely these latest circumstances must make even God weep.

2 comments:

  1. Heartbreaking. Perspective is restored.

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  2. A dose of reality for those that are complacent and comfortable.

    ReplyDelete