It Should’ve Been Me

deathMy oldest sister was my idol. I didn’t look at her as a role model because she set the bar too high. When I was nine years old, my sister started having strange symptoms. She was in Nursing School in Madison at the time and her doctors couldn’t pin down what was happening. She spent months into years visiting doctors with no answers.

One Saturday morning, I woke up hearing my father’s sobs coming from the living room. Mom was there too, quietly trying to comfort him. They had finally received a diagnosis.  Kathy was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis.  In the late 50’s, early 60’s, very little was known about this illness. My dad continued to sob and I knew his heart was breaking. He said he wished it could have been him. With those words, I felt my heart break.

At first, Kathy’s symptoms were manageable. She had double vision and wore a patch over one eye. She had numbness on the left side of her body and her balance was seriously affected.

By the time I was eleven or twelve, Kathy was bedridden. She couldn’t get around unless it was by wheelchair.  My friends were nervous about coming to my house. This was also the time of the Tuberculosis outbreak in the US and parents were concerned that Kathy’s illness might be contagious.

To make a long story short, Kathy’s illness continued to ravage her body. The day after Mother’s Day in 1966, Kathy passed away. I had spent nine years caring for her. My parents needed time away on the weekends, so I would stay home and take care of Kathy.

This was the greatest challenge I have ever had to face. I have no regrets, only a deeply felt sadness.

After the funeral, my family went back to a normal life. Mom and Dad did some travelling on trips won through Dad’s work. My sister, Sandy and her husband were raising their family and working hard to reach their goals. I was a senior in High School and had no normal.  With Kathy gone, my purpose was a bit of a mystery.

I did well in school, but we had not investigated colleges. Kathy’s illness had created a huge financial burden and I didn’t think I could impose any further on my parents. Besides, I had no idea what I wanted to study or what career I wanted to choose. The next several years posed major challenges in my life. I had a marriage proposal and thought this might satisfy my emptiness. Marriage had worked well for my parents and for my sister, Sandy. It seemed like a reasonable next step. So, I went for it.

I had spent my formative, developmental years caring for my sister and putting any needs I might have on the back burner. From this situation, I developed a resilience and a flexibility and found that these traits served me well. My greatest strengths became my greatest challenges as I truly did not know who I was or what I wanted in this new life.

After two failed marriages, I put myself into therapy.  It felt like a very special treat to be able to begin to understand who I was and to begin to form an idea of what I wanted.  I found it very easy to say what I didn’t want and not so easy to discover what I wanted. It finally came out in my therapy work that I felt it was all right to have lived if I wasn’t happy. That was a huge eye opener for me.

As time went on, my skills of endurance, tolerance, empathy and understanding continued to develop. I found that I frequently fell into the caretaker role. It came very naturally to me. Slowly, over time, I began to recognize things that I loved to do.

deathI enjoy public speaking. I am happy when I can help another person find out truths about themselves and work towards solutions. I enjoy sharing life stories with others. I am energized by doing podcasts and writing with my Sidetracked Sisters. I think about Kathy and miss her everyday and I have learned to know that she would be pleased that I am happy. 

My growth has been despite her death and because of her life. RIP Kathy and thank you for my life lessons.

Who is Judy

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