Susan Katherine Wierzbicki Kalis
by Joe Kalis
My mom is dying.
Not really something anyone likes to think about, let alone say out loud. But, it’s true. If you think about it, aren’t we all? When you see someone in their last days (however many there are for my mom we don’t actually know…more on that later), especially when it’s a parent, it delivers an unbelievable amount of thoughts and emotions.
Before I get into anything too deep, I just wanted to say that I’m writing this for a few reasons:
- I want people to know before she dies, in the event they want to reach out in some capacity.
- I don’t want to (personally or any of my mom’s loved ones) have to explain the same thing 1000 times, especially while grieving.
- I want to celebrate my mom’s life, and make sure everyone knows what the last 16 years has looked like, as well as what it will look like beyond her life here on earth.
So, we can start from the beginning of the end, 1998. Some of you know my mom well, some sort of do, and some of you have never met her but you do know her if you know me. There’s a lot of her in me, good and bad. 🙂
To set the scene, in 1998:
- My mom was 45 years old, working a variety of random secretarial jobs.
- My dad was 48, working for Marblehead Lime Corporation as a traffic director.
- My brother Dan was 22, in college at Eastern Illinois University.
- I was 17, a junior at Lincoln-Way High School
We were living in Frankfort Square, and living a pretty normal suburban life. We had moved to the suburbs from Chicago in 1989 for the prospect of a “better life” to raise a family in the suburbs. We’ve had an amazing upbringing, and anyone who knows the Kalis family well knows we are full of love and fun.
I’m extremely spoiled…Dan and I grew up in a loving household, and while my parents were by no means rich, they gave us whatever we wanted (within means, of course). They were the “cool parents”, who always let us have our friends over and hung out with us. Man, did we have some parties on the back deck in Frankfort Square!
Dan and I had it made, whether or not we realized it.
Then we got some news about my mom. She was stricken with Multiple Sclerosis. 45 years old, and given a death sentence, although nobody knew it right off the bat. It started off easy enough…my mom would (from what I remember, at least…my dad could likely tell a much different story) get tired quicker, feel pain & weariness in her legs…that’s how it began. Then came a cane. Then a walker (I think). And then our raised ranch home, with about a dozen stairs, wasn’t suitable anymore, and we had to get an electric stairway chair installed to bring her up and downstairs.
I can only imagine what was going on in my mom’s mind throughout all of this, or my dad’s. I was having a hard enough time trying to figure out who/what I was as a junior/senior in high school, and I assume getting into the rebellious punk rock music scene didn’t help. I was never rebellious against my parents (I don’t think), but I just don’t think I paid attention back then because it wasn’t too bad. I’m sure I’m missing a million details, but I don’t really remember much about what I thought of it all, except that my mom had an extremely hard time coping with it and thus began the depression and medications.
Ugh, I hate prescription drugs. Not sure if my mom did, or if she liked them because it made her feel “better”, but it changed everything about our lives. Pain killers, anti-restlessness, anxiety, depression, you name it…my mom eventually got a pill (or a few) for it. That’s all the doctors said they could do.
Nobody knows what they would do in that situation until it’s put upon them (God forbid), so I’ve learned to simply be as THANKFUL as I possibly can for everything in my life, from the simple breaths I’m allowed to take, to the delicious food I can taste, to the beautiful things I can see, and the amazing smells I can take in. Life is amazing, and if there’s nothing terminally wrong with you, NEVER COMPLAIN! (I’m talking to myself, first, because I’m so ungrateful at times, and I hate it).
Life is amazing. Appreciate it while you’re healthy.
Anyways, back to the journey. 1999 I graduated HS and went to Illinois State University where I continued to try to figure out life. Since I was away at college, I didn’t really get to see my mom’s condition worsen right in front of my eyes, and I honestly don’t even remember her or my dad saying anything about how awful it was, although I’m sure it sucked.
In 2002, my parents told me that they were taking a road trip out east to enjoy a trip while my mom still had a majority of control over her body (before she couldn’t anymore). Turns out they loved driving through the country so much that they decided to move to Virginia.
WHAT THE F*%^?
So, in March of 2003, 2 of my buddies and I drove 2 big ass moving trucks down to Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and settled my parents into the house they’d spend the next 10 years in…amongst the splendor of the Appalachian Mountains and their neighbor who had a dairy farm. Oh the smells. Granted, it was gorgeous. BUT VIRGINIA?! I digress.
The next 10 years were spent at a distance. We’d try to visit once or twice per year, and my parents came back once or twice as well, but that 10-year span was primarily a window a time where I was trying to figure out how to grow up, and my parents were at a distance.
I met Heather in October 2003.
I graduated college in May of 2004.
I proposed to Heather in October 2006.
I married Heather in June 2007.
Dan & Jess moved to Orlando in 2011
Heather became pregnant in September 2012.
Dan & Jess had Naomi in January 2013.
Mom and Dad moved back to IL in April 2013.
We had a kid in June of 2013.
Dan & Jess moved back to IL from Orlando in May 2014
All the while, my mom was slowly dying in Virginia…slowly growing weaker every day, and slowly losing more hope in her own mind (all the drugs obviously didn’t help).
By the time I convinced my parents to move back in April 2013, I knew our time was limited. We had a pretty hectic schedule, and were headed straight into having a baby, which didn’t make things any easier, but I was glad they were back to see it.
As of May 2014, my mom was put into “hospice” care, which basically meant that there was a team of nurses that would visit her regularly, and administer enough pain killers and whatever else to keep her comfortable as the end of the road became more visible. Drugs dosages have been increased, and her awareness is diminishing.
As of today, she sleeps almost all day, isn’t taking in any food and very minimal fluids, and is basically coasting into the last days of her life. Could be any day now.
She doesn’t look like you remember her.
She won’t be able to have a conversation with you.
But I know for a fact that there’s still an exorbitant amount of love in her heart for us (her family) and you. She loved her family and friends more than anything, and there was certainly never a lack of that in our home despite any of the dumb things any of us did to ourselves or each other over the years. She and my dad were always there for Dan and I, dragging us to numerous sporting events and helping volunteer in some capacity for most of them so that we could grow up confident that they cared for us. We went on more vacations than most of my other friends, and made a lot of amazing memories together. Some of you reading this have your memories with us too…it’s been an amazing life. I’ll be sharing a few of my favorite memories soon when we celebrate her life as she passes on from this chapter.
But more than anything, I wanted to tell a bit of a story of Mom’s life, since I know for a fact that she touched a lot of your lives, and if not directly, there are big pieces of her in me that you probably like, that I can’t take credit for.
We’re all completely at peace with my mom passing…she’s lived a good (albeit too short) life, surrounded with love and fun times…but the last few years, and CERTAINLY the last few months, she hasn’t really been living due to the state of her health…if you can understand what I mean. Life’s certainly a bitch sometimes, and this is certainly a shitty hand that was dealt. But we don’t blame anyone, and we’re not bitter. We are all very sad, as we’d love to have many more years together, but such is life. We will move on from this once she passes away, and create many more family memories and make it a point to cherish the time we have, and remember our mom/wife for being the amazingly loving person she is. I look forward to telling Emery stories of her grandma and try to instill in my kids the amazing traits that were instilled into me from such a wonderful person.
I wanted to get the majority of this story in writing so that we didn’t have to rehash it repeatedly and constantly remind ourselves of what’s going on. Your prayers for peace, strength and comfort are appreciated, and we look forward to hearing from and seeing some of you soon.
You’re welcome to contact me or Dan if you want to talk or have any questions, but you won’t be able to talk to my mom as she is no longer able to have a conversation. If you were close with my mom, and live near Grayslake, and would like to visit, feel free to be in touch.
The Kalis family loves you…just please remember to appreciate your life while you have it.
Joe Kalis | firstname.lastname@example.org | 224-392-6500
Dan Kalis | email@example.com | 312-404-4393
December 17, 2014
May 22, 2013
April 3, 2012