Children with Diabetes hosted a chat with Joe Solowiejczyk last week. It was an oppertunity for parents to think about how to talk to their T1 kids about this tragic news. On that chat was one of my good friends Kelly Kunik, Queen of Diabetesaliciousness™
After the chat, I sought out Kelly. Bear with me a second and I will explain why.
When our first child was born I looked around at my peers. Who exhibited the kinds of behaviors that I would like to see in my child when she became an adult? I then went and asked their parents what were the things they thought made for successful parenting. Here is a little YDMV tip: If your really want to flatter someone, ask them how they raised great kids.
The point was asking people I admire to share their experience to guide my actions as a parent.
This brings me to Kelly who I admire greatly. Kelly not only has type 1, some years ago she the horrific experience of a sibling passing away from complications of type 1.
Who better to learn from? I am honored by the trust and friendship she shows in sharing. Here are my questions and the lovely K2’s pearls of wisdom.
YDMV: Kelly thanks for sharing. Before anything else can you tell a story that introduces you sister to us as a unique individual?
YDMV: Yeah Kelley I’m sure. Everyone else will be too very soon.
(But folks you may need a Kleenex - make it a pack.)
K2: My sister Debbie was unique.
She was diagnosed with type 1 in the late 60's, before I came to be - in the wild child. dark ages. Urine testing and restrictive diets were the norm, everything was off limits. She was a Hippie and a
She wanted to be like everyone else growing up in the late 60's and early 70's -wanting to experience and experiment. She could be impish and funny, and like any sibling, she could be a major pain. But she was my older sister and I loved her. She taught me how to ride a two wheeler and would take me to the beach in the winter and teach me the names of all the different shells.
Debbie had problems, some diabetes related, many not. I think her biggest problem was that she tried so hard to be what she wasn't (she hated being a person with diabetes and she hated diabetes, & had issues with being the middle child,etc) that she never could fully relish in the wonderfulness of who and what she was.
YDMV: In chat the other night there was conversation about how to approch with kids about type 1 and mortality. You said with, “Honesty and knowing that you won't be judged is big when your a teen, especially if your a teen with diabetes.” Can you elaborate on that a little?
K2: Being honest with any teen re: mortality is important, because teens believe they are immortal. As you pointed out in the chat room- "Being an adolescent is hard and they need to think they are immortal to survive it". True words were never spoken my friend! If you can say to your child: "Hey, your my life, and as a parent, I'm going to worry about you- diabetes or not. I'm afraid of losing you."
Ask your kids "How can we deal with this together?" Seek out their advice on dealing with death. Let them know your there for them.
YDMV: You spoke about kids with diabetes having old souls can you explain how you see that impacting our conversations with kids on this difficult topic?
YDMV: Another line of the chat conversation was the impact of news like this on teens who are rebelling poor diabetes care. In summary people were asking if the news would help scare kids to better compliance. What are your thoughts about fear (and if you are game how did you feel about your own diabetes after you sisters passing but that may be crossing a line - your call.)
It wasn't until I was in my mid 20's that I realized that diabetes caused her death, not her addictions. I grew up in a diabetes pressure cooker, I wanted to be normal - just like Debbie did. The difference is, she wanted so badly to be normal, that it stirred up other issues. I was very lucky that I learned that everyone had a different view of what normal was- diabetes or not. I always was very comfortable with being "the kid" with diabetes in my grade, middle, & high school. I was uncomfortable with other things, like looking like the geek I was.
I was lucky that my parents said "Hey life with diabetes is your normal. It's not going anywhere- you have to learn to work with it." My father was a type 1. So is my oldest sister Donna and her son Brendan.
My dad told me when I was diagnosed that I needed to work WITH diabetes if I wanted to live an independent life. And I was fortunate that my parents let me actively participate in my disease. I got to pick if I wanted to have a potato or rice at dinner time, I learned to inject a month after I came home from the hospital and refused to let anyone else do it. I was proud of myself for being able to inject- and I secretly got a kick out of amazing my friends! I learned to test my urine- and that really worked for me...for a time. But Bennet, I made lots of mistakes as a preteen. I lied about my numbers, starting in the 6th grade- because I saw how sad,scared, and upset my parents got when my numbers were high.
The whole intuitive thing came to play re: fudging my numbers.
Do I wish I hadn't lied? YES I DO, OF COURSE. But I wanted to make them happy - I wanted to make everything all better. My mom told me years later that she wasn't mad at me, she was mad at diabetes and she felt terrible that in trying to be so good and perfect and protective, I felt I had to lie.
YDMV: What did your parents do right for you after your sister’s passing.
K2: B- My families world almost collapsed when my sister passed away. You couldn't write what happened to us. My sister died on Tuesday morning. The Thursday before I put my mother in the hospital for going into a-fibrillation and that Friday I put my sister in another hospital (where she went for dialysis 3 times a week) because she was sick and I couldn't take care of her by myself - I was in college- I was afraid.
My father was away in San Fransico for work and couldn't get a flight home until Saturday night. We were called to the emergency room at 2 am Sunday morning and the Dr's told that my sisters lungs were filling up with fluid. It was horrific. My sister was dying in one hospital and my mother was having major heart problems in another. Tuesday morning as my dad was about to follow my mothers ambulance to Philadelphia, the ER got a call and found him in the ambulance bay. They told him his daughter had died at the the other hospital- 10 miles away. I came home from the first day of winter semester to about 15 messages on my answering machine that told me nothing- and everything.
I didn't know if my sister or my mom had died. We couldn't tell my mom that my sister died because she was having heart surgery. SHe didn't find out for 5 weeks and missed Debbie's funeral. We all were shell shocked by the turn of events. We all just dealt with the shit storm anyway we could. We went through the motions of life. I wish I'd seen a therapist- I wish we all had. But we were just trying to get through one hurdle after another.
My parents taught (and showed me) during this time, that terrible things happen in life, but we have to keep going because the world refuses to stop because our heart is broken.
YDMV: Yet your writing has a clear joie de vivre - what part of that is Debbie?
K2: I'm not really sure. There are certainly elements of my sister in me. She loved to laugh, everyone in my family has a (most say sick) sense of humor. For a long time after her death I was afraid that what happened to her could happen to me. But I moved past that fear - thankfully.
Sometimes I think I live for us both. I wish she'd had the opportunity to experience the great support system PWD have today. I wish she could have experienced the diabetes freedoms that we take for granted now. There's a lot of things I wish.
When I think about Debbie, I think about the good and the bad- and learn from those memories. But mostly I try and think about her laughing, because when she laughed, I loved her the most.
YDMV: You get seven words to sum up (As if "When She Laughed, I Loved Her Most" isn't already perfect.)
K2: Everyone has "issues." OWN YOURS. Learn & Laugh often!
Yeah- that's more than 7 words- but I think you'll be OK with that ;)