Koan’s Story — Part 1


“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end…”  

My dad passed away in the summer of 2001.  I was thirty-four years old.  That May, Dad had switched from a brand name to a generic version of his statin medication from the name brand in order to save money.  He had worked his entire career in purchasing could not resist the temptation to save a buck.  I’m not really sure, and it really doesn’t matter now if the pharmacist, prescribing doctor, or Dad got the information wrong for the dosing.  There was a significant difference between these two drugs. For most of May, Dad overdosed on statins.  In addition to clearing out the cholesterol in his bloodstream — the intended result —  this drug began to break down his muscles as well. So, at seventy-eight and after three by by-pass surgeries, the strain was too much for his already taxed circulatory system.  HIs kidneys all but stopped working in late June and he was gone on July 20th of that year.  What does this have to do with Koan?  My dad’s death really altered the way I think about family.  And, Koan was one of the outcomes from that.

The last six weeks of my dad’s life were grueling.  My Mom, my two brothers who live in Cedar Rapids, and I took turns spending nights with Dad in the hospital.  I won’t share the particulars, but these were long, difficult, dark nights.  Anyone who has needed to take care of a gravely ill person knows these types hardships.  By the middle of July, I was completely out of gas — emotionally and physically.  And, just at that time when things were darkest, my oldest brother, Mark, arrived.  He was working in Colorado at that time, but he was able to take time away from work and spend a number weeks with us.  It was like the cavalry showing up.  Some of the feelings of relief came from Mark being who he is — confident and reassuring.  But, honestly, it was just so incredibly helpful to add one more person to the nightly rotation.  It gave all of us — my two other brothers, Chris and Joel, as well as my Mom, just enough breathing room to face our next turn with Dad at night.  We had just enough resiliency to take care of ourselves and our families in addition to caring for Dad. There was a lot of sadness, but no fighting, anger, or other damaging emotional battles that can happen at times of extreme stress.   As strange as it sounds, I look back at that time, and as sad as the loss of my Dad still makes me feel, I feel proud and even happy or joyful thinking about that time.  I had shared an experience with my brothers where we were all at our best when the circumstances were really bad.

It took me a few years to unpack my emotions surrounding my Dad’s death.   Tiber was born in February that year, so I wasn’t thinking about growing my family more at that time.   In fact, I believed we were done having kids once Tiber was here.  I was really satisfied with having just two children — one girl and one boy.  There was symmetry in our family and we were very happy.  But, by 2004, I realized that as difficult as my Dad’s end of life had been, it had given me some wisdom.  I wanted my family to have the same supports I had.  I wanted one more child — not to take care of me — but to help the kids take care of each other. However, I was getting older — in my late thirties — so I felt that there was really only time to have one more child. 

I don’t believe in many absolutes.  I’m only certain of very few things.  I’m convinced that I married the right person.  I believe you reap what you sow — the notion of Karma, etc..  I’m also positive that the Universe or God has a sense of humor or at the very least a sense of the ironic (which I find funny).  I spent years convincing myself it was a good idea to have a third child to lighten the load.  But, things didn’t really work out that way. There’s no escaping the fact that life with Koan is more expensive, more difficult, and more complex. He certainly will not be able to shoulder difficult burdens with this brother and sister — at least not in the same way, I envisioned when Jeri and I decided to have a third child.  Again, ironically, introducing him to our lives has been nearly the opposite result of what I had hoped.  But, there’s one more thing I’m certain about: Koan is a gift — one of immense value to each member of my family.

What Koan gives us is personalized and customized to each member of the family.   Jeri and I both now look to embrace the joys of the moment rather than worrying about possible futures.  I see both of my older two kids being much more empathetic with they are now equipped the ability to see diverse perspectives.  This is the stuff of true and meaningful happiness.  These are lessons none of could have learned — at least to this depth — in a school or structured experience.  I think all of us feel privileged to be on this adventure with Koan.  I don’t want to make it out that it’s all flowers and rainbows.  We still disagree and fight.  There are plenty of teachable moments, too, many regarding how to manage Koan.  But, Koan provides a tangible and very real moral and ethical compass for everyone in the family.  I think everyone deeply understands that meaning and wellbeing comes from and through service.  It’s pretty cool when life grants you an opportunity to surpass your expectations….

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