My sister, Dr. Kerry Knox, passed away one year ago this weekend. She still had so much in life she had hoped to accomplish. As a professor in a medical school, she was assigned to researching suicide in veterans and related issues. She worked in conjunction with the US Air Force, as they did research they hoped would impact lives for many years to come. But, for Kerry, it came to a sudden end on October 21st of last year.
I wish I could say that I had been close to Kerry for many years, but that is unfortunately not true. She left our home in Racine, Wisconsin immediately following her graduation from Horlick High School in 1970. She got on a train and headed to Chicago with no financial assistance from anyone. I was 8 years old at the time. I had no idea why she departed so suddenly.
Kerry went on to pursue an undergraduate degree at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. And following the completion of her undergraduate studies, she went on to complete both a master’s and PHD at Northwestern. It did not occur to me until last summer that our family did not attend a commencement ceremony for any of her degrees.
In 1978, our father passed away unexpectedly. Kerry made the trek to Texas for his funeral. She soon returned back to Chicago. (Our family left Racine and moved to Lubbock, Texas in 1975.) And then in 1991, our mother passed away. Kerry did not return to Lubbock for her funeral.
My sister, Kim, and I attempted to stay in contact with Kerry after our mother’s death. But it was difficult. Kerry’s attempts to reciprocate were sporadic at best. There were no hard feelings toward us, as far we knew. But, Kerry seemed consumed in her academic and professional endeavors. The distance grew. She moved from Chicago to Rochester, New York. Her reputation as a scientist grew, so we kept up with her to some extent by reading scholarly articles she authored that were published in professional journals.
And then in 2015, Kerry “friended” us on Facebook. Kim and I were both quite surprised. Email correspondence followed. And then, Kerry offered to come to Texas to see both of us. I tried to do a lot of listening on that trip. I heard stories about my family I had never heard before. I came to a better understanding of Kerry’s story. Important gaps were filled in. And, I was reminded that unresolved conflict was a hallmark of our family of origin. Kim and I were making slow progress with Kerry at the time of her death. A new chapter in our relationship as siblings was finally being forged, but it came to such a sudden end.
I have learned a few things since her death one year ago that I think need to be shared. So…here goes:
- If a member of your family is distant, don’t make assumptions as to why that is the case. Don’t make up a plausible story based on tidbits of information. If you don’t have all of the facts, it is not fair to that person. There could be legitimate reasons for their distance. Refuse to judge.
- Don’t give up on that person.Continue to make meaningful overtures. Send that card. Compose an email. Make the call. Just don’t give up! (I gave up on Kerry long before she initiated contacting me in 2015.) It was a grievous mistake. Don’t give up.
- Don’t draw conclusions about that person based on what another family member has told you. This is unfair. Take the time to hear all sides to a story before drawing any conclusions. Hear what the distant family member has to say. Keep an open mind.
- When a family member makes an attempt to reconnect, affirm their actions promptly and sincerely. I think everyone deserves an opportunity to start over regardless of what has occurred in the past. Choose to love.
My family of origin struggled on many levels. I think our parents did the best they knew how to do based on their own backgrounds. There were failures indeed. They were harsh words. Forgiveness was withheld. Affirmation and basic encouragement was severely lacking. Kerry’s distance from the family was generated by years of hurt. She made mistakes, and I did too. My lack of information led me to draw erroneous conclusions regarding her actions. I am thankful for the short period of time we had to make peace and to enjoy each other. It was not void of conflict, but it was meaningful.
I am proud of her accomplishments. I know there are veterans who will continue to benefit from Dr. Knox’s tireless efforts for years to come. A word of advice to my friends: seek reconciliation with that family member who has chosen distance. Life is short. And life is unpredictable. Don’t leave things undone. Be the initiator. Choose peace.
On this anniversary weekend of Kerry’s death, I am so proud of both of my sisters. They have helped to shape who I am today. And, they put up with me…. There must be some reward for that!