Lessons from Living in a Family with MS

Sermon by Sarah Ferris
May 6, 2007

It wasn’t the trips to the hospital or the cries of pain that made me finally realize my life was going to be different. It was the field days at Joyner Elementary School when I saw all the mothers participating in the fun activities planned for the day. The relays, with wet sponges, running from end to end, trying to be the fastest to fill up the buckets, with mothers running along side their children cheering their team on. And the parachute, in which we would shake as fast as we could, then throw it up and hide under it until the parents came and got us out so we could do it all over again. But my mother wasn’t one of those parents running, cheering me on or chasing me out from under the parachute. She was the one sitting in the shade serving ice cream to all the kids that were too tired to play anymore. She would always give her camera to my best friend’s mother, Jennie Pekarne, to take all the pictures of me playing the games because she could not be there with me.

This is when I realized I was given a different family from the rest of my friends. I did not know what it meant to have a mother with Multiple Sclerosis as I was two when she was diagnosed. But I found out on the playground in second grade at Joyner that it meant a lot more challenges would face me then my peers at school.

So, how did MS affect my family? Well, my dad became majorly over worked, not by choice, but to pick up the income that was lost when MS came to my family. He showed us the importance of hard work in school and in life because he didn’t want us to have to work as hard as he does, not by complaining about how much he has to work, but by his actions.

Like in the morning while I am getting ready for school and he is already going off to work, he says, “What are you going to do today?” I respond, “Be smart.” Then we give each other a high five. This happens every morning just so that he can ensure in my mind that school is important and I need to take it serious everyday.

After MS came to my family, he had to start working everyday including some weekends. He leaves early in the morning before I go to school and comes home just before dinner. This makes it hard on my family because he is never at home to get the “honey-do” list done. As he cleans and perfects all the homes of his customers, ours becomes in need of care! This is where my sister and I would have to come in.

Even as young children, we had to limit our after school activities with friends to make sure we are home to help our mother with whatever she had gotten herself into that day. Sometimes we would come home to her sitting on the back porch. We go outside thinking she is enjoying the day, but really she had tried to plant flowers earlier in the day and couldn’t make it back inside. Of course this frustrates us because we have two able bodies to do the planting but she just can’t wait for us to get home so, we yell at her telling her to stop overworking herself but she just never listened.

And the next day we might come home to her trunk popped full of groceries because she did her big weekly trip to the grocery store and got worn out by the time she got home. We grab some bags and walk inside the house to her catching her breathe with her feet propped up on the coffee table trying to get her strength back. We ask her which pill she needs now to help the process go quicker and we get all the groceries inside for her. We go to the kitchen and pick up one thing at a time asking where they all go. You can see the frustration in her eyes, knowing that she has to depend on us for this when she wants so badly to be able to do it herself. This is when we give her a break from the “talk.” Which always turns out to be my sister and I yelling and telling her not to do this to herself. We know the limits of MS are very hard for her to accept. However, through all the pain she has had to endure, she has never let depression control her life. I wasn’t aware at the time, but it turns out that a lot of sufferers of MS struggle with depression, which is credit even more so to my mom that she has fought against it. I know some people with MS smoke weed and I always thought that this was to help them deal with the pain. Whilst this is probably still true, the chances are that they also smoke to help alleviate their depression. Unlike so many, my mom never needed to know how to use a bubbler or where to purchase weed. She taught me, through this, that joy is a choice and she chose to be happy with her life?

I just did a research paper for my English class on MS and I was shocked to see depression as one of the major symptoms because my family has always made the best out of our situation. The disease has brought us together and made us closer because we all have to work together to get stuff done. Like just a simple task of doing the laundry. My mother sits by the laundry basket and separates the clothing into the right loads they have to be washed in. Then, I take the basket into the laundry room and start the load. When it is done I take it into the living room, where she sits and folds the clothes. We all work together to get things done, while my father is working so hard to make a living for my family. He never complains about having to work all the time. He just makes sure we know that we don’t want to have to work that much, and making good grades in school is the way to keep from having to work that hard.

Through high school I have seen a lot of perceptions on life, that aren’t concentrating on the future and only on the “now.” My family has taught me, not to get caught up in the present and always think of what is best for my future life, but you never know what might happen to you. Some people think that fitting in with a certain crowd at school is the most important thing in life. They lose themselves and their identity and will stop studying in order to go out on week nights, to please other people. They stop caring about their grades or their family life; they only care about themselves and improving their own status at school.

Others at Page think they need to be in the right gang in order to get somewhere in life. Therefore skipping classes to break into cars and sometimes even steal them is the most important thing in life. If they do come to class, they start fights or do graffiti of their gang’s names and symbols on the walls of the school buildings.

Last week when I was sitting in my Anatomy class doing a study packet, we hear screaming in the hallways. My teacher runs out of the room, while a student has to call over the intercom for the police officer. I looked around the room and everyone in class just kept on working. It didn’t seem to affect any of us anymore. It is like a daily routine now. My freshmen year, I would have been so scared and would want to go home. I hated being in a place with so much fighting, I didn’t feel safe.

About ten minutes later my teacher came back into the room and said it was a boy and a girl fighting. The girl’s boyfriend was in a different gang from the other boy, so she decided to take a slab of wood and hit him with it. As my math teacher would say, the hallways are the land of the “no-minds.” Now she will be suspended for at least a week right before exams, missing all the review sessions. But those thoughts didn’t go through her mind, she was so caught up in the moment of fighting a boy for what seems to me to be such a stupid reason. She doesn’t realize the important things in life.

Life doesn’t owe you anything; you have to work hard to get what you want out of life. You have to make the most of the opportunities offered to you. My mother has always shown me this because her abilities are very limited but yet she can get everything she wants accomplished. My family is built of quiet over achievers. We like to make the most of what we have and take advantage of every opportunity even with the obstacle of MS in our way.

My sister and I have always been able to participate in two or more sports, clubs at school, stay on the AB honor roll, and still have time to help out around the house. We have taken advantage of our free education while we can in order to get into the colleges we want to go to. While also keeping our family close, knowing we can always rely on them. These are the important things in life, education and family, so take the opportunities while you can and live your life to the fullest.

Having MS in my family has affected my faith in so many ways. I know God works his magic on my family to help us through the hard times of the disease. My faith has become much richer because I have to depend on it to get me through these hard situations. When I see my family struggling, I just talk to God and know that he will help me and my family get through it. He always comes through for us.

When summer comes around, I know we all have to be there for my mother, because the heat is our enemy. This is so hard for me because I know she would give anything to be normal again at these times, to be out in the sun, tanning by the pool. This is when I talk to God for help, and he always helps us get through the heat of the summer, or any other obstacle MS throws at my family.

The disease brings us together as a family and with God. Your body and mind won’t be in perfect shape forever, so take advantage of what you have, while you have it because you never know when it can get taken away.

This leads me to my destination for next year. In school, my strength has always been math, so I am taking advantage of my skill and going into the Engineering school at NC State. This is one of the top rated engineering programs in the United States and I can not wait to put my mind to the test and see if I can become an engineer. I know I will need my faith in order to survive next year and I know I can always call home and get reminded of just how good I have it. I know school will challenging but I can get through it, knowing all the things my father has taught me about hard work and my mother has taught me about living your life to the fullest.

So, my MS family has taught me that complaining doesn’t help, joy is a choice, hard work pays off, life doesn’t owe you anything, and God helps in hard times. That life changing day at Joyner showed me the better things in life. Even with obstacles in our way, we can get through everything and live life to the fullest.

Whether my mom is sitting in the shade serving ice cream or sitting under an umbrella, spraying herself with water, and holding ice packs on her head at city meet watching me swim, she will always be there for me. She finds a way, and with a positive attitude, you can accomplish anything.

Just remember life doesn’t owe you anything, it is just what you make of it and God will be with you through the adventure of it all.