I once heard a story of an amazing baseball player who had his career, love, and life taken away. Lou Gehrig was struck with a terrible disease called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS. This is a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. I never thought something so tragic could happen to someone so close to me. My dad was discovered to have ALS around September of last year.
I will never forget that Wednesday night, my family sitting around the dinner table making jokes and laughing like we always do. The table was cleared and my mom said there’s something we need to tell you. I knew in that moment that our lives would never be the same. I had, for a while, had a feeling that something was wrong. My dad had been going to the doctor quite often over the summer, and when I asked my mom if he was okay, she told me he was going for ‘muscle twitching’. But I knew there really was something wrong. I figured she just wasn’t ready to tell us yet. My dad kept his eyes down while my mom started to explain. Silent tears ran down my face as my mom told me the estimated life expectancy was 2-5 years. I couldn’t look at my dad, and he didn’t look up. My youngest brother Corbin ran to his room before my mom was done explaining and my middle brother Cayden started crying softly to himself. When she was done talking, Cayden went to his room and my mom went to go check on Corbin. I sat at the table with my dad, and for the first time in my whole life; I didn’t know what to say.
“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” I’ve started living by this quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt. I interpreted it two different ways. When I’m having a bad day and want to give up trying to put on a good face, I think of it and smile. I think of what my dad is going through, and I know I need to stay strong for him and my family. The second way I think about it is like an actual rope swing. My dad used to push me on one we had up at our lake house. It was on a hillside and we really did have to hang on. It was fun, scary, painful, and exciting but it was worth it; just like my life is going to be now. I believe this happened to my family for a reason. God has a plan for our lives and he’s going to use to my dad to do great things. (More than he already has). I realize now how much I take for granted and how truly amazing my life is. I’m learning to make the most of what I have and enjoy every little moment while I can. I look forward to every moment we have together, and the fun memories we’re making every day.
Love, Clarissa Ziemke
January 26, 2010
Cayden Ziemke (Age 15)
Dear Bill Ziemke,
First of all I'm not a formal writer but I will try my best!
Thank you, for being the amazing uncle that you are. I have grown up watching you and you have never let me down. You lead by example, you walk the right path. I am so lucky to have grown up with an uncle I can watch and want to be like. You are a perfect example of what a man should be, you are a gentle man, you are extremely caring and always want to put others before you. As I have grown I have seen that in you and I've always been impressed on how much you will do for others with no personal gain to your self. I think watching you has helped me grow into the young man that I am.
I am so lucky to have role models in my life like you and my dad. You two are the definition of men. The way you care for others, I have watched you guys over the years and you have always put others first. You are not selfish, whether it is letting someone go before you through the door or driving all over town helping move houses. You always do the right thing. I see the way you love my dad, and my family, and your mom, and Sharon and the way you love me and its crazy how much you do. You care so much about us and it is obvious how much you do, I know you would do anything for anyone of us.
I wanted to thank you for always being there for me and trying to teach me the right way. All the things you tell me I do listen to because I know you are a good man and you are trying to teach me the right way. Things you have told me in the past years I remember and I try to apply them to my life. You are a Strong Christian man and I know I can always look for you for advice or help. I also wanted to thank you for the way you treat my dad. I can see how much you love him and care for him. It amazes me the things you will do for him. I know this time is hard for everyone but thank you for being strong and for helping my dad. He loves you so much and you are a great older brother. I hope that one day I can be the same brother to Corbin. Your example in my life has shown me how to be a good brother. I hope that I can be a good influence on my brother like the influence that you and my dad are on me.
When I grow up if I'm just half the man that you and my dad are I will be so lucky. I hope that I can grow to be just like you guys. Thank you again for all that you do for us, thank you for taking care of my dad. I try my best to take as good care of him as I can. I love you so much Uncle Bill.
Love, Cayden Ziemke
May 24, 2010
In November of 2009, when my mom told me my dad was sick, at the dinner table one night, I fell to my knees and then ran to my bed and cried for hours. Each of my family members came and joined me on my huge bed, one at a time. Then I went to the living room and joined my brother and sister who were on the couch hugging my dad. I decided to join them too. Trying to find space like a pig to his mother to get milk, I finally got in close to my dad. Later I cheered all of us up with a joyful gesture. In order to distract myself from the sadness, I got my photo album out and sat with my dad looking through it. My dad was beside me in so many pictures; it reminded me of how close he has been to me all these years. I needed another distraction so I turned on Sponge Bob Square Pants.
Later that week when my dad came in my room to tuck me in and lay down with me in bed, he held me and I felt his chest. He didn't feel as strong to me as usual. I had known for awhile that his hands were weak and beating, but I thought it was just his heart beating in his hands. But now I felt his arms were shaking and I knew for sure there was a problem.
On Christmas morning I looked at my dad's face and a feeling of sadness went through my body. Then I thought to myself, just keep a straight and plain face and I won't feel bad, or be sad, or cry, and no else will feel bad either.
The best thing about my dad is that he has loved me and taught me everything I know for 10 years and I am still learning. I love to follow him on his motorcycle on trails through the desert during our weekend trips. My other favorite thing is sitting on my dad's lap and driving our boat. He has taught me so well that now I can drive it with him sitting next to me. This weekend he taught me to drive his big 2005 Chevy Truck. I drove through the desert while he sat beside me. Don't tell anyone, but he let me drive on an empty highway.
When I come face to face with a close friend, close parent, family member, or a teacher, I try my hardest to resist thinking about my dad because I know that I will break down and cry. Even though I know that crying is good for me, I just don't want to cry in front of people. When I am at home, playing video games or riding my motorcycle in the desert I don't think about it, I just focus on what I am doing.
I don't want to think about the future. I just pray every day that my dad will get better.
Love, Corbin Mitchell Ziemke
March 17, 2010