Monday, July 31, 2017

Kurt, remembering Kris

My younger son, Kurt Grahnke, spoke at the memorial service for his brother, Kris, on Friday evening, July 28, at First Free in Rockford. This is what Kurt said.

People tend to see diseases, especially neurological diseases as losses or deficits of certain functions. In medicine there are a myriad of fancy words to describe these deficits: agnosia, amnesia, ataxia, apraxia, the list goes on... It is easy to look at Kris’ disease as a loss – a loss of the ability to walk, drive a car, hug people back, eat a sandwich…. speak, and eventually on Monday night, a loss of the ability to breathe. However, the human organism is not simply a machine whose parts break down when we get sick. One of my favorite thinkers once said
“There is always a reaction of the individual to attempt to repair, to compensate for, and to preserve one’s identity in the adverse circumstances of sickness” (Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat).
This ability to adapt is a key characteristic in all humans–healthy and sick. Since the dawn of Homo Sapiens, the ability to adapt has allowed us to become such a proliferative species. With a constantly changing environment, our knowledge and abilities have advanced, our skulls have morphed, our brains have changed in ways we still do not fully comprehend, equipping us with conscious awareness of this joyful, beautiful, puzzling, and indeed, sometimes incredibly sad human condition….

But I think we’ve reached a state where it is easier to be totally comfortable with ourselves, our status quo, our default setting…and we may feel like we don’t really have to adapt so much anymore.

Kris showed me, showed us…that this is not good enough and that there is always room for self-improvement and adaptations. Kris knew there were other people around the world battling the same disease he had, and he never stopped fighting for them through Gronk’s Grace. He realized his work might not lead to a cure in his lifetime, but this did not stop him from making a contribution towards finding a cure for others down the road. He never stopped fighting for anyone he loved and he had love for a lot of people, including the special needs community, with some extra tough love on our sister, Eliza. He continued to teach these children from his power chair and even after “retiring” he never in fact stopped teaching all of us…

To do so, he found new, creative ways to help others despite the deterioration of his body….And this to me is what is most meaningful in life and makes us most human and made my brother, Kris, a particularly fantastic human: the ability to continuously adapt and improve one’s self for the sake of other people, especially the underdogs in society.

Moving forward, I hope we can all find our own ways of adapting to our losses, whatever they may be, to preserve and strengthen our unique identities, so that we may fight for the underdogs with the same tenacity, grace, and love that Kris showed us.

I’d like to close with a quote, keeping in mind that every single one of us will die one day.
It goes:
“Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for [those you love]. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving” (Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air).

1 comment:

Jerry Koenig said...

Thank you Gwen for posting this. Since we were unable to be present we are grateful that we could read and be comforted by Kurt's words. With our love and sympathy, Jerry and LaNell Koenig