From unspeakable sorrow to happily ever after, just in time for the holidays
(Note: This essay was published in shorter form in The Des Moines Register on Dec. 4, 2012.) Five years ago, Jason Medick couldn’t imagine a time when laughter would be such a routine part of his day, he wouldn’t even be conscious that he was laughing.
Now, the big house on Grand Avenue on Des Moines’ west side hums with activity: shouts of two happy girls. Music. Company coming in and out. A barking dog. And the routine peals of laughter of family members who have begun to heal.
In April 2007, Medick’s first wife, Shari, died suddenly, leaving behind a husband and two daughters, ages 6 and 2. Among the family members who swept in to help the broken-hearted young dad and his little girls were Shari’s cousins from St. Charles: the McDonald sisters, Jenna, Kati and Trisha.
Kati McDonald had nannied for the girls on and off when Shari Medick was alive. She had left for college but kept in close touch with Shari’s sister, Shana, who filled her in from time to time about how Medick and the two girls were doing.
When she graduated, McDonald contacted Medick to see if she could visit the girls. The rest, as they say, is history.
“We should just jump ahead to the point where – yes – I married the nanny,” Medick said. “But there’s a lot more to the story than that.”
Kati McDonald, now Kati Medick, said when she began to visit the girls, Alice and Pearl, on a regular basis again, she realized she really didn’t know their dad. She initially had called to offer to babysit the girls, but Jason told her he had nowhere to go. However, if she wanted to come visit the girls, he said, she was welcome.
“When Shari was alive and I had babysat for them, Jason was always at work,” Kati, 26, said. “He doesn’t even really remember that I nannied for them. So when I started coming over again to see the girls, it was like we started a friendship from scratch.”
And that’s all it was for several months. Kati met the girls and their dad on Monday nights to walk around Gray’s Lake and have dinner at Spaghetti Works – kids ate free on Mondays –- and maybe one other time during the week to walk around the mall.
She dated occasionally during that time, but felt much more drawn to the quiet family activities Jason, 42, organized for his girls. Before long, Kati was spending several nights a week with the still-grieving family and realized she was becoming attached – but only to the girls, she thought.
“I liked Jason; we had fun together, but he was 15 and a half years older than I was, and he had been married to my cousin,” Kati Medick said. “The last thing either one of us was thinking – consciously, anyway – would be that we could have feelings for each other.”
But each was beginning to, and those feelings came to a head one night when Kati brought a date to a birthday party Jason also was attending.
“When I saw her walk in with someone else, I felt hurt, and I left,” Jason said. “It was then that I realized, ‘Whoa – I was really looking forward to seeing her. What does that mean?’”
When Kati asked her future husband days later why he had left the party, each ended up admitting there was more afoot than just friendship. After talking quite a while about the potential roadblocks, they decided to “try dating and see how it went,” Kati said.
It turned out “roadblocks” was an underestimation. Some people told the couple, in no uncertain terms, that their relationship was wrong. Some said they had begun dating too quickly after Shari’s death, and others said the fact that Kati was Shari’s cousin made the relationship unacceptable.
“They all meant well and gave us advice out of concern for me and for the girls, and for the memory of the wife I still loved, and I understood that,” Jason Medick said. “I had many forces pulling me many different ways in my personal life. It started to get to me, and I told Kati we couldn’t be together anymore.”
Kati accepted the decision – after all, the disapproval had been hard on her as well, and she wanted what was best for Jason and the girls. But Jason quickly concluded he was missing her terribly, and he sought the advice of a counselor to help him make a decision, as well as to help him begin to heal from the loss of Shari.
“He told me that I had to move forward, and those who wanted to come with me would, and those who didn’t want to wouldn’t,” he said. “I had to grow a thicker skin and think about what was best for me and the girls. I wasn’t leaving Shari behind, but I did have to move forward.”
He called Kati and asked her if she'd begin seeing him again, and this past September, the Medicks married in an informal, family-and-friend-filled, standing-room-only ceremony in downtown Des Moines.
In addition to seeing his two daughters, now 11 and 8, serve as bridesmaids, Jason was most gratified that the guests all seemed to truly wish the couple well.
“I think what also helped people come around was when they realized that Kati, who knew and loved Shari, would help keep her memory alive for the girls,” Jason said. “It wasn’t a case where someone would come in and say, ‘OK, I’m the wife now. We need to move on.’”
Indeed, Kati makes sure the girls' mom is a big part of their lives, from saying "Your mom would be proud" of certain activities or behaviors to helping to organize a birthday-commemoration celebration for Shari every year on December 12. The family also participates in a remembrance ceremony every year on April 1, the anniversary of Shari's death.
"Their mom was wonderful, and although I hope to be able to influence their lives in a positive way, I also get a lot of joy out of things that they do and say that remind me of their mom," Kati said. "I'm sure she is very proud of her little ladies."
Those little ladies said they're glad that Kati is a part of their lives; at the wedding, Alice, 11, gave a public shout-out to her new stepmother for "agreeing to marry us."
"She makes us do a lot of stuff together, like going on family bike rides and putting up the Christmas tree together. And she'll tell us things about our mom and say, 'Your mom would have liked this or that,'" Alice said.
Pearl, 8, said Kati "has brought our family closer together," but she registered one complaint.
"She always makes us clean," she said with a giggle. "She makes us clean WAY too much."