Remembering a Brother

Remembering a Brother

The last thing Kermit Zerr expected was to find himself on another cross-country flight to Eugene. But, just ten months after making the journey to attend to his father’s end-of-life care, he was abruptly called to his brother’s hospital bedside.

“I got a phone call that [Kelan] was in the hospital — they had found him unconscious, only because he had left his door unlocked with the key in the lock,” Kermit said.

The landlord sent EMTs, who estimated he was unconscious for 2-3 days and initially thought he had already passed. After transporting him to the hospital, medical staff tracked down younger brother Kermit on the East Coast and asked him to come immediately.

Initially, Kermit said, he offered to travel cross-country via his motor coach, thinking it may be a lengthy stay. But staff said that would take too long and he should come right away. Diagnosed with brain cancer and a brain injury, they expected Kelan’s condition could deteriorate quickly — which it did. After a few days in the hospital, medical personnel decided additional treatments would not benefit Kelan, and encouraged Kermit to focus on making his brother comfortable.

“I’ve had people ask me, how do you just drop everything and go take care of your brother,” Kermit said. “My answer is: I never considered it a choice. If you have an opportunity to put your loved one in the very best care, you just do it.”

Kelan was born developmentally disabled, Kermit said, but he never let that stop him from living a full life. He graduated from Sheldon High School — something the family viewed as quite an achievement — and went on to a career with the USDA Forest Service for more than four decades. He was also active with St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the Knights of Columbus and the Northwest Youth Corps. He was also a big Oregon Ducks and sports fan.

As word got out that Kelan was in hospice, a broad network of people came to visit every day. The steady parade of people left quite an impression on his younger brother, who said he was never aware of just how many lives in the community Kelan had touched.

“He never let the fact that he had limitations slow him down or become an excuse for anything,” Kermit said. “I was shocked to learn about the number of people [he knew] and the breadth of activities he was involved in.”

With his brother’s needs being taken care of at Pete Moore Hospice House, Kermit said, friends and family could focus on making the most of the time they had left even though it was hard. Visitors remarked on how beautiful the place was, and although COVID protocols limited in-room visits to two at a time, the family space and kitchen gave them a comfortable space to gather and feel close.

“We made the best of it and took advantage of the time we had together,” Kermit said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better place for him to spend his final days.”

In addition to the beautiful space, Kermit recalled, staff at the Pete Moore House were kind and supportive — there was always someone there checking on him.

“I think at the time I was in a bit of shock, running on adrenaline. It wasn’t until I got home and was able to process it all that I was able to reflect on the experience,” Kermit said. “I don’t remember every person’s name or their position there at the facility, but I do remember from day one everyone there treated us like family. They made us feel as welcome as if we were at our own house.”

In short, he said, “It wasn’t just a job for most of the people who worked there, even the people who came to change him, or change his bedding.”

While losing Kelan at age 64 was very hard, Kermit and his wife have since spent a lot of time reflecting on the experience. The lesson they take from it is that although we don’t know how many days or years we have, we can choose to make every day count. They are scaling down the hours in their business and dreaming of traveling again.

“I’m using my brother as an example of why not to sit around,” Kermit said. “We’re trying to take every day and make something decent of it. He’s always with me.”