Daughter of John Kivela shares poignant essay about father

I wanted to post something earlier today about how I wouldn't wish the disease of alcoholism against my worst enemy, and…

Posted by Shelby Kivela on Tuesday, May 9, 2017

From Shelby Kivela

I wanted to post something earlier today about how I wouldn’t wish the disease of alcoholism against my worst enemy, and I can’t begin to imagine how much pain someone is in with it for them to continue to jeopardize the things they love most because their addiction begs to be fueled.

My dads drunk driving arrest wasn’t because he couldn’t afford a taxi or Uber, it was because he was trying so hard to be a husband, father & state representative and juggle his disease somewhere he could hide from the people–unfortunately in a very unsafe place, his commute.

Alcoholism strained my relationship with my father in the final months of his life, and that hurts too. Instead I will post about the worst day of my life, the day my father took his life because of his disease.

I had an AMAZING childhood full of games and adventure, my parents gifted me my education and supported me into the life I have now–the most amazing, adventurous life I could ever imagine, a life not possible if I had not been raised by John Kivela. In one of the dozens and dozens of messages people have sent in the last few hours someone called him a “Champion for the UP” & I think that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard.

He battled his disease and continued to be an incredible advocate for our corner of Michigan. The time I spent campaigning with him for his first run for State Rep is still one of the proudest times of my life. Thank you for your support, I can’t wait to just be HOME tonight with my family and three snuggly Saint Bernard’s, I know my dad will be jealous when we’re all cuddling in the “big bed” without him.

These are some mementos I snagged from my apartment to take home with me– because today I had to pack a black dress and photographs of my father and say “I’m going home for my dads funeral” out loud. I will end by saying, I’m not ashamed to talk about the last two years of my dads life that have been extremely difficult and will continue to speak out more as addiction is now closer to my heart than ever.

Thank you for your kind words.

To My Friend, John:

Who would have thought the Mayor of Marquette and a novice from Wayne County would have found their…

Posted by David Knezek on Tuesday, May 9, 2017

From David Knezek

To My Friend, John:

Who would have thought the Mayor of Marquette and a novice from Wayne County would have found their way to the Michigan Legislature together? I still remember our first conversation on the phone after you won your race. No one expected you to win but you did.

“It’s because I put the word SISU on my lawn signs,” you said.

“What’s SISU mean?”

“Finnish concept. You know we got all those Finns in da UP. It means strength in the face of adversity. I’m going to fight for my folks.”

I told you I loved that concept and within of week of us meeting in person, I had my own SISU bumper sticker to put on my car. That’s the type of person you were.

I remember the first time you offered me a room in your house after session ran late. Five years later and we’re still Lansing roomies. You were always earlier to rise than me. Remember all the mornings where I’d be standing in the bathroom in my boxers as you stood outside the door in your full suit, telling me about all the things you were going to be working on that day? What about those nights where I’d be standing in the same bathroom washing my face as you stood outside the door telling me all about all the progress you had made? You were always working on something, John, and you were always telling me about it. You were like a big Upper Peninsula bear, swatting your way through the Legislature, working on the issues the folks back home cared about.

We made so many memories with our friends and family members in that house on Chestnut Street. I met your wife and kids there, you met my girlfriend. You’d host bipartisan mixers for Representatives and Senators because you wanted everyone to work together and get things done. You’d bring together coalitions of people and sit them down around the kitchen table to work them on an issue you were advocating for at the time.

“That’s the kind of legislator I want to be some day,” I would tell myself. So respected on both sides of the aisle. Beloved by absolutely everyone. I think it was your warm smile, or your salt-and-pepper hair, or your Upper Peninsula charm that put everyone at ease. You called almost everyone younger than you “little buddy” but I would always lie to myself and said it was a term of endearment you reserved only for me. I know that’s not the case but I always used to love hearing you roll the two words together: “lilbuddy.”

Remember that god-awful Green Bay Packers blanket that you kept on the couch? I used to tell you all the time how much I hated looking at it. Truth be told, when you weren’t around, I used to love throwing that blanket over me because it was so damn comfortable. I was so jealous of the picture of you and President Obama when he came to visit Marquette when you were mayor. I always laughed at the can of “Bullshit Spray” you used to keep on the shelf. Whenever I was weaving a tall tale together you used to grab the can and give me a look that said, “Cut the crap, kid.”

Whenever we had a beer you never had more than two. Whenever we had a glass of wine, you never had more than one. So when you were arrested for drunk driving in 2015, I had no idea you were an alcoholic. You made a huge mistake, John, but I was glad you did the right thing when you told the public:

“I have a problem. I am seeking treatment.”

Most people would hide from their problems. You advertised it to the world. I respected that. I asked you if you really were an alcoholic because I had never seen you drunk before:

“I’m a functioning alcoholic, David. And one thing alcoholics are good at is keeping secrets. I’m always drinking. You just never know it.”

Another Representative and I went back to the house and emptied it of any and every ounce of alcohol we could find. We didn’t want there to be any temptations there for you. I even went through your drawers and looked under the bed and in between it to make sure you weren’t hiding anything. We emptied the house. You entered treatment. I thought things were starting to get better.

Last night when we heard you had been arrested for drunk driving for a second time, I was so mad at you. I know relapse is a part of recovery but few people have to do it in the public eye. What if you had hurt someone, John? What if you had hurt yourself? I tried to put my anger aside when I heard you calling my name from your bedroom this morning. You told me how you have a serious problem and that the only people you’re thinking about are your wife and your kids. You told me that you had let down the people who love you. I told you that the people who love you are going to love you no matter what and that you needed serious help.

“I’m going to resign. I’m going to seek inpatient treatment. I don’t know what it is but when I start I just can’t stop.”

“You have a disease, John. You need help, but you need to want to be helped. It can’t be forced on you. Everyone will support you every step of the way.”

I gave you a hug, I said that I loved you, you said that you loved me.

Those were our last words to each other.

When I got the call that there were police cars and a CSI truck in front of the house today, I made my way there, fearing the worst. Those fears were confirmed when I walked inside and learned that you had taken your own life. I saw your black dress shoes on the floor and I had the biggest urge to grab them and place them by the doorway so that they’d be ready for when you came downstairs in your suit to talk to me outside the bathroom door tomorrow. It still doesn’t feel like you are gone.

Tonight, John, I’m going to go back to the house and grab all of my things and move out. I don’t think I can stay in the house anymore. I wish you would have known just how many of us loved you and knew just how devastated everyone is in Lansing today. I can’t even begin to imagine how people are feeling in Marquette. I’ve gotten text messages from Democrats and Republicans alike who are just beside themselves.

You were such a rockstar, John. You meant so much too so many of us. You brought smiles to the faces of so many people when they were down – you had a real way of picking up on people’s moods like that. You were so passionate about the Upper Peninsula and always had a way of going above and beyond to ensure you could score a win for your district. Remember that time you had the Governor visit your district and you staged people running and biking along a trail and staged people paddling by in kayaks in the water to convince the Governor that you needed more funding to promote the already bustling parks and recreation opportunities in Marquette? He fell for it. We rolled with laughter.

We’re all going to remember you for the memories we made with you, John. You made mistakes along the way but we all do. You had your demons and they got the best of you. I hope that others will learn from your story and get the help they need when they need it. Mistakes were made but that’s not the John I’m going to remember.

Warm smile, salt and pepper hair, Upper Peninsula charm, a bear in the Legislature.

That’s my John Kivela.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about. abc10up.com/?s=kivela

Posted by ABC10 & CW5 UP on Tuesday, May 9, 2017