by Jeffrey Markel
There is a lot for me learn about who I am. Part of that learning comes from looking back in time and exploring how I feel about the loss of loved ones.
My dad died when I was seventeen.
For the last fifty three years I have carried a memory of who he was and wondered what we could have become together. My Uncle Max, who was his best friend, and I had some wonderful conversations about who my Dad was and what he meant to both of us. I am indebted to Uncle Max for giving me a fuller picture of the man who was my father. I cherish those conversations, memories and have some understanding about how they have shaped my present day thoughts and behaviors.
Understanding that I needed someone to answer my questions about my father, and how helpful it was, had a bearing on the step that my buddy Mike and I recently took. Mike and I owned a business in Boulder Colorado in the 1970s and 1980s. One of our first employees was our neighbor Kristin. Kristin was a joyous individual who always had a sparkle in her eye. She had recently moved to Boulder after having lost the husband she loved deeply when he was only 29. She was the mother of two young children; Erin and Jay. The three of them became part of our lives. We shared lots of experiences with her and her children. Notably was the Purple Party where we all dressed entirely in purple, ate only purple foods and even spray painted a Volkswagen purple which continued to toodle around Boulder for years. We went swimming together at the Boulder reservoir and threw the odd snowball.
Then the unthinkable happened. After a just a few short years in Boulder, Kristin’s heart stopped. The first time it stopped Kristin called us from the hospital. We rushed over to find her sitting looking healthy and feeling physically normal. But the episode set up an expectation that she was going to die young. Unfortunately a short time later, her heart stopped for the final time, leaving her two children to grow up without either of their parents.
In the forty plus years of our friendship, Mike and I have shared the losses in our lives. Both our mothers died in the same month. Mike lost a brother at an early age and just recently lost his oldest sibling. It is loss that often creates the strongest bonds. Relationships are tightened when we go through tough times together.
A couple of weeks ago while Mike and I were reminiscing and looking at old photos we came across a photo of Kristin. Upon seeing the picture of a young woman-- much younger than her children would be today-- we decided to contact her daughter Erin who was only five when her Mom died. We wanted to reconnect but mostly to see if we could provide some insights and clearer memories of some of her formative years in Boulder. We located her in Oklahoma and sent an email. We immediately received a response. She had some vague recognition of who we were. We had owned a business importing crystals from Austria so she inquired if we were the “crystal guys” and she definitely remembered the Purple Party.
We agreed to speak the next morning. What we thought might be a risk was not. Thirty six years from our last contact and the conversation was easy. We shared memories and shared insights with each other. In the moment it all felt right.
Since the conversation I have realized that we also opened up new avenues for all of us. How did Erin feel after the call? It certainly wasn’t the same for her as it was for us. What is our relationship going forward? Was it a onetime good deed? Would any of us be served by a meeting? Would we go out of our way to create one? I don’t know.
The experience of reconnection and the remembering of loss feels good and I honor what it may bring up for Kristin’s children.
The loss of Kristin was immeasurable, yet the gain from our reconnection is poignantly alive.
End of Life Doula and Conscious Dying Educator Certificate programs from the Conscious Dying Institute offer the tools to facilitate hope and healing, caring communication and conscious reconnection for caregivers and those they care for. Join us in Boulder, CO, Asheville, NC, Vancouver, BC, and Casa Micanopy (near Gainesville), FL.