Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Just Around the Corner

On the surface, Kristen and I didn’t have a lot in common. She homeschooled while I gleefully dropped my child off at school every day. She was very careful about what she ate. I ate whatever. She loved being pregnant and wanted to have as many children as possible. I was done after two. She gave birth to all seven of her children at home without drugs. I had scheduled C-sections with each of mine.

But when it came to making friendships, having these things in common was not important to Kristen. She didn’t care about someone’s background, or what made them different from her. She met people where they were. And she certainly didn’t care about what sorority you had been in or which neighborhood you lived in. She didn’t need to know those things to know she wanted to have a friendship with you. She had the unique gift of loving people as soon as she met them.

Kristen and I had playdates at each others’ houses. Julia and Joshua, her second-oldest, became sweet little friends. She and Paul only had three kids then, and Chad and I just had Julia. In 2003, our hopes for a second child started to fade as we experienced a string of miscarriages. Pregnancy loss was something Kristen had experienced as well, and she was such a good friend to me during those months. So many people don’t know what to say, but she always did. And she didn’t just say comforting things; she said things that were actually helpful. She told me questions to ask my doctor. She suspected my problem was a progesterone deficiency. My doctor suspected the same thing. When I got pregnant with Jenna, I supplemented the hormone and that’s how Jenna got here.

Kristen and I had a mutual friend named Jennifer who was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma in 2001 at the age of 30. Jennifer was the mother of two young girls and for three years, she fought that dreaded disease with everything she had. On the day she died, Julia and I were on the road home after a week at camp. Kristen called my cell, and in her sweet voice, broke the news we had been dreading for so long.

Kristen was always positive; always encouraging. When it came time for us to leave Baytown and I was struggling so much with the decision we had made, she always helped me turn my thoughts to the positive. We had to go where we felt God was leading us, she said.

Kristen was one of the most spiritual people I have known. She had a closeness with God that didn’t seem to waiver—even in the face of hardship. She had a compassion for adolescent girls that became apparent to me when the two of us co-led a class for high school girls in the spring of 2004. And she had a perspective on the fragility of life that she reflected on in this 2008 post from her blog:

I've realized that if we did live with that awareness that any one of us could be gone in a breath, we would live life a lot differently. We would live more peacefully with one another and a lot less selfishly. We would live more powerfully and make a difference on this earth for good. And we would live more joyfully with one another, delighting in the good only.
Gone in a breath.

Last Saturday, Kristen was home with six of their seven children. She had gone into a bedroom to nurse her 5-month-old when someone responding to an ad about a piano for sale came to the front door. When one of the children went to tell Kristen the guests were there, she was unconscious. It was a blessing the people had come to look at the piano; they stayed with the children until help came. Kristen died on the way to the hospital, probably from a brain aneurysm.

She was extremely health-conscious. She had not been sick.

Gone in a breath.

When I was processing the shocking news of Kristen’s death last Saturday, I started looking for past emails and Facebook messages she had sent me. I found one from about a year ago that ended with this:

“Glad to hear y'all are well! Miss you, but it honestly feels like you're just around the corner sometimes.
Love you,

I think of the day in 2004 that Kristen called to tell me of Jennifer’s death. I don’t know why people die young. I don’t know why Kristen’s husband had to become a single father of seven children. I don’t know how their children can ever understand.

But I do believe Kristen had such a strong, gentle spirit that the lives she touched will reflect it for years to come. In that sense, Kristen will never be far away. She might even be just around the corner.