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State Of Grace

by David Brock on January 16th, 2020

Forgive my pure indulgence. This is primarily for me to help sort out some thoughts and deal with my profound grief.

In the past 18 months, two of the people most important to me have died slowly. The first was my youngest sister, Kathy, who passed away about 18 months ago. The second is my best friend, mentor/hero, and wife of 38 years, Kookie. Kookie passed away two days ago.

While I have a profound sense of loss and grief, I am blessed by their examples and what they taught me as they died, slowly. Their lessons in living were amazing.

It started as both were told they were going to die. Privately, at first they were afraid and didn’t know they if they had the courage to go through their remaining weeks/months. But what I realized is they quickly chose to focus not on dying, but on how they lived.

Someone asked me, “Is Kookie in denial.” I realized that all of us were in denial, and Kookie was the one facing reality. Kookie knew what she was facing, choosing instead to focus on how she lived, how she impacted people. Likewise, Kathy focused on her family, her friends and how thye would live.

Both Kathy and Kookie became inspirations not because how they were dealing with death, but how they were choosing to live.

As they faced their deaths, each knowing they had only days, everything changed and they changed me forever. Both had so much calm, grace, clarity, focus, dignity, and courage.

When one thinks of dying, I’ve mistakenly thought, all thoughts focus on ourselves and our lives.

With both Kookie and Kathy, my experience was profoundly different. While neither had much of a facade or pretense while they were healthy, all facades, all pretenses disappeared. The day to day things that had filled our lives were no longer important to them. They simply couldn’t be distracted.

Their only focus was on others, both the immediate family, friends, and the clinicians, nurses, and others helping them.

The conversations shifted to the profound, deeply caring, and hugely focused. To be honest, at times they were uncomfortably intense.

I was spending the night, in the hospital, with Kathy. At about 2:00 am, she wanted to talk. She asked me, “What are you going to do to change the world?” At first, I responded lightly, but she said, “Stop playing that game David!.”

She kept pushing, challenging, listening with a focus I had never experienced. Her bright blue eyes were unflinching as she stared at me, waiting for a response. I felt them piercing me and was forced to examine myself more deeply than ever before. I’m still trying to sort out and execute on that conversation.

It turns out, she was asking each of us, in the family, the same thing, we were each having late night conversations about what we would do to change the world. They weren’t surface conversations, Kathy probed, forcing us to think. She asked us to live up to our potential.

With Kookie, it was similar. She didn’t go to changing the world, she was much softer, focusing on how I wanted to spend my life. Her biggest worry in dying was not her death, but leaving me alone.

As it turns out, she was engaging everyone she encountered in similar ways. With Kookie, everyone was important, despite the pain she was experiencing. She talked to each of the nurses, the people who delivered meals, the person who cleaned her room. She talked to them about themselves, where they came from, their backgrounds, their families their dreams. She loved nothing more than laughing and having fun as she subtly reached into their hearts.

She was eager to learn about them, in doing so demonstrated how deeply she cared about each of them. In the hallways of the hospital, maintenance people, nutrition people, others would stop and ask me about Kookie, commenting about her thoughtfulness and kindness. Throughout the staff, she was “their special girl.”

As I think about both Kookie and Kathy, it was pure love. But their expression of it, not just to me, but to everyone they encountered was deep and, almost uncomfortably, intense.

Perhaps, they were always teaching these things and I was just too blind to recognize it. But as they were dying, it was, perhaps at it’s most profound and intense, not just for me, but for each person around them in those final days.

I am overwhelmed with grief.

But I have been blessed to experience such grace, clarity, focus, kindness, courage, and pure love. The intensity of the experience and their will, forever changes me.

Now, it’s my responsibility to live up to the possibilities they helped me discover and they person they both knew I could be. I do feel each of their presence and know they are watching with high expectations.

Each of us has and will experience profound loss in our lives. With my father, then Kathy, and now Kookie, they were each trying to teach and encourage everyone around them. Sometimes our eyes aren’t open to these lessons. But when we pay attention, they are life lessons that we must treasure.

And we shouldn’t waste our time–both in what we learn from others and how we help others to learn. Imagine if it wasn’t being around someone dying slowly that provokes this reflection, but if it is part of how we live our lives.

I will grieve, but I have been so moved and so privileged to learn from how Kathy and Kookie wanted me and everyone they touched to live.

Afterword: I have written about Kookie a couple of times in the past. To learn more: Being Mentored and Mentoring, My Best Mentor.

After-afterword: I know many of you will comment and express your condolences. I deeply appreciate your caring and thoughts. But forgive me if I don’t responed, I’m not sure I can deal with it. I know your thoughts are with us. For that I am deeply thankful.

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  1. David, while this is not your usual blog post, it is as important, if not more so, than all the others put together. You were fortunate to have such a fine wife and sister. Blessings to you and family.

  2. Our family’s very best wishes to you David in this time of profound loss.

  3. Bill Neal permalink

    Dave, As I expressed in our conversation earlier, I’m deeply saddened to hear of your loss and I pray for your peace and comfort. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings at a difficult time. I’m confident you will “live up to the possibilities” as you exhort yourself to in your post.

  4. David –

    I feel blessed to have read this.

    You’ve honored Kathy & Kookie.

    Thank you my friend you’ve help us all.


  5. Dave Olson permalink

    “Sighs too deep for words to express …. “

    Thank you for this gift to us.

    Love, Dave

  6. Frank permalink

    Sorry for your losses David. What powerful life stories that provide such value to all of us. Thanks for sharing!

    • Frank, so sorry I missed this comment. Thanks so much. Thanks, also, for reaching out and the great phone conversation. Words fail me, but I am so grateful for friends like you.

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