I had always heard that having a loved one die by suicide is extremely difficult, but, as with many things in life, you don’t truly understand it until you experience it yourself. It’s a club to which no one wants to belong and I became a member in 2016 when my close friend, Kirk, died.
In the wake of Kirk’s death, my emotions were raw, the guilt was strong and the reality was incomprehensible. I was, therefore, very grateful the family chose to have a funeral to honor his life. I was also very grateful to have the opportunity to share the story of our friendship at the service, I started with a poem:
Do you have a twenty-foot extension ladder?
Let’s get it out of the garage.
I want to put this birdhouse up on one of the evergreens
that stands off your back deck.
I’m going to use long tenpenny nails to fasten it to the tree
and some kind of wire strapping too.
I want it to stay there for a long time.
I want you to notice it season after season -
how the mother bird keeps
flying in and out of the little knothole that I drilled
to where the baby birds stretch their mouths wide open
in a ferocious bouquet.
If I am no longer here for some reason,
I think you will still see me occasionally reflected
in the incessant activity of the birds
flying in and out of the birdhouse -
always coming and going just like I did,
not wishing to become too well-known,
or to ever stay long in one place.
And yet the birdhouse will say something different about me:
it will say that I lived here.
It will be a thing that I made with my hands
on a specific afternoon, working for hours
in my garage, with paint streaks and sawdust on my clothes,
and that I took the trouble
to hang that little domicile
high on the trunk of your particular tree
with a knowledge of how life always moves on
and yet leaves something behind as well
with something alive inside it.
You might say that memory itself is a piece of real estate,
a residence with a private entrance
and a mystery inside
like this small chateau
painted blue with orange spots on it,
hung twenty feet high - a thing, for a while,
out of reach of the predator, time.
“I think each of us who knew and loved Kirk has a birdhouse of sorts built by him - filled with memories - and, yes, a little mystery too. I picture mine having a cool purple and red paisley design, like the funky fabrics that would line the cuffs of his shirts, and it is filled with memories of a friend who was funny, thoughtful and loving. A friend whose path crossed mine in many ways - we lived across the street from each other for a time, we worked together, attended the same church and volunteered together. We shared laughter - and sometimes tears.
For my 40th birthday, I decided to celebrate with a party. Kirk was living in Seattle at the time and he said he had a commitment and wouldn’t be able to come. A few minutes after the party started, the doorbell rang and there he was. He had come straight from the airport just to attend the party and headed right back to the airport afterwards. It was an amazing surprise - and if that’s not love, I don’t know what is!
His love for me extended to my family as well. For several years, Kirk was our secret Santa, lovingly choosing gifts for each of us and leaving them anonymously on our porch. He tried to wrap them like Santa would, but the perfect wrapping job gave him away to me the first year. I never told him I knew it was him - and I kept the magic alive for our children by not telling them who it was - but each year I would gush to Kirk about the thoughtful gifts our secret Santa left - and how lucky we were to have such a generous soul in our lives.
Kirk’s generosity and thoughtfulness were constants in our friendship. So when my third child was born, I asked Kirk to be a godparent, wanting our son to benefit from all the wonderful qualities that made it so easy to love Kirk.
On the day Kirk died, my husband and I were on our first organized 100-mile bike ride, biking around the Door County peninsula. Quite a test of endurance - for me anyway - and I thought of Kirk as I pedaled, with growing appreciation for the 600-mile rides he used to do to raise money for AIDS research. I knew that morning that Kirk was in a difficult place, but I was still hopeful that everything would be okay and that, soon, Kirk would join me on a ride. But looking back, I’m pretty sure he was riding with me that very day, urging me on during the last 30 miles when I thought I couldn’t go any further and reassuring me that I had the strength to finish what I had started. After more than eight hours of pedaling, I crossed the finish line for both of us.
So yes. Life does indeed move on, but leaves something behind as well - and what Kirk leaves behind is indeed alive. It lives on in that little birdhouse he built with love and compassion. Please visit it often and reflect fondly on the wonderful man who was a son, a brother, an uncle, and a very dear friend.
Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, believed we are all one with the Divine - that we are all one being created in love. If that is the case - and I believe it is - Kirk lives in all of us.”