I am writing this blog on Thanksgiving Day.
Tomorrow is Black Friday, a day when many Americans succumb to consumer frenzy and stampeding greed.
I never think about shopping on Black Friday.
I think about black ice and a semi-truck on a winding New England road.
I think about the two shining lives that were taken in an instant on that day.
And I consider how utterly it changed those of us who were part of that heartbreaking story.
Kirsten Bergh and Nina Dietzel died on that road twenty-one years ago on Black Friday. Kirsten’s mom, Linda Bergh, recovered from her grave injuries and is with us still.
I remember hearing the news of the accident over the telephone while standing in a Shoney’s restaurant in Atlanta and wailing in the back seat of the car, flanked by my adolescent niece and nephew.
I remember weeks and months of grief that tore at our hearts.
I cherish the memory of tending to Linda in her long recovery –feeding her miso soup and kefir with a syringe through her wired-shut jaw, sharing stories and tears, filling her hospital room with beauty.
And then there was that Christmas Eve at the hospital with her and other dear friends – a bizarre and tender evening of takeout food, tears, song and (strangely, beautifully) laughter.
Tomorrow I will be driving up to Lake Superior to share a second Thanksgiving with many of the people with whom I shared that terrible-beautiful time. Linda won’t be with us. She is flying off to teach in Thailand next week and needs to stay home to prepare. She is now 75 and is recovering from a serious fall that left one of her legs significantly shorter than the other. Her intrepid spirit carries her ever onward into life.
Something profound grows among people who endure the unendurable together. Our joy is deepened by the undercurrent of loss. We know each other differently from having witnessed each other walking through waves of grief, rage, confusion, exhaustion. In the peaceful moments, we gaze at each other in astonishment at our capacity to heal and thrive. We seemed utterly broken back then and here we are, alive and full-hearted once again.
As a result of all we learned from that experience, many of us in that circle are supporting others who are facing loss. Linda now does threshold work with others facing death. Nina’s mother, Marianne Dietzel, wrote a book about her experience and plays lyre for people at the end of life. I started a comfort choir to bring music to people in hospices and hospitals. And the gorgeous book of Kirsten’s poetry and artwork Linda created has now traveled far into the world.
A few weeks after the accident, Linda called me with remarkable news: she had discovered an unopened letter from Kirsten addressed to me. At the end of that joyful and chatty missive – the last she ever penned — Kirsten wrote these words:
“Think of me when you sing and dance. And I will do the same for you.”
I do think of you, Kirsten, especially this time of year. As those who love you gather once again, there will be much singing and dancing, laughter and tears. We will speak your name and Nina’s as we always do – with deep love and gratitude.