These are writings Clara wrote after Karl’s death at various time spans.


A Perspective on Death One Month Distant

It’s been one month. And what a month. People ask how I am or how the family is doing and I don’t know what to say. There is a moment of memories flashing through my head and then a moment of frustrated helplessness. What to say to that? Karl hated questions that were asked without really wanting to know the answers, even banal questions like ‘how’s it going?’ So I will try to answer the question of how I am doing honestly. But I can’t explain it in a sentence, or even two. I guess the best way I can explain how I am doing is to show you some of the thoughts that have been swirling around in my head the past month.

Death is a funny thing. You hear stories of death being explained to children as the people have gone to a happy place, they’re in heaven, or they are no longer in pain – an emotional but very wished for sentiment. I don’t have a problem believing he is ok actually. Call it faith of a mustard seed, faith of a child, or just plain knowing who I am and my ability to understand whats beyond me and knowing there is no way I could possibly figure out where he is. So I just go with mind over matter, he believed in reincarnation, so he has 100 days to float around and then he hops back into the reincarnation cycle (when in time who knows, I highly doubt we understand time correctly). But I also really feel apart of him is with each of us, a part of his soul bonded to a part of our soul by the love held for the other person. And that part will never go away, the edges may bleed into us but that part will always be there. And life goes on.

Because I feel like he would have taken our deaths deeply, but I also don’t think that would have stopped his forward progress at all. He would take his part of us and go on, and do great things. And I do feel as if we need to take up a banner he left and carry it since he no longer can. I honestly don’t know what he would say to that. He could say several things – and the fact that I can’t answer that simple question of what would he respond with – that bugs me. That bugs me because that means I didn’t spend enough time with him as an adult to really get to know him, to learn from him and talk to him and maybe even teach him something. And I’m pissed that our time together was stolen from us.

And I’m pissed it was stolen from Rhea, and his dreams, and his friends and family. I am hard pressed to come up with another individual that even comes close to him. He was just that amazing. This isn’t favoritism, for I love each of my siblings in a different way – but Karl had that dash of charisma and that pinch of a visionary and that drop of courage that just showed through him and you KNEW that this kid would go far. Anyone who met him knew that – before he died even. When he died people were just saying it 10 times more. Can you imagine knowing someone like that? To be related to that? And then seeing them die?

It has been a month, and still life seems to grind on, even when you feel like Kate Winslet in Titanic, reaching out for a body you know will never come back. Some days are ok, or at least I think I’m close to making peace with his death and moving forward and I’m ready to make something good come of this. Then there are the days when all of the sudden I’m pulled up short by the memory of his last breath and how I felt at that moment – complete loss, of where I stood, of who I was, of what was happening, of his life being gone, everything – nothing made sense. I couldn’t stay in the room even. I had to leave the room and I was crying by a window wondering exactly when had my life had gone into the Twilight Zone. Then suddenly I can shake the memory of hospitals with wonderful staff and bad memories. My mental facilities come back online and I wonder what am I doing standing here dazed reliving this memory? I should be in pieces on the floor screaming my head off.

But you never do. Well ok, sometimes you do – when you’re alone or with someone trusted or just simply when it becomes too much. But most often you push aside the deep dark cloud and try to move onwards. Forwards. In a direction away from him. And you don’t want to. But you know you have to. For your sanity as well as everyone around you, and even for Karl. You want to tell the world about this wonderful young man who had a vision and the strength to make it happen, but he was stopped too early, too soon. You want to send the story to the Daily Show, to post every video on youtube and hope it gets a million hits and the message spreads. But it seems like no matter what you do or try to focus on, the loss is always there – sometimes in the back of your head and you forget for a moment why you’re sad, and then you remember.

A good friend told me of how you just need to work past the days of being a person who a raw Karl shaped hole in your heart and work towards days when you can just have a Karl shaped hole in your heart. The hole and loss will never go away, but the rawness and pain of the moment will dull with time.

This may be obvious to some or pointless to others – but when I think of what cancer is, I mean what it REALLY is, the time that stands out the clearest to me is something Rhea said once, ‘Cancer is something no person should go through. And no one should see someone else go through it.’ The idea, of not just personal harm and pain, but the constant grinding down on the bonds between you and those closest to you as you go through it together – there is nothing like that. And that may be a good thing…

Cancer is not an easy way to die, it is slow and pain filled. People need stimuli to set aside time to meet up with this person or to go on that trip or to follow that dream. Death is a very large and obvious stimulus; to say goodbyes, to see this place to do that thing before you or that person is gone. But Karl didn’t need that stimulus. He went for it. At my age he had already gone on a bicycle trip around the US with just a friend on a bike that hardly could stay together through 2 states in a row. I haven’t done nearly as much as he has, and I honestly don’t know if I ever could.

Another interesting concept you hear a lot when someone dies is to ‘respect the memory of the dead’. Why? They are dead. It’s for you’re peace of mind really, so you can make up for what you didn’t do while they were alive – unless you believe in ghosts and such of course. But it is also more than that. One of the concepts I love from V for Vendetta (graphic novel and movie) is the concept of An Idea. Of how the idea of the man is so much bigger than the man himself could ever be. Go human imagination. And I think, I hope, that Karl will become an idea – something larger and more motivating than he could be as a person, well maybe. Karl was pretty motivating as a person!

So in order to keep the idea of him alive, an idea that may not be exactly what he wanted, but what we all think he might like, we ‘respect the dead’. And I am included in that listing. I want to respect his memory however – do something great. However, there is no way I could start a medical clinic in a third world country and revolutionize the health care system. So I’m going try to pick up some of Karl’s traits and try to build a better future using my gifts and use some on Karl’s traits, like learn how pull of his ability of humility and yet confidence – that’s something I would love to be able to do. One of my favorite Karl quotes is in his white coat speech he talked of how as a doctor you go up the mountain and when you are at the top you are the best and most wonderful you can be and you look around at all the little dots below. But then, Karl kept going, you go back down the mountain. No matter how wonderful or amazing you are at the top, you can always be better if you go back down, don’t give yourself a high and mighty attitude, listen to those that you think you have nothing to learn from, because you do. And I think that was a good analogy of his ability to be both humble and confidant.

I know there are no right words to say about loss and grief. Either on the end of someone who has lost or knowing someone who has lost. There is no right way to go about things. But Karl was big on communication, and I am with him there. Talking, genuine talking, telling people what you think and LISTENING to what they have to say, and above all – keeping yourself open to change and new possibilities. That is something that there can never be enough of. It’s hard. It’s hard to change to try to bring about change, for others to see you as someone who has changed. It’s hard. No one says it isn’t. But it’s something we need to wrap our minds around – change is the only constant. There may have been a brighter future if Karl didn’t die of cancer. They also might have been a worse future (highly unlikely though…) but regardless, we need to work towards a better future with what we have NOW. Doing your best is more than a pithy catch phrase for students. It is a phrase that we all could learn from. If we need a stimulus for change – we have one now – there is no bigger stimulus than death.

However, Karl’s death will never be in vain and has already yeilded results far beyond what is average. His funeral was 3 to 4 times bigger than an average funeral. His death was the stone thrown into the pond, and I think we have barely begun to see the ripples. And I want to make sure those ripples are as big and widespread as possible.

So in conclusion, how am I doing? I’m pissed. I hurt. I ache. I cry. I sleep. (I am a Stockhausen.) I get up. I smile. I remember. I live. Because I know, beyond anything, that is what he would want me to do. Dwelling too much in the past or in the future does you no good. You need to be in the here and now – take each day one at a time as he would say.

It sucks. That is the best amalgamation of my feelings that I can come up with. It sucks, but its not the end of the world – things CAN get better.

A month ago I lost a brother. I also gained a wonderful sister. I also grew closer to my other siblings. And my parents. I had to face some dark thoughts within me – however horrible they were, and I had to repeatedly knock them down. Death is not pretty. And to our culture, it is probably less so. But death can be the start of something grand. For those left behind and those that go to places we can’t being to imagine. And I don’t want Karl’s memories to forever be held to death. I want his memories to be held to life, because he knew more about life, and death, than anyone I know. But he took advantage of life, he lived it. And while that may only be the 200 millionth time someone has said that, it is none the less extraordinary or amazing or any less inspiring than the first time I heard it.

So how am I doing? I’m living.


One Year Later

At this point, maybe this is redundant, but I’d like to think that this helps me iterate points I’ve only half-thought out and seeing them all together – maybe it will mean more or do more. Because looking back, I have no memory of what I really did in the following 5 months of Karl’s death – it’s a blur of time spent feeling like you weren’t moving and stuck wandering dark places in your mind. And then you wake up and all you feel is this urge to MOVE. To DO. To CREATE, to SHAKE, to SEE. Life has become precious and is now cast in a patina of bittersweet that only the transient beauty of change brings about. For nothing remains the same. This year has taught me that. It’s taught me to value every moment you are in – even the dark times where you feel like absolute crap and you wish for there to be a pause button for life. Because sometimes, no matter how bad they are, you’ll wish to go back to that time. You never know. So value it all.

For who I am now, what this all has made me, is someone I never thought I would be – or at least couldn’t get myself to become. And I like to think that if Karl could hang with me now, he would love who I am and the path I have started down. Maybe, maybe not. But either way – that change couldn’t have been brought about except by his death. Change comes whether we like it or not, and it is easy for us to say the other side is greener and wish for things to be different or not to change or to change in the way we wish – but to accept things for as they are and see them in the light of reality – that transient harsh light – that requires a colossal effort.

Our expectations, and what we think is best, almost hinders us sometimes. Our desires for what was, for what we thought there would be – it hinders us from seeing what IS. From seeing that life, be it 28 years or 98 years, is still only a drop in all time. And it is how that drop is used, how it is valued, how it changes those around it, how full that drop is – THAT is what matters. For a life can be long, and yet not full or well-used. Change is inevitable. What is – is. Accepting things for what they are – bad and all – gives us the chance to take control of the moment and make time work for us. It gives us the chance to see how change can be good for us, how bad times can make of us where good cannot, to get us to see the beauty in the moment that if it was paused there forever – we would miss entirely.

We need to believe that things have a way of working out – even if we cannot see how. My family went to a anatomical donation memorial held by UofM and it was amazing to hear how cadavers are viewed by the students. Of how the gift of a body that is now just a husk of who it once held – how it can STILL give and teach the living how to treat the ailing. Of how that is a gift that is respected, and cherished, and must be used to the fullest extent that you can – for you will not get another chance, and you must make use of every second.

Karl-hospitalI know of stories of people who don’t want pictures of themselves taken while they are sick, I know of people who hate to look at pictures of their loved ones while sick – but to me, I treasure those pictures. For in those sickened people you see not just the disease ravaging their body, but you see their strength and tenacity, stripped bare for all the world to see and admire. And I treasure those pictures because it helps me to remember those times with that person, for every moment – up and down – should be cherished and learned from. I’m learning to let go of my expectations. To try to see things as they are – their full reality, the rust and the shine – and learn to appreciate their lessons and glory and take that moment with me onto the next moment. What get out what we put in. You put a lot into your life, you will get a lot out. You put nothing or just negativity in, that is all you will get out. If you see only what you wish to see and what your expectations for this time is – you will miss the full beautiful reality of the moment. And take it from me, you want to see the reality. It may be hard and it most likely is completely different than what you expected it to be – but it will teach you and give you so much MORE if you just hold on, take a breath, and accept it for what it is – not try to make it something that it isn’t.

Death and change comes to all. Time stops for nothing and no one. Is it a question of quantity? Or of quality? Or both? Or neither? There is no one right or wrong – go to someplace else in JUST this world and you will find someone who will argue just as passionately, if not more so, that their right and wrong is the way to follow. How are you to tell which is the correct path? If you had born by that person, you might be saying the same thing they are. We each must judge every moment, every grain of wisdom, every lesson against our own morality, heart, and soul. We must decide if that is what really is right or wrong – and not just what we have been taught or thought was correct. Ease does not mean correct. Familiar does not mean right.

We must find that place inside of us where we are just US. Not all of our facets or all the aspects of ourselves that others see in us – but where we are just US. Our strength, our weaknesses, our hopes, our fears – all of them make us who we are and without them, we would be less of ourselves. We must find that place and stand tall in it and look out on all we do and see and everyone we meet with respect and admiration, but also with reservation and questioning. We must take all into question and choose what will and will not affect us and who we will become. Because then we can be the very best we can be and do the very best that we can. We can learn from any person in our life if we choose too. And we can become and use the inevitable change if we want to. Stand tall. Love hard. Treasure each moment. Question every advice. Listen carefully. Tread wisely. Thicken your skin. Thin the walls around your heart. Be well. Live fully.


Keep on, Keeping on…

Karl’s ashes arrived today. It’s a strange feeling, to look a 9”x4”x4” box with a plastic bag filled with white gray ashes in it – and know that used to a person. And not just a person, but your brother. It’s amazing for how much of humanity rejects change and yet how well we are wired for adaption and survival. How your mind skitters away from things it knows are too painful to fully comprehend. And how in that moment you fight a battle within yourself of whether you want to follow the dark path down into your mind to discover exactly how you feel and what this moment truly means, or if you barricade the feeling off and allow it to subside into the dark waters of your mind. That moment is the pinnacle example of what the rest of life teaches you everyday.

You learn how work truly is the escape and road out of depression. How movement, even movement of work – even action others dictate, that you may not like or agree with – how it gets you moving and working. It’s easy to shift hard situations and their effects behind you when you work. It’s one of the quickest ways to get time to pass and quicken healing besides sleep. But sleep doesn’t help, and I would even say in very few stages and times is it really the better solution. Sleep lets time pass, but it doesn’t help prepare you any better for when you awaken or for that moment when you realize how much time you have given to oblivion and lost chances. Whereas work helps teach you control and gives you the simplest and yet important satisfactions of life – like a job well done, or a sunset enjoyed, or having a good conversation. Even if none of those were initiated by you. Sometimes, it’s easier to motivate your own steps after others have already gotten your momentum up.

Guess I sound like a wimp for saying that. But the strength and comfort brought by friends and family as well as the solidarity and embodiment in ourselves provided by work helps bring a slow momentum and thus stamina in us as we start to move. But in the end, it is up to us. You can lead a horse to water – but you can’t make him drink. Even a car rolling down a hill in neutral will stop when you press on the brakes (if the brakes work that is…) – you have to put your own energy behind it.

So while it is work that gives us momentum and means to build our strength, it is living through the difficulties that tempers us. Interacting and living with others, having to make tough decisions, and striking out of your normal routine faces you with reminders – reminders of painful or past times. Those moments of doing something new, trying something you have only talked of before, seeing something in a way you never had, or doing something with someone that before you would have never agreed to. It’s in those moments that you learn exactly what your emotional state truly is and if you can control it or not.

I think you need both after tragedy hits in your life – be it tragedy of any kind. You need work to throw yourself into, to help time pass and healing to set in to get you back to what you know you can and must do – move on. But you also need to step outside your routine and your home and face those moments of torture where memories are brought to light and remind you of pain at such a level you loose track of yourself for the moment. Because without reminders of the past and a way to let the healing in, you become either insane or comatose, and begin to lose your humanity.

If I am perfectly honest I have been different since Karl’s death. I don’t pay attention to news, or look up information, or try as hard for my dreams as I used to. In some way I tied those things with Karl in my mind. And subconsciously part of me shies away from those things that were ‘Karl’s’ in my mind – from facing that Karl is no longer here and what those repercussions are. I think apart of me did, and maybe always will, reject Karl’s death at a very core level. You don’t want to be on a track that doesn’t include that person in your life. But yet in a way they are there with you – inside your mind and always will be. But also they are gone – and things have changed and you have changed. It is what it is, and you are where you are. And you cannot change that fact, nor if you could – should you. Change and death is apart of the natural order.

And what does that mean? Does that mean that it is embraced? By some cultures yes, but by others it is avoided at all costs. But still death manages to come no matter where you go or what you do. And what is harder to accept is that maybe the role it plays is not as horrible as our feelings of loss make it seem. Maybe there is a purpose in how it shapes the world around us. In how one life span is destined to be short and yet full and how that life was placed in the perfect conjunction of time and space to effect a very certain few, or many. So that it could make those people into who they need be to go forward and start a ripple effect in each of their own areas. Maybe there isn’t a third-world country out there getting their medical system revolutionized – at least not by Karl. But maybe there are 100 other smaller and yet important battles out there being fought by people who became a little different after they were set rudely upon a path that they had no wish for.

Perhaps this is all just the manifestation of humankind’s ability to see patterns and meaning where there is none. But you cannot deny the small battles, attitudes, and lessons that are garnered and won in every case. I used to wish for adventure and magic and heroism as a child. Now I see those aspects in anyone’s daily life, and now I understand how scary it truly is. And now I’m terrified for I used to think some mentor or my other half would appear and lead me through. But I’m here, and it’s all down to me and what I can do. And never have my short-comings been so crystal-clear. And never has the comfort of perpetual habitation been more comforting and the loss of direction more paralyzing.

But this is what it comes down to doesn’t it? Either a difference was made, or a difference wasn’t. Or maybe a seed was planted that will appear way later 😉 lol there’s hope in many a case. But through it all and no matter the results, you know that what used to be in those white gray ashes is now inside you and all those others who knew him. You know that no matter what, whether you succeed or fail, that on the day you finally surpass your own record, he will be there in the back of your mind grinning and cheering. Because he is now apart of you and has changed you in ways you never imagined he could when he was alive.

Death sucks. Cancer sucks. And what’s even suckier is that the inevitable phrase to follow is – life goes on. But in a way, there is beauty in that, and reassurance in a cycle that never ceases and seems to turn out results we can never predict. So guess what? Karl’s back, but he never really left either, nor will he ever quite be here and be the same again. For he is changing just as we all are in ways we never expected.

 

Karl-small-2

Karl-small-1

Everybody’s been wondering where you’ve been.
 
And now that we know what happened,
 
we’re all wondering where you are.
 
And even though we feel bad
 
we won’t be seeing you around anymore,
 
we want you to know we feel better,
 
we won’t have to worry anymore.
 
Handsome Boy Modeling School – ‘Sunshine’