Memorial

Single Candle Burning in the Dark

A friend of mine died the other day.

Steph was 57. She left behind a husband and two teenage children who loved her, along with three grieving sisters and many other family members and friends who will miss her right up to the day they themselves die.

Steph fought a hard battle against cancer for years. That fight required her to experience staggering pain and fear that must have been near blinding.

But she battled to the end because she loved her life and the people in it.

We first got to know each other almost 30 years ago. Steph’s sister Kate worked at the newspaper where I wrote.

The two were close. They were the oldest of four daughters born to Irish-Catholic parents. Because she and Steph came into the world just a little more than a year apart, they were “Irish twins,” Kate told me once with a laugh.

They lost their father young, before they hit their teen years. They have mourned his death for all the years I have known them.

We were young then and would hang out together often. We ran together after work, then would trade stories and tease each other over dinner in the early evening.

For some reason, they adopted me almost as a brother.

Once, when my life hit a rough patch, Steph took me in hand. I needed to find and furbish a new place to live. She went shopping with me and helped me pick out furniture.

She had been trained as an engineer and was good at it. I was and remain inept at putting tangible things together. She helped assemble the desks, the tables, the chairs and all the sundry other pieces we had bought. She told me where they would fit best.

In the space of a few hours, she transformed my new place into something that began to feel like home.

Then she gave me some sisterly advice.

She told me it wasn’t a crime to set boundaries and, every now and then, put my own needs ahead of those of others.

I smiled, something I didn’t do often in those tough days.

“That’s a case of the pot talking to the kettle,” I said.

She laughed and hugged me because she knew that she’d not only made me smile, but that she’d also made her point.

Steph didn’t change.

She and her husband, Kurt, started their family about the time my wife and I started ours. The two of them had the joys and struggles that all working parents do. They rode the ups and the downs together, loved their children and lived their lives.

Then the cancer came.

Steph fought it with the grace of a ballerina and the ferocity of a shark. She volunteered for experimental treatments and battled with everything she had, but not because she was afraid to die. She wanted to continue to be a wife to her husband, a mother to her children, a sister to her sisters and a friend to her friends.

About a month before she died, my wife and I went to see her and to give her husband, who had worked without stint as her caregiver, a small break.

We talked about where life had taken us.

Steph talked about her hopes and fears as death approached. She hoped her husband would find peace after she was gone. She hungered for her son and her daughter to have full and satisfying lives. She longed for her sisters to be happy. She wanted them all to know how much she loved them.

Same old Steph.

Still the pot talking to the kettle.

We celebrate many things in this world, many of them noisy and attention-grabbing. In the days since Steph’s passing, it has seemed to me that we don’t do enough to honor the quieter virtues. We don’t pay tribute to people, like Steph, who are skilled at acts of kindness and the simple art of friendship.

A long time ago, Steph made me smile when I didn’t want to and encouraged me to start over when I didn’t think I could.

She did it because, to the end, she was who she was.

A friend.

A good, good friend.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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