A #HappyBirthdayKirby Wish (memoir sample)

SEEK Safely Kirby Brown grief

Today, we wish Kirby a happy birthday. Hopefully you will join us in our #HappyBirthdayKirby Toast today to honour and remember her!



My Birthday Wish for Kirby’s Memory

Her birthday is an opportunity to reflect on who Kirby was to us and the mark she left on our lives. My mom, Ginny, and I (Kirby’s sister, Jean) have written a memoir about our experience of losing Kirby and dealing with the grief during such an extraordinary time. I suppose on today, her birthday, I offer this book as a gift to her.

The following is a small sample from a section of this book. I hope to share Kirby’s spirit and help her continue to inspire people beyond her death.

from our memoir (Jean’s writing)…

“The example of how Kirby lived her life is really the greatest gift she left me and everyone who knew her—possibly even those who didn’t know her (that’s my hope, anyway, and one the reasons I’m writing this).

Kirby left a blueprint for living a meaningful life. One spring, about a year and a half after Kirby died, I started to feel like I was waking up. I was ready to be less sad, and it became safer to think about her. In those reflections, I find little gems as brilliant and sparkly as my aquamarine.

In January of 2011, I set two goals for myself for the new year: I wanted to do yoga every day, and I wanted to write in a journal. These small movements in my life were the little quake of a flower bulb as it begins to awaken from the winter and start spreading upwards towards the light. It felt like emerging from hibernation.

I made good on the yoga and started practicing nearly every morning, Kirby’s Buddha statue I’d brought back with me from her house watching over me. I didn’t keep up my journaling, but instead I created a blog, which was even more significant—a tendril reaching out to the world rather than just curling inside of myself.

The hook behind my blog was the trend I sense of women of my generation wanting to find more flexible careers, outside of the 9-to-5 model, that allow for raising a family and pursuing creative aspirations. Kirby was a perfect example of this.

She lived where she wanted and moved easily, never getting trapped in a specific life. She’d had many jobs: restaurant server, limo driver, horse farm manager, pottery studio manager. She created her most consistent career in San Jose del Cabo as a decorative faux painter, but even then, she and her business partner were constantly evolving and Kirby also added new pieces to her life and career.

What I really admired about Kirby’s lifestyle was how deliberately she’d constructed it to suit what she wanted out of life. She found a way to live in paradise. She arranged her schedule so that she would work intensely for about seven months out of the year but then travel to new places or visit friends and family on her extensive “off” times. I thought about this a lot, and I shared the elements of her approach that made this all possible on my blog:

  • Hard work: Kirby lived in a lot of different places—New York, Mexico, St. Croix, Lake Tahoe, etc. Wherever she was, though, she found gainful employment. She often had multiple jobs, too, and rapidly progressed to other opportunities by impressing employers with her work ethic.
  • Living within means: Kirby was a purveyor of fine things, but knew how to wait or work a little harder or creatively to reach her goals. These skills maximized the value of her hard work, even in lower-paying jobs.
  • Prioritizing needs and wants: This makes living within your means possible. Kirby decided what was important to her. She wanted those four or five months to travel and visit loved ones. So she worked her ass off in the preceding months and gave up other luxuries to get the time she wanted.
  • Recognizing other value in opportunities: Kirby frequently made alternative payment arrangements with her employers. In managing the horse farm, the pottery studio, and at times when faux painting, Kirby negotiated a place to live as part of her payment. She also bartered for things she needed or wanted, such as a vehicle or gemstones. She defined the value of her work, and by looking beyond money, she was often able to fill basic needs or acquire the pretty things that brought a little richness to her life.
  • Courage: Stepping off the tried and true path is scary. Yet she did it over and over again.

Around this time in 2011, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, died. His epic commencement speech to the 2005 Stanford University graduating class began making the rounds, and that’s when I first came across it. Jobs was himself a Buddhist, and the encouragement to relinquish attachment to the suffering the world can manifest is straight out of the Four Noble Truths. These words struck me:

“All external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

When we face death, especially harsh, unexpected death, the sense of mortality becomes much more tangible. Of course, intellectually, we all know we’re going to die one day. But we always expect it’s far off. When Kirby died, vigorous, full-of-life Kirby, only 38-years-old, the realization that I could die at any moment became a lot less cliché. I can see how a fear of death can make a person go one way—the knowledge of an unpredictable but inevitable death turning him into a shut-in. The other way is the fearlessness that Jobs talked about, because in the finality of death there is no ego, self-doubt, or pride. Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, all of those worldly concerns are obliterated in the end.

If there is one positive thing I can take away from Kirby’s death, it’s that one. The intimacy with which I now know death transformed that knowledge of mortality from a merely philosophical understanding to something I can grasp, internalize, and use to propel me forward. And that Kirby seemed to live fearlessly before she ever faced death is sort of remarkable.

One of the great tragedies of Kirby’s death is that someone exploited and abused her intense and beautiful self-motivation, and set it against her. When I began to reflect on her example, I was starting to reclaim her for myself, to derive inspiration from the life that she lived, rather than dwell on the death.”


2 comments on “A #HappyBirthdayKirby Wish (memoir sample)

  1. Edward Holst on

    Spent a few hours with Mom & Papa G tonight at Westtown Fare. Jenny & David, too. We raised several glasses in Kirby’s honor, and sang along to many requests of the evening’s entertainer. The singing was as if we were all gathered round a bonfire by the lake or by your parents’ wood stove. Kirby is still part of those beautiful memories.


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