10 Years Later–Remembering Kirby

Kirby

Ten years ago today, around 60 people sat in a sweat lodge in Sedona, Arizona. They had not eaten or drank much over the previous two days. They hadn’t slept much in the previous 4 days. They had been working hard, wanting to be the best versions of themselves they could be, successful in their professional and personal lives. They were ready to push past the boundaries they’d created. They were motivated by the words and guidance of James Arthur Ray, the self-help guru who’d written best-selling books, been all over TV, even on Oprah!  

But instead of receiving the inspiration they were so eager for, three of the participants died of heat stroke in that sweatlodge. It was too hot in the tent, which bore little resemblance to the sweatlodges of Native American tradition, and Ray was a dangerous leader who bullied people to stay in the tent and ignored calls for help when people were in distress.

My sister, Kirby Brown, was one of the people who died that day. I didn’t find out until the following day. Thus began a numbing that would last for at least two years. There are parts of me that are still numb even now, I think–like the tips of fingers that lose feeling after an accident severs the nerves. Irreparable damage. Other parts of me feel an ache, or even sharp pangs of pain, when poked or twisted the wrong way. Loss is a life-long injury of the heart. Sometimes we don’t heal so much as adapt.

There are times–when I am busy I think I forget this–that I must allow myself to sink down into it. The pain, the injustice, the anger. The running commentary that says “What the f—?!” when I think of how unfair it is that she is gone. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I shake all over my body–cold emptiness overtaking me.

Most of the time, I try to stay in the space that looks ahead with a more hopeful outlook. That her death, maybe, will teach other people to be more cautious when seeking self-improvement. That I, along with all the other people who loved her, can continue as her voice, telling people about who she was and what we learned from her death. That her life was an inspiration, reminding me, all of us, always to seek beauty, adventure, love, and peace. 

Kirby Brown SEEK Safely

Memorial for Kirby at Orange County Arboretum

The story of her death is very dark. Death usually is. But the story of her life is full of light. She loved deeply, lived fully, and inspired many people. Kirby surfed in the ocean, rode horses through the hills, hiked in the woods, biked in the mountains. She celebrated with her friends, danced, listened to music. She never stopped learning. She worked hard. She supported her family and friends. She made family wherever she was, no matter how far away. I remember thinking after she died, that eventhough she was only 38-years-old, at least she had really lived

I try to channel Kirby, her fearlessness and sense of wonder, in my own life. Whenever I am afraid to take a chance or make a step towards something I know I must do, I imagine her encouragement. Whenever I feel stuck, I remember that I don’t have to be.

It is easy to simply feel a sense of loss when someone important to us dies. It’s also cliché to talk about how important it is to “keep their memory alive,” or something like this. However, I understand something more about what that means now. Her loss is so great, truly. But there is so much that she left us. So much. Everything she was to us, we are all allowed to keep that with us forever.

With that, I want to give everyone a chance to talk about Kirby–stories, memories, feelings. Anything. Feel free to share here or on any of our social media. Let’s feel our loss together. And let’s celebrate her!

5 comments on “10 Years Later–Remembering Kirby

  1. Garrett Chelius on

    10 years! I still have a difficult time coming to grips with it all. She was such a beautiful and kind soul, we are all so much the better for having known and loved her and so much the sadder for the same reason!
    Miss you Kirby

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  2. MARY A LAVADO on

    Our Action Figure Cousin. I love the quote: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” My life is so much richer because of her. She embraced life, and ALL people. She fought for the little guy. My best memory of Kirby was the weekend of my wedding, Labor Day weekend of 2007. She brought her partner in crime, Tuffy. We spent a lot of time together the day before the wedding, which was a laid back, Hawaiian pig roast in our Durham, CT backyard, I was a bit stressed, as I was 6 months pregnant, and, as this was very much a DIY project, had a LOT to do the day of the wedding. Kirby simply said: “No worries! Make me a list. You are not to do a thing but show up and enjoy YOUR day.”
    As I wrote out the “To Do” list, I was anxious and embarrassed; it was nearly 2 pages long! My brothers scolded me, it was too much to do. Kirby calmly told them that it was under control. The next afternoon, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of EVERYTHING! Every tablecloth in place, leis for the bridal party and guests were beautifully arranged on tables set up in such a welcoming, colorful and fun fashion. She definitely was a party planner. Kirby made that day, like every day spent with her, fun, calm, and made me feel so loved and treasured. I miss her every day, and try to live my life with less fear, more love, more patience, and less worry. What a Supernova! Her spirit truly lives on. <3

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  3. deborah on

    Jean, thank you for putting to words what is in my heart. A favorite motto: “I surround myself with people I aspire to be like”. Kirby was IT. Full stop. Kirby embodied a deep sense of curiosity, an ability to listen and understand (stand under another’s reality), her openness of heart, her vulnerability, wisdom, grace and humor all make my heart burst for having called her friend while simultaneously make my heart break. I know that was most likely a run on sentence, but today, I throw caution to the wind, take the liberty to cry and laugh out loud while remembering my friend – my ‘sister’.

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  4. Kim Brinkley Criscione on

    I had breakfast with Kirby two days prior to her death. I thought she a lovely, vibrant, kind young lady. I was heart broken to find out she died feet away from me and often wonder why God spared me. I’m so sorry.

    Reply
  5. Aislinn Longano on

    I think in general, I would hesitate to repost something like this, for fear of appearing to solicit sympathy for a tragedy that wasn’t mine. But as today drew closer, I found myself thinking about Kirby, and really feeling the sadness that she’s not here anymore.
    And then I saw Jean’s post, inviting us to share our memories of Kirby. So here goes.
    I knew her peripherally for most of my life. First as my sister’s friend when I was little, and later, as my friend’s sister. We never had much personal interaction until one summer (2004) when our orbits crossed for a few weeks, and we hung out a bit at a local music venue. And then years later, the summer of Jean’s wedding. Honestly, that was it.
    Kirby was just… fun. She was one of the most positive, energetic, free-spirited people I have ever met. She owned her life, she answered to no one, and had an awesome time because of it. She was never short of creative solutions and ideas, and nothing could stop her, it seemed. She was kind, and engaging, and made you feel important. Everyone loved her.
    I think that’s why I want to share something today. She was the type of person whose energy was so positive, radiant, and all-encompassing, that even those people who knew her only a little could feel that they lost something when she died.
    Ten years ago, someone compared her passing to that of a shooting star, with her beauty, her light, the energy and speed with which she moved through life, and the ending that came before anyone was ready. To those who never saw what we did, it’s hard to describe what they missed. But to those of us who were witnesses, we can smile at each other, our eyes brimmed with tears, and say, “Wow! Wasn’t that amazing!”

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