Goodbye, Kris, but WHY?

Forgive me for a temporary lapse into the personal diary mode that gives blogs a bad name. I need to vent some feelings that have been bothering me since receiving news on Friday about the recent death of a friend. Although we had drifted away from each other and had no recent contact, I still have good memories of the times spent with her and her dog Farley, who liked to stand on his hind legs and put his paws on my shoulders. In fact, I’d recently been thinking of Kris and Farley; watching my dogs playing, I remembered the way Farley and Frodo used to romp and chew on each other, and wondered if Kris still had Farley. So I was mildly stunned to receive email from a mutual friend who had seen a notice in a church bulletin that Kris had died in a boating accident in Alaska, where she had been living for the last four years.

My first thought was that at least she died living life to the extreme, the way she always did. From caving to rock-climbing, Kris led an exuberant, active, outdoor-oriented life. The picture at right above was stolen from her missing person report (she’s “missing” because her body was never found), and I assume it was her drivers’ license photo. I used it here because it fit the space nicely, and is a reasonably good picture (more flattering than many license photos). But it really doesn’t portray the Kris that her friends knew as well as this one, taken at the Habitat for Humanity project where I first met her. Working on a construction project, with skills that made me think she was a professional builder instead of a volunteering biologist, and that grin that never left her face, Kris was in her element. I could just imagine her braving the waters of Alaska with that same grin.

Unfortunately, curiosity led me to seek additional information which shattered that illusion. What I found was a series of articles like this one, presenting the reality that her death was not an accident, but a suicide. And that leads to the unanswerable question: WHY?

I know nothing about Kris’ life in Alaska, or what problems she faced that she thought were so severe to justify ending her life. But the bits of information I was able to glean from the news reports indicated the same kind of life I saw her living in Kentucky: ocean kayaking, Nordic ski patrol, etc. I even found this report that she had been back in Kentucky rock-climbing just weeks before her death. And she apparently had no shortage of friends who cared about her, friends who had noticed her recent mood change, who were quick to report her missing, and who joined the search for her. What kind of problem could she have thought was so insurmountable as to outweigh all the positives in her life?

Since my knowledge of Alaskan geography is fairly weak, I consulted some maps after reading the details of her disappearance. Seward, where she went into the water, is about 125 miles from her home in Anchorage, where she had been seen the night she disappeared. So she apparently drove the 2+ hours from Anchorage to Seward that night, on her journey to death. There’s a lot of opportunity to think on a solo road trip like that. What could have been going through her mind as she drove that highway? How could she not reach the conclusion that there had to be a better solution to whatever was bothering her?

Realistically, my own life will not be deeply affected by her death, since I had so little contact with her recently. It’s not like there’s suddenly a big hole in my life where she used to be. But it still sucks to think of such an enthusiastic life wasted. There had to be a better solution. Goodbye, Kris, but WHY?

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