Saturday, September 20, 2014

RIP my friend. Be at peace.

Kirsten Westhoven 4/27/70 - 9/4/14

Over the past week, I have enjoyed talking to many of Kirsten’s family and friends and hearing the many wonderful stories. Throughout every story I was told there was one main theme, Kirsten was one of the most loving and giving people any of us have ever met.

I met Kirsten 25 years ago at a lecture I was giving to a Breed Club. Turns out we both had Dalmatians. From the time we met we clicked and my life’s journey changed course. She and I and our Dalmatians did everything together. We grew up in the competitive dog fancy with each other. She drifting towards confirmation and myself towards performance. Both of us were passionate about dogs. Not just our own, all dogs. We could talk dogs all day long and then still call each other up at night and talk some more. 

We also had lots of other interests in common, music, art, and auto racing to name a few. I introduced Kirsten to her husband Kryn, who was my boss and one of my oldest friends at the time. They hit it off immediately. I can remember like it was yesterday how happy she was with Kryn. Back then, when Kirsten was happy she would dance and I would play DJ. C&C Music Factory was one of our all time favorites. Every time I hear that band, Im flooded with memories of she and I in my Smokey and the Bandit Trans Am with the “T” tops out, cruising down Red Hill Road singing at the top of our lungs… oh those poor neighbors!

When Kirsten bred her first dalmatian litter, she and I trained all the puppies and new owners together. We formed our first business together “Laguna Del Sol Dalmatians”, all things Dalmatian including raising and training being our specialty. When it came to breeding dogs and veterinary medicine Kir was the teacher and I the ever eager student and when it came to animal behavior I was the teacher and she the student. We would talk, argue and debate for hours about dogs. She held my hand thru my first Border Collie breeding and whelping. Now my performance Border Collie kennel is internationally respected thanks largely to those early lessons Kirsten taught me. 

Kirsten was always there to help when I needed it. Whether it be a ill dog, a ride to the shop to pick up my car, help painting a room in my house or holding me up when my nephew was killed in Afghanistan. She was always there to lend a hand, and ear and a shoulder. She just loved helping other folks in need and she was good at it.

I could spend an eternity trying to figure out a way that I could of helped her defeat her demons. A way that I could be for her what she was for me. But in the end she kept her deepest pain hidden from all of us who she loved.

Along with the many stories that I heard about Kirsten’s life, I also listened to many people question why she would take her life. After all, she “seemed” so happy. She “never showed any sign of being in pain”. When I stood up to speak at Kirsten’s memorial service I reminded everyone that mental illness, is in fact an illness. Nobody ever says “Gee I wonder why “___enter name here___” decided to die of cancer today or “why on earth would such a happy person choose to have a heart attack”? Similar to other life threatening illnesses like cancer, heart disease, etc, mental illness is an illness and NOT a choice! Nobody wakes up one day and decides THIS is the day to succumb to mental illness. It was not a decision that Kirsten made. As with all illnesses, if not carefully monitored and treated, mental illness can be fatal. And if there is anything to learn from any of this, next time someone tells you they suffer from depression, bipolar, PTSD, or the like, listen to them. Be empathetic and work to understand what they are going through. And never forget that their illness could take them away from you at a moments notice.

When I remember my friend I want to remember her energy and spirit. I want to hear her laughter ring in my ears and I want to remember that smile she had just before she said something politically incorrect - usually while I was taking a drink of something. I want to always remember how her eyes used to light up when she heard a race car rev its engine or saw an animal in need. I won’t let the shadow her tragic death to take those wonderful memories away from me.

From the first time I met Kirsten 25 years ago to today as I say goodbye to her, her presence in my life has changed the direction of my life’s journey. The fragments and pieces of her life she left behind along with all the wonderful memories of her will be with me forever. And as I look out at a whole new world without her physical presence in it, I remember a promise we made to each other. A promise that she could not keep, but that I am determined to uphold for both of us.

RIP my friend. Be at peace.

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