29 April 2013

Remembering Kirby

Here it is: a year since Kirby died. And her 30th birthday is upon us.

I know all of us who knew her remember her. But one of the several things that continue to grieve me is the fact that her life was so prematurely ended. She didn’t have a chance at the thirty or forty years we expect, for you twenty- and thirty-somethings. Nor did she HAVE the thirty or forty years we fifty- and sixty-somethings have had.

Those are the thirty or forty years to make our marks. To create our legacies.

So, one of my preoccupations in the last year has been her memorials. Things that keep a least bits of Kirby-ness out there in the world.

A lot of you have written to me/us in the last year. Sometimes it is to share memories of her and your times together.

I don’t know how much everyone knew about intentions about tissue/organ donation. From her first driver’s license she checked the organ donation boxes. By the time mortality was actually, prematurely, staring her in the face her organs were no longer of interest for donation. They were potentially contaminated by cancer and even if not cancerous had been assaulted by all the harsh chemicals used to try to beat back the cancer. (When we were signing the interminable consent forms for the toxic drugs we were also warned of the possibility that the drugs themselves could cause cancer in five or ten or fifteen years.)

Anyway: the exception was her eyes.

In those last couple

of weeks I checked with someone to see if they could still use her eyes and they said yes. (She and I actually talked about this in her last weeks. No: we hadn’t given up, but in typical Capen-Weinstein family mode, we were doing contingency planning.)

She hardly talked at all about the worst possibilities in those five and a half months but she did, at random intervals express wishes:

“I don’t want to die in pain.”

(This was during those months when she lived constantly with the 1-10 pain scale, sometimes reporting a 15. Rejoicing at a 2. A minor triumph was that she DIDN’T die in pain.) 

“I want a Jewish burial.”

“I want to be buried at Congressional.”

(She got it.)

“I want my obituary sent to Smith.”

(We did send it: Maybe you Smithies can tell us if they put it in the alum magazine…)

Anyway, when w

e talked about organ donation, maybe in the last month, she said she didn’t want her body donated, and understood they didn’t want organs, but she still wanted to donate her eyes.

When she in Hospice Care, even while we still hoped for the miracle she didn’t get, I told them, the Hospice people, that was the intent; they got us forms; and then, after she died, it happened.



So: it is possible one of us may, one day, look at someone who will look back at us through one of Kirby’s (gorgeous blue) eyes.









The letter the TBI/Tissue Banks International sent us:

“The loss

 of you

r d

aughter cannot be measured in words. Feelings of this dimension are not easily expressed nor easily understood by o


“However, through your caring there are now two people whose lives have been

linked forever to Kirby…Although these two people may never know one another, they have one thing in common. Both were blind; and both have been restored to sight, through your understanding and the miracle of corneal surgery.

“On their behalf, please accept our profound gratitude for making this miracle possible.”

We got the letter but of course the real thanks go to Kirby.

I have other news about how she is still in the world with us that I will share. Soon.


The cranes and their continuing flights.

Funds in her name with Smith College and AFS.

Congressional Cemetary

And others…

Thank you all for your continuing notes, emails, good wishes, thoughts, prayers, kindness.

This grief is a journey, that like life itself, won’t end this side of the grave.

BUT we’ve made great progress in the last fourteen months in learning how to live with it. The grief is now chronic, less acute.

I know that her loving friends, family, community also share in this grief and please know you have my sympathy, too.

More to follow, soon, I hope.


18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Katie Shinberg
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 03:55:58

    I think about Kirby a lot. I now work in pediatric oncology and Kirby is one of the reasons. It doesn’t surprise me at all that one of her last acts was of selflessness. I always thought of her as a big sister, and I miss her.


  2. colleenteresa
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 05:14:29

    The joyous Kirby, the silly Kirby, the goofy Kirby all of these are right up there with the deep well of Kirby, her love, her compassion. She was always more than I expected. Although she left us far too soon, her impression is profound and long lasting. Some people will be remembered, their faces and lives distant fading memories. Not Kirby she had “grab you by the shoulders and not let you go” kind of presence that will outlast the sharp knife of grief. She won’t let us forget her — ever


  3. Alexandra Zapruder
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 11:15:55

    I think of Kirby so often. I am deeply moved to hear about her eyes. What a tremendously generous woman she was. I wish I had known her in her adult life but I have been moved by all that I have learned from her friends and family. And I remember her as a quirky, funny, brilliant, creative, warm, lovable, loving young girl. I am thinking of you, Judith, Robert, and Owen, and always holding Kirby in my memory and my heart.
    Alex Zapruder


  4. Stephanie Cavanaugh
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 12:15:52

    My crystal Kirby star still twinkles in the sun room outside my office — reminding me of her every day. Thank you for giving us that. We hold such wonderful memories. Stephanie


  5. Ilona Klein
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 13:26:43

    Kirby was a light in this world. With her gift of sight, her light keeps shining. Our collective memories are powerful testament to her being. Her Weinstock (paternal mother) family will be having a reunion in July and Kirby will be with us … with love in our hearts, in family photos, in many conversations. We hold you close.
    With love,


  6. Shelley Temchin
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 20:01:10

    There is much Kirby-ness that remains in the world, all in the hearts of those who loved her. Thank you, Kirby, for the gift of your eyes, which add to the light you have brought to the world, and thank you, Judith, Robert and Owen, for sharing her with us.
    With love, respect and gratitude,
    Shelley Temchin


  7. Harvey Blumenthal
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 21:32:18

    Dear Judith, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You had a beautiful daughter who just wanted to make life better for others. Another memory, a mitzvah, how special!

    Susie Blumenthal

    Sent from my iPhone


  8. Robsm10
    May 01, 2013 @ 00:45:32

    It would be nice to see Kirby’s lovely eyes again. I miss her presence in this world. I hope you can talk to her like I have my mother since she died. Kirby had a wonderful family and friends while she was in this world.


  9. Eva Jacob
    May 01, 2013 @ 01:15:25

    Eva Jacob
    April 30, 2013

    Dear Judith, Robert, and Owen,

    Thank you for keeping all of us who knew and loved Kirby a part of your ongoing journey. How like Kirby to want her eyes to give others vision. Please do keep on letting us know about other ways her all-too-brief life is still with us.




  10. Judi Van Gorder
    May 01, 2013 @ 01:29:01

    What a very touching story. To give two people their sight is a blessing itself. Kirby was so loved by family and friends, her short life was full of precious moments, those we will never forget. Love and prayers always. Judi and Del


  11. Jean L. B.
    May 02, 2013 @ 12:52:16

    Dear Judith,
    How fitting that Kirby again gave to others. With Kirby’s birthday coming up on Saturday I am thinking of her a lot this week. Thank you for sharing a few of the many ways Kirby’s life continues to grace this world. Love to you and Robert and Owen.


  12. Nanette Greene
    May 04, 2013 @ 00:28:42

    Dear Judith
    I can think of nothing more compassionate and kind. Knowing that Kirby’s eyes have given another new life, is the ultimate give back and more food for your own heart healing. I will now always look at another’s blue eyes with more joy and respect.
    Happy 30th, Kirby.
    Love, n


  13. Rebecca
    May 04, 2013 @ 02:48:44

    Thank you Judith for posting this. In a way, each Kirbystrong posting is also a testament to her. It also made me happy knowing that she was able to share some of her final wishes- and that they came true.

    I miss her so much and I wish I could be celebrating the big 30 with her. So many times I think to myself, “she didn’t even make it to 30.” Its like a bitter broken track record. Today I was (as I often do) imagining how a conversation would go with her. How she would react, laugh, advise with the things I would say. And vice versa.

    I hope some where out there she knows about how legacy still stands- and we will rightfully continue to make it so.



  14. henryzee@aol.com
    May 04, 2013 @ 19:49:51

    Dear Robert and Judith,

    This is very very touching. Thank you for sending it.

    I’m attaching the obituary notice from the Winter 2012 Smith Alumnae Quarterly, since it seemed you had not seen it. I wish I had the real thing, but I can’t find it anywhere, and I hope you can read it.

    Sending you love and hoping you are as well as you can be.

    Sincerely, Marjorie


  15. henryzee@aol.com
    May 04, 2013 @ 19:51:06

    forgot to add the attachment. Sorry.


  16. Julia Papps
    May 15, 2013 @ 21:33:33

    Hello, this is Julia, a Smithie who works at the Smith College Archives. I was very moved by Kirby’s obituary, which I am entering into the Archives database, and found my way to this site. Here is what was printed in the Smith Alumnae Quarterly in the Winter 2012-2013 issue:

    Kirby Capen ’07, Jan. 30, ’12, in Washington, DC. Raised on Capitol Hill, third in her class at School Without Walls Senior High School, Kirby lived in and adored Morrow House, and was an active member of Hillel and the ASL table. She worked for world peace: in Ghana as an exchange student, then as a grant recipient of the Davis Projects for Peace program. She lived in New York City and worked on improving building energy efficiency, “saving the world one kilowatt at a time.” Kirby was one who connected others. Find out more at kirbystrong.wordpress.com and at Remembering Kirby on Facebook.


  17. Ify
    May 30, 2013 @ 05:17:18

    I think about Kirby often. Her soul is unforgettable.


  18. Grace Pokela
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 20:52:45

    I just reread this and teared up again. Of course Kirby would help the world in whichever way she possibly could.


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