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.


Come See Kirby’s Crane Installation at the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts by Judith

As close as we figure, the final crane count was over 6,700 cranes. Some even arrived after Kirby died, one a bunch from Hong Kong. Many of them were unstrung when Kirby died but the Motorcycle ladies came and in two nights we finished stringing all the cranes we had.

As many of you know, we sent a number of cranes home with people after the funeral; some went to others who needed them for chronic conditions, and some were buried with Kirby.

Up to Saturday, April 28th, we still had over about 5,500 at our house, hanging in the dining room in a rainbow of graded colors. The small to tiny cranes are still in the kitchen on the cable that held the cranes that surrounded Kirb in her hospital bed.

We, of course, have been living with these birds for some time now and associate them with the sorrow of Kirby’s failed battle to survive that awful cancer. But, the cranes are also very much about our family’s community, which extended amazingly, and all those people’s hopes, manifest prayers, and caring. People seeing them for the first time in their completion have told us many times that they thought the aggregate of the cranes was significant enough to share with more people than just those who come into our dining room. So, we talked to the people at the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts (with help in establishing initial contacts from a couple of Capitol Hill angels). We especially liked the SMITH connection even though the Smith Center and Smith College are named for different Smiths…(I hope all you Smith College grads like the Smith parallel, too :-))

Before it became so clear she didn’t have the time, Kirby had picked up brochures about programs run by the Smith Center for people with cancer. http://smithcenter.org/. She was interested especially in support groups of other people her age with cancer. The Smith Center seemed appropriate as a location for an installation of her cranes, especially after we saw their space on U Street.

The executive director of the center, Shanti Norris, and other staff there were enthusiastic about the cranes, especially after seeing them in person or photos.

So, last Saturday we installed nearly 3,000 of them at the Smith Center in their activity room, with the help of Jean L.








Hanging the Cranes, photo by Jean L.

We think of the cranes as a collective work of art, made by an extraordinary community of people, close to Kirby and with various degrees of separation, who were touched, concerned, and caring and turned all that into tangible form: the thousands of cranes.

On Thursday, May 10th Michael Lerner, co-founder of Smith Center and of Commonweal, Smith Center’s sister center in Bolinas, California (www.commonweal.org) will be speaking on Intentional Healing from 6:30 to 8:30 PM at the Smith Center. (1632 U Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009 202.483.8600). The Center has graciously allowed us to host a welcoming event there that night for Kirby’s cranes. We extend this invitation to you to come and see the crane installation, possibly visit some you made, get to know the Smith Center, and join us for wine and nosh at 5 pm. Everyone is also welcome to stay for Mr. Lerner’s talk.

Please rsvp to Weinstein.48@gmail.com if you plan to come lest we run out of wine.

For the out-of-towners we know Thursday isn’t the most convenient and we will try to schedule a weekend reception in the future. (But if you come now or then we can put up you up.)

Whether or not you can come to the May 10th event, please feel free to visit the Smith Center Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, hours: Wed. to Fri., 11am – 5pm, Sat., 11am – 3pm. (The current show is quite lovely with some beautiful pieces dealing with remembering). You’ll see Kirby’s cranes from the gallery and can visit them, too.

The support for Kirby and us while she was sick is manifest in this collection of love-filled cranes. We are so very pleased these cranes are finding their way into the world with their messages of love, hope, peace, and healing.

This is the first venture out for this group of cranes. We hope for future opportunities to share them and, indeed, the rest of the “crane collection,” including the little and tiny cranes, the heavy and light cranes, the crane quilt, and all the other cranes that came to visit.

Thank You, by Judith

Let me take this opportunity to thank you all (I know this is lame: blanket thanks, but I am unable emotionally and/or practically to thank everyone individually.

There have been so many kindnesses, cards (people have said such heartfelt kind things, to us, about Kirby), donations, caring, for us ever to thank everyone for every effort. We have received and absorbed and it has all helped.

The efforts people went while she was sick continue to astonish and humble me.

Since her death, they have continued.

Even though we lost the war (she’s dead) the casualties could have been much worse without all our communities.

Also, thank you to everyone who has and is giving me space and time. For all the people who have not hugged knowing I have trouble with expressions of sympathy. And I know that all kinds of kindness associated with Kirby and this awful time are going on out there in the world that I don’t know specifically of: but thank you.

And to everyone who has offered meals, lunches out, walks…thank you. If you don’t hear from me or I don’t take you up on offers please don’t feel rebuffed or unappreciated. I am treading water VERY HARD trying to keep my head up and breathe. (Including with some good advice from my sister about how to breathe.) For me this means retreat, quiet, silence, very few things scheduled, gym. We’ve been told both this is the WORST loss (of a child) and that it takes TIME (possibly, probably a lot).

Finally, thanks for the comments. (And to Becca and Kate who set up this website.) I read the comments, weep, and feel connected, being reminded of company in misery. A number of people have thanked us for sharing: let me thank all of YOU for everything you have shared.
Cards (with stamps! The struggling USPS thanks you, too)
Offers for help/contact/time/food we never took you up on
TIME given to us by busy people taking time out from their lives to be with us, help us, do things for us
Amazing creativity (all the riffs on cranes)
The happy Kirby memories people are sharing as well as the letters and notes you’re writing her (I am, too. Sharing those anecdotes about family, friends, the Hill that made her laugh. My own eccentric news: I think I have figured out two-suit spider solitaire).
Your own stories about loss, cancer (it really does help me)
The incredible respect, and indulgence, accorded us when we said “no visitors,” “visitors allowed,” “no food,” “food welcome,” “come,” “don’t come,” “sing,” “don’t sing.” Even all the people who did their best to conform to our household’s strictures about precision in language (she DIED. “Pass” is too kind for the savage reality. No GIRLS here unless they they’re under 13. If asked if you want something, “OK,” noncommittal as it is, is not acceptable. Say “yes,” “no,” “Oh yes!” “Never!” and all rest of them…_

As I muddle through my days I remember. I remember her 28 years. I remember her being sick. Dying for five months. The roller coaster. And I remember things I want to thank people for, but probably won’t.

Please accept both my thanks and apologies.

If you wonder how Owen is doing, he gave me permission to share his final reflection for the English course he took winter quarter:

Grieving: Sharing and Some Resources, By Judith, edited by robert

From emails, phone calls, cards we know we are not grieving alone.

We, and probably a lot of you, are new to this sort of loss. We are finding our halting way. We have now attended two bereavement groups; I (finally) have a shrink. We’re finding help in others and books and want to share some of what we think helps.

Right after Kirby died, I said, “Oh, God,” a lot. It was shorthand for “how the !@#$%^&* can this be?” It was a howl to an uncaring universe.

I also sighed. Turns out this is actually one of the recognized “symptoms” of grief…as if I didn’t know. But it gives me permission to sigh. Previously an expression I found annoying.

I cried then and still cry. A lot.

I have found for the last seven months that having a hankie in the pocket is helpful. Don’t wanna be caught with only hospital sandpaper tissues to hand or, even worse, nothing but a sleeve.

People have talked about and shared pictures. I, too, find that helpful. I have some from her illness, I think because it is the most recent, but also lots of her smiling, laughing, in New York, Scotland, college, as a little kid. I think forgetting is one of my fears.

Cleaning still. Making compulsive order in tiny bits of my life: drawers, closets.

A lovely caring member of Temple Micah sent us this book:
How To Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies. Therese A. Rando, Ph.D.

Both Robert and I are reading it and find it helpful/comforting.
If your preferred style is to read, we think you will find this book helpful.

Hoping for healing.

The following was written by a British woman who lost her daughter, Sarah:
(given to us by a dear friend who lost her sister more than 20 years ago and still grieves…)

Robert says, “Is it just misery loves company?” but I find comfort knowing there is such a range of behaviors, the time it takes/may take,

What did I want people to know?
o Grief isn’t one constant feeling. It comes in huge waves that wash over one.
o The waves decrease in frequency over time but can still be as overwhelming as at first.
o There is a heavy black physical pain that accompanies grief. For me this was like a rock in my chest.
o It is still possible to have moments where one can smile, feel hungry, do “normal” things even early on.

Other aspects
o Grief is exhausting.
o It slows ones cognitive functions (I would never have believed how much this was so)
o I went from being unable to sleep (lurching awake with horror) to sleeping all the time (putting my head on the desk at work to nap)
o An immediate bond with other bereaved parents (it crosses all barriers)

Helpful and unhelpful responses
• Let us talk and let us cry. This is the greatest gift early on.
• If you know the deceased, tell an anecdote (“I remember when…”)
• Don’t say “I couldn’t live with it.” We HAVE to live with it—there is no choice.
• Don’t say, “Have you achieved closure?”
• If you can’t speak, a gentle touch may suffice to show your compassion.

How did we get through?
• Family members had different ways of coping.
• I needed the gym. The mindless exercise helped me.
• Mick stopped exercising for months.
• I did not want to work ever again.
• Mick went back the next day.
• I cooked—it was easy and mindless. Mick stopped cooking.

Coping strategies
• We all cried frequently (and did for years—less now)
• We held each other.
• In the early days my cat changed his behavior.

Changes over the first year
• It took me five months before I could see a patient and years before this was easy.
• The academic work was easier. I could do it at my own speed and cry when I felt like it.
• It took me a year before I could do a full day at work.
• I worried less about unimportant things. Our priorities changed.

Reactions of others
• Most people were good—some didn’t cope
• Some people one didn’t expect much from came up trumps.
• “your address book will change.”
• Good and bad things in the early days are remembered with heightened awareness.
• Giving permission to take things slowly helped.
• Letting us come to terms in our own way and at our own speed is important.

At least…
• Every I have talked to has an “at least”
• “At least she didn’t die in agony”
• “At least he died at home.”
• “At least he saw his brother’s wedding.”
• “At least we had a body to bury.” (post 9-11)
• Not having a body is NOT the worst thing for us.
• Not having sarah is the worst thing.
• And, in any case one has to deal with the hand that has been dealt.

We thought our hearts were broken when we lost our first born child. Our hearts have healed or at least the open wound has become a scar.
–Sarah’s Mom

How Are You Coping?

By Judith

We attended our first bereavement group last Tuesday. The four widows and young woman who lost her mother all felt sorry for us. It dawned on me what an amazing gift it is to be going through this with a partner. The other grievers managed alone during more protracted and actually more horrible illnesses (impaired mental function from brain cancer, “loopy;” facial disfigurement from aggressive surgery).

It actually could be worse…

We asked these other mourners, some with over a year’s experience with grief, “How do you deal with it when people ask how you are?”

Boy did THAT resonate. Each of the five had comments, anecdotes, and advice (“I say: one step at a time.”)

As many of you know one of our responses to how-are-you is: “I’m an emotional wreck but thank you for asking” We started this while Kirby was still alive in preparation for the Temple Micah craft sale when I knew I’d see a lot of friends, family, Micah members. It has been very helpful to have a pat answer for the omnipresent salutation.

Since she died a new mantra is “I keep telling myself I will be ok.”

The reason this question is so hard is that it makes us cry. Not the best lubricant for social intercourse. And, as we disintegrate it makes it hard to proceed with anything else: conversation, other people’s lives, tasks at hand.

This is why I declared a moratorium on hugs. I was getting incredibly sympathetic, caring hugs from people I barely knew, Kirby’s nurses, the palliative care people, the hospice people. Those hugs telegraphed I’m-a-professional-in-this-area-and-it-is-looking-so-bad-I-know-you’re-going-to-need-a-LOT-of-sympathy-very-soon-and-here’s-a-down-payment. I got the message loud and clear and even while being touched by the caring and kindness those hugs drove another spike into my heart. The message changed after she died (this-is-truly-unbelieveably-awful-I-can’t-imagine-how-awful-but-I’m-grieving-with-you) and all that loving sympathy just abraded already raw wounds.

Before Kirby died, some of us were already availing ourselves of the anesthetic gifts of alcohol. Most nights going to bed was a matter of giving up for that day. The alcohol for me extends the time before the surrender.

(And thank you to everyone who has shared the anesthesia with us and to those who brought booze to us: G & Ts in the hospital even by Saint R. And really a lot of premium alcohol from our Saint and a number of others.)

Before Kirby died, one family member attempted to model control by cleaning/clearing the kitchen counters. At the end of just about every day and certainly by the time he was up an hour or two, the counters would be TOTALLY clear (with the possible exception of flowers) and CLEAN.
Even I, never a neat freak, have been attempting to create order in my environment as if that would create order in my emotional life. I actually installed a rubbery drawer liner material in a couple of drawers, scrubbing away two decades of gundge in the process.

Two of us are listening to recorded books more or less non-stop as an antidote to gerbil-brain.

I, with a lot of company in the over-60 crowd, wake a number of times in the night. I wake even more than previously. While Kirby was sick (little noises, “Is she vomiting? Do I need to go down to help?). Or just waking in terror. Or monkey brain repeating, “etoposide, cisplaten, emesis, carboplatin, pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis, irenotecan, LESIONS, progress, survival.”

Since she died, sometimes I can’t get to sleep because of the regret and grief devils who are also there for night wakings.

The distracting help of a recorded book lets me get to sleep and go back to sleep.

We both cry. A lot… I do a lot of tears and snuffling and nose blowing…

I’ve been to the gym more often and regularly than ever before in my life. Currently probably because I have so little actually scheduled. Before she died because gym was one of only two activities: Kirby and gym.

Owen is at school, which is a full out marathon for him. Work, exhaustion, and party weekends may be enough distraction for him for now. He’ll be home at the end of this quarter to help us recreate our abbreviated family.

When the seven day candle began to burn very low, I felt a fresh sense of loss so we are now burning multi-day candles continuously.

And, of course, the support from friends/family/community continues…dinner at the drop of a hat. Pot luck Shabbat. Endless indulgence, good advice, help.

So we muddle along. With a lot of help from our friends. And grief.

Some others of Kirby’s friends and family have shared their coping strategies. Please feel free to add yours.


Owen wrote:

22 February 2012

It comes and goes in waves, this week and last has been sorrow, deep painful sorrow. i have been working more or less 20 hour days, but still am feeling haunted, whenever i sleep for more than a few hours i have dreams about her sickness, or death.

two weeks ago it was numbness, empty void-like numbness. i think i was numb when i talked to you on the phone.

I am trying to basically not drink, and when i do only with friends, and never to drunkenness. it seems like a bad road to go down, although an easy one.

i feel ok when i am planning for the future. i have been emailing with sam about projects, txting with devin, and talking to scott (who is gonna be working for william mcdonough) or fully engaged in the present (sometimes that doesn’t work). i went skiing and was ok as long as i was going down the hill but the ride back up was back to thinking about kirb.

i struggle to do anything that is not fun/something i really want to do. It’s hard to see the point of writing my English essays and such.

i am going on a lot of “bro-dates” to plays, the symphony etc. i tried asking a woman out, but it turns out she has a boyfriend, and really i just wanted company. my friends are better, they go to places with me that i would otherwise take a woman, but it becomes just about enjoying the event.

i bought basically every book that Billy Collins has written, it seems to help to read a poem. i am popping poems the way others pop pills.

i am eating too much, although the lack of sleep has so far kept my weight constant so far.

i gave away my last cigar, and hope to be done with smoking.

i am growing increasingly fond of the sleep-deprived haze that i am living in. it makes it easier to just focus on one thing here and now.

my studio project makes me happy…. i think it is going to have some nice parts.

i look forward to being in dc, with you guys, and sam and devin and carson.




(“aaw” is from AFS days: it was shorthand for “alive and well:” the mimimum communication to home.)



Erin wrote:

I have been thinking about you all so much these last weeks and have meant to email you anyway though. It is absolutely mind boggling to me that Kirby is gone.

There are moments during my day when I am reminded of her- sometimes I don’t even know what has led my mind to the subject, but suddenly she is in my thoughts. Maybe because in many ways, it is so difficult to make the transition in my thinking from my friend, who for all I knew was always going to be a part of my life, to my friend who died of cancer at 28. She is not a memory yet; my heart is so wanting for her not to be a memory that I think of her as though she might still be here. And then, I am reminded; my brain engages and wins out over my heart at the knowledge, at the fact that I helped to bury her, that she is not here anymore.

I think of her when I look at the string of cranes hanging in the corner of my living room, when I gaze at the paintings I bought in Italy that she brought back to the States, when I open my closet, which has bracelet of beautiful beads from Ghana hanging on the knob. I think of her when I talk to Lana, when I am in the shower, and when I think of spring coming.

And most of all, when I am in bed with the lights out and have said good night to Leo, I think of her.

Sometimes I just cry so so much.



Kirby Sarah Weinstein Capen

4 May 1983-30 January 2012


Kirby Sarah Weinstein Capen, 28, died at home Monday afternoon, January 30th in Washington, DC with a parent holding each hand and surrounded by love. She had, under the influence of a particularly Savage and merciless Cancer, been leaving us for five months but now the departure is irrefutable.


Kirby was born May 4th, 1983, in Washington, DC, first child of Judith Capen and Robert Weinstein. She was so fantastic she was joined by Owen Weinstein six years later. She was raised on Capitol Hill, eight blocks from the US Capitol, and attended local private and public schools, graduating third in her class from DCPS magnet School Without Walls Senior High School in 2002, another formative institution in her life. School Without Walls helped her know she could be very successful and introduced her to realities about the District of Columbia her previous relatively privileged life hadn’t.


As a high school junior, Kirby lived in Ghana, West Africa for six months as an AFS exchange student, adding her host family in Kumasi to her family circle. Her time in Ghana was important to her: she truly believed in the AFS mission of world peace through cultural exchange. Africa acquired a place in her heart. She returned three more times during college including once to work at the Bechem School for the Deaf under a Smith College Praxis Grant and once as a grant recipient in the inaugural year of the 100 Grants for Peace Program, fostering cross-cultural accord using her beading skills working with high school students.


Temple Micah was her first and last spiritual home. It is the institution that shaped her deep Jewish identity and was an important part of Kirby’s life and community in DC. Her faith traveled with her to college and throughout life.


After high school graduation, Kirby used a gap year to take art classes including photography, silver working, pottery, glass fusing, and jewelry making at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia; Glen Echo; and Montgomery College. She continued to develop her business, Kirbead, and worked at Washington, DC bead store Beadazzled.


Kirby attended Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts, earning her B.S. in engineering as well as a minor in art, May 2007. Smith College was an institution that shaped her, inspired her, helped her grow, and provided her with four fantastic years. When she visited during her college search she said, “This is the college of my dreams.” She lived in and adored Morrow House and was active member of Hillel and the ASL table as a Smithie. She was well known and loved on campus, often seen on her bike heading to class or riding home late from the library. She spent a semester studying at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.


Kirby had hoped to be well enough to attend her five-year Smith College reunion and ten-year School Without Wall reunion this spring. Instead, classmates from both schools brought came to her in her last months.


After college, Kirby moved to New York City where she worked for PowerCon, consulting engineers, doing energy audits and increasing energy efficiency in a range of building types. She said she was saving the world one kilowatt at a time and developed an enthusiasm for boiler rooms. She cultivated many friendships in New York including close ones with Smithies, co-workers, and others. She had just begun what promised to be a great new job with Steven Winters Association before her cancer diagnosis in September 2011 when she returned to Washington and her family.


Kirby had her own devils to fight: although some friends never knew it, she had a significant language-based learning disability that made reading, writing, and foreign languages extraordinarily difficult for her. But she proceeded in life finding work-arounds, like taking American Sign Language (ASL) in high school at Gallaudet University to fulfill her foreign language requirement, going to English-speaking Ghana with AFS, going to putatively English-speaking Scotland for study abroad. Each of her work-arounds, in typical Kirby fashion, became hugely affirming in its own right. Her creative spelling was more of an embarrassment to her than an impediment to her effective communication. (As a proactive coping strategy, she made lists of word that plagued her. These lists continue to show up.) She also found that she could excel in her work by working hard and staying organized.


Kirby loved children and was a genius at connecting with them. Particularly sad to her was the realization that the cancer had robbed her of that particular future: children of her own.


Kirby remained a vibrant presence to her family and friends even in her final weeks. She was a joyous, open-minded person with an incredible ability to bring people together. Not only did she connect others, but also she herself connected. She sought out and found people, institutions, places, and causes in her life that she connected to and supported with loyalty and love.


She was brave: not afraid to try new things or confidently pursue what she was already good at. Her smile and laughter were contagious and her heart was open and warm to all. Everyone who had the opportunity to know Kirby, whether for a weekend or a lifetime, was enriched. She was smart, funny, a really hard worker, committed to social justice, and a good cook.


Kirby’s good friend Rebecca Berman, another Smithie, created a web site blog for Kirby during her illness. This site allowed Kirby’s community to be with her for her last five months and is a beautiful testimonial to her life. https://kirbystrong.wordpress.com. In addition, Remembering Kirby is a Facebook site where many of her friends have posted.


Kirby is survived by her mother, Judith Capen, her father, Robert Weinstein, and her brother, Owen Weinstein, of Washington DC as well as adoring aunts, cousins, and friends who miss her, grieve for her, and will remember her lost future forever.


Kirby was buried 2 February 2012 at the Historic Congressional Cemetery on Capitol Hill in a traditional Jewish service. She was 28 years, 8 months, and 26 days old.



(Thanks to Erin McCuin, Smith ’07, who drafted the first version of this obit.)

Remarks By Rabbi Dan Zemel, at her funeral

Remarks By Rabbi Dan Zemel, Temple Micah, Kirby’s home synagogue in which she grew up, at her funeral

2 February 2012, Congressional Cemetery, Washington, DC:


Robert, Judith and Owen—words fail us all—

We all love you very much—

We struggle to find words to say, words that express in some way the inexpressible.

We only can say—we love you all so much.…

Yesterday, I sat in silence looking at my computer screen thinking about what words I could offer that could try and capture our sense of this moment. There are of course no words.

The ache is too great.

The insult too defying.

The shock too numbing.

The unfairness too staggering.

I therefore sat to read this week’s Torah portion. Beshallach—God sent—the climax of the story of our ancestors leaving Egypt. Egypt—Mitzrayim—the place the rabbis called a narrow land—a tight place—a place you feel squeezed—I couldn’t get very far in my reading. Everything seemed a bit hazy and I found myself reading and rereading the same words again and again.

17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the direct road –instead. ..” 18  God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea…..  19 Now, Moses took the bones of Joseph with him from Egypt ….20  they camped …on the edge of the desert. 21 By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud…..and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light…by day or night….

Exodus 14

1 Then God said to Moses, 2 “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp …between Migdol and the sea… 3 Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed by the desert…

Today we are all wandering around the land in confusion—hemmed in by what feels to be a desert—a wasteland, wilderness lies before us. How will we cross this? How will we leave this narrow place?

The psalmist offers us straight paths—

This Torah portion offers a crooked roundabout way.

This portion is a Torah of everything and its opposite

Pharoah and God

Israel and Egypt

Freedom and War

Straight path and Philistines

Day and Night

Pillar of Cloud and a Pillar of Fire

The vision of a new future and the bones of Joseph

Desert and Sea

Wilderness and Water

Like the wandering Israelites we too are tossed in a wilderness of everything and its opposite.

This is who we are right now—we feel ourselves to be bent out of shape.

Should we be bitter?

How can we not be?

But then we think–Was Kirby ever bitter?

Should we be angry?

How can we not be?

But then we think–Was Kirby an angry person?

This moment is as if a moment –frozen in time. It is as if there is nowhere to really turn—we are feeling hemmed in just as the Bible tells us.

We all have Kirby stories we are thinking about right now in these moments as we struggle and tearfully say goodbye.

The memories are glorious—Capitol Hill, Capitol Hill Day School, School Without Walls, Temple Micah, Ghana, AFS, Smith, engineering, a budding life in New York, beading, travel with family, friends everywhere—friends everywhere.

Just go to the beautiful litany of testimony and encouragement on Kirby Strong—

If you want to be inspired by the potential of human love—linger over the site:

Statement 1

It comes as no surprise that Kirby — such a committed, thoughtful, kind, and caring student, who I continue to think about and invoke to other students years after her graduation — would come from and be surrounded by such committed and caring folks.


Statement 2

So many people love you and are sending you and your family love and strength. You defined strong for me when we were little kids on the playground, and you always will.

Love from A St. NE,

Devin Burke

One more—

When I think of you the first thing that comes to mind is your laugh and that wonderful personality of yours – you’re such a sweetheart. I love the way you can get your point across in such a polite way and anything and everything you set your mind to – you can accomplish.- Josephine

Kirby was a tower of beauty and a kind of purity and humor. Kirby was strong and willful and wonderful. Kirby exuded life.

Yesterday Judith said to me in many different ways that Kirby was born with an old soul—she was a nurturer—you can read that everywhere on the KirbyStrong web site—“because of you I stayed in school, I only had one class with you but I remember you to this day, you were the one who helped me in the engineering lab when I was a first year. You were the one with the smiling face. You were the one who was never in a sour mood. You were the one who…. You were the one who…

You were the one who….

You were the one who…

Kirby was so often the one for so many—

So often, for so many—

Kirby was the one.

This combination of old soul and nurturer—someone who implicitly understood people—this gift of being someone who could look at another person and see into them, see inside of them—feel their soul—was writ large in Kirby—within Kirby. Kirby’s soul could see into our own.

And she shared this everywhere—from Capitol Hill to Temple Micah from New England all the way around the globe to Ghana.

Kirby wanted to save the world—one kilowatt at a time—

Robert even told this joke to me yesterday—it could have been Kirby—

Everyone is gathered around the bed of the man who lay dying—who asks—is everyone here?

Yes-he is told—we are all here—

All of the grandchildren?

Yes-the grandchildren are here

The cousins?

Yes—all the cousins are here

And my nephews and nieces?

Yes-they are here also—

Then why do I see the light on in the hallway?

Kirby’s life was give over to so many things—her friends, her engineering, her desire to save the world—Judith said that she had tikkun olam (repairing the world) engraved into her heart—and Kirby had a large heart—a heart that matched her soul.

Yesterday at the house– we spoke about Kirby’s learning disabilities—her formidable obstacles in learning a language. We spoke of the challenges that she faced in preparation for bat mitzvah. This goes back so many years. Teddy and I used to share how Kirby really struggled with the Hebrew—but there was a total nobility in her bat mitzvah efforts. I used to say to Teddy and then come home and tell Louise that Kirby had the heart of a lion. She wanted it so much.  Her dedication was so extraordinary. This beautiful soul was in her—even as her Hebrew learning challenge prevented her from taking the straight line path—she zigged and she zagged to great success.

Kirby knew that the rich fulfilling life was found in dedicated response to challenge. This is why we feel so broken today—the pillar of fire is burning less brightly for us all. Kirby was that pillar of fire for so many.

Many years ago at a rabbinical conference, I mentioned to the leader of the track on Healing—that I found her offerings rather the opposite of healing—but rather depressing. She asked me what I found healing and I told her humor was healing. At her healing offering later that day we began with a breathing exercise. My friend invited us in that kind of low, mellow voice—meant only to annoy people like me–to breathe in-breathe out, inhale—pause—exhale–—then without missing a beat she looked right at me and said “you can choose to participate or not.” After a split second the entire room howled with laughter.

Kirby’s guest wall invited jokes—As a way of honoring Kirby’s delightful humor I am limiting myself to three:

1.      A neutrino walks into a bar, orders a gin and tonic, and asks the bartender how much it owes. The bartender says: “For you — no charge.”

2.      The Zen master steps up to the hot dog cart and says: “Make me one with everything.” The hot dog vendor fixes a hot dog and hands it to the Zen master, who pays with a $20 bill. The hot dog vendor puts the bill in the cash drawer and closes the drawer. When the Zen master asks for change, the hot dog vender says: “Change comes from within.”

3.      An American tourist is visiting the Kotel, the Western Wall, in Jerusalem, the most holy site in Judaism, and sees one old man praying fervently. His forehead is resting on the large blocks of stone and he’s beating his chest. He even has tears in his eyes.

The tourist approaches the old man, tells him how impressed he is with his piety, and asks him what he prays for.

Old Man: “Good health, peace between the Jews and the Arabs, and prosperity for everyone.”

Tourist: “And how long have you been coming to pray here?”

Old Man: “Twice every day for fifty years.”

Tourist: “And have your prayers been answered?”

Old Man: “Ach—it’s like talking to a wall!”

We are all talking to a wall today—we find nothing but questions in our prayers—we find nothing but questions—even in our laughter.

Robert and Judith used to bring Kirby to Shabbat services every Friday evening—Louise reminded me dressed in wonderful little girl’s dresses—she would lie down and sleep on the seat as the service wore on. We saw her every week—all of us at Micah watched her grow up. Robert reminded me that after one service many years ago-when Kirby was 3 or 4 as we were leaving the temple, I asked Kirby what her favorite part of the Shabbat service was. Kirby looked up at me and “the cookies afterwards”  was the wonderful response. I remember that moment—and I remember saying to her—“That is my favorite part also.”

We are all going to leave here and go to the repast in store for us at the church—St James and St Monicas on 8th Steet NE just north of Massachusetts Avenue. Please everyone—as a way to honor Kirby find a good looking cookie to munch on—and think of Kirby.

More than anything else—from the time she was very young—we could see it—Kirby was a connector. She brought people together. She made arrangements. She was a giving, caring person—who linked one to another. Just as beading was her passion—and what is beading but putting one bead on a loop next to another bead—joining together. Beading was a metaphor for who Kirby was—she joined people into clusters around her and she was a gatherer—

I would like to close this afternoon with the wisdom of Michael Walzer—beautiful words that seem to capture where we are now and what Kirby would have us do as a way of going forward.

“Standing on the parted shores of history, we still believe what we were taught before ever we stood at Sinai: that where ever we are, it is eternally Egypt that there is a better place a promised land; that the winding way to that promise passes thru the wilderness, that there is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands marching together.”

We can only go forward from this newly darkened and narrow world together. This will take time—the path will be crooked and we will be turned back along the way–but through it we will together share our love for Kirby—

We will continue her passions for the world, and her work,

We will remember her grace, her beauty her lion’s hearted courage and her humor.

Like the psalmist—we will drink deeply from the cup of our memories of Kirby—so that the blessings of our lives are hers.

We will link ourselves as Kirby would have –binding ourselves to Kirby’s dreams—together.

Robert, Judith, Owen, Jean, Traci, Ken, Doug—

We know that your world more than any other will never be the same. Together we hold you in our dreams and our memories.

For Kirby we pray—shalom l’nafsha—May God’s sweet peace rest with your soul—


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