I want you to meet Kassie Lee. It’s difficult to sum a person such as her in a few words, but I could try: Dedicated, giving, brave and of course, gregarious. Kassie accomplished more in her short life and touched more lives than some will attempt to do in a lifetime.
On May 31st of last year, Kassie experienced a pulmonary embolism- a completely random, unforseeable medical condition that cut her life short, just about a week after her college graduation.
Those who knew and loved her were shocked and distraught- how could something like this happen? How could we begin to understand or grapple with something that seemed so random, so heartbreaking and unfair?
As the year has passed- I still don’t have have any lessons to take away from her death, and perhaps there is no need. What I can relay to you is that there is something profound to take away from her life, and it is the greatest comfort one can take away from a loss. This is what I have learned:
How many times have you seen a need in someone- either for a hug, a note of condolence or a word of encouragement, but YOU got in your own way? Kassie was always the brave one- she reached out to people when I shied away. We tell ourselves “Oh, they don’t need to hear it from me,” when a coworker seems to be struggling and needs a boost, or you feel too intimidated to offer a hug or send a note to someone who just lost a loved one? Usually our excuses and resistance to helping others comes from our own insecurities, not an authentic assessment if another person needs our help or not.
Several years ago, when our mutual friend Vickie was sick with cancer, Kassie made the 6 hour drive from central California to help the family out while Vickie was battling the disease. I lived a shorter distance away but admit, I was too insecure that I could “help,” to make the same effort- I literally was scared. I didn’t have confidence in myself enough to reach out and help a dear friend- I didn’t think my efforts would help in the ways this wonderful woman truly deserved.
I realize now the error in my thinking: get over yourself and reach out. Helping someone else, even in a small way is never about you.
You will do some great things in life, but you will be remembered for how you made others feel. Kassie did some tremendous stuff educationally, personally and professionally- but reading her achievements on paper are just a fraction of the impact she made. Ask anyone about her, they will relay her life to you in feelings, not her accolades.
Kassie used to tell a story about the white crayon. Many people don’t see the point in having a white crayon in a box of so many other vibrant colors. She relayed that the white crayon can be the most important one in the box- simply because it allows the other colors to stand out. We all have the chance to be the bold, gorgeous colors at some time- and someone has always been our white crayon, offering support from behind the scenes. She often tried to build others up in a way that didn’t bring attention to herself, but really brought out the best in people.
You have the ability to be a white crayon for anyone, bring out the best in them, and let them be their colorful selves. Simply being around and supporting their dreams, making them feel special and loving them however you can will bring out their true colors. Being the white crayon isn’t boring- you’ll find you’ll be surrounded by the most beautiful and resplendent people and they might just bring out the color in you as well.
Experiencing loss will bring up every emotion imaginable, even regret. For every time I felt joy for her life, I felt regret that I should have done better for her while she was here. I began to look over my life, and critically evaluate my choices. While in moderation, self-evaluation can be healthy, beating yourself up for the past does no one justice. Learn from the experiences you’ve had, step forward in gratitude for the lessons both good and bad and forge a new day from what you’ve learned.
Loss will change you- you learn to cut negative people out in your life, and draw loved ones closer. Of course, I felt insecure reaching out to those who also miss her- but eventually, love takes over. Relationships will change for the better- the past won’t matter as much, and you’ll appreciate the new opportunity to strengthen friendships.
Kassie’s passing left a huge hole in my heart, a hole I never thought could be filled. How lucky I am that people reached out to try and fill it and to develop new and stronger friendships- to grieve together, to heal together. She can never be replaced, but even though she is no longer on this earth, she has a left a legacy of bringing people together.
I used to be weird about hugging. My nuclear family didn’t do much hugging growing up, and I guess I never appreciated the art of hugging as much as I do now.
I’m very blessed to say that one of the best hugs I’ve ever received was from Kassie. She and I served in the same non-profit organization for several years, and in 2005-2006 I served as the president of this great group. I wished and prayed that Kassie would be taking my place. Nominations for state office are done in secret, so even those nominated and the outgoing officers have no idea how positions will pan out. I knew she would do amazing things in office, and stood waiting to hear the name of the new appointee- praying I’d hear her name over the loudspeaker. Suddenly- the dream came true- it was HER. She ran down the stairs to greet me, and I was given the best (happy tears) hug of my life.
I thought the best moment in my life had been during my appointment a year prior, but I experienced a greater joy in seeing her get the chance to live up to the potential I knew was within her. She didn’t disappoint, and I will always treasure that very special hug. An embrace of congratulations, an embrace of hope for the future- I think I show affection a lot easier now.
For nearly a year now, I’ve gone through everything a person can go through- the feelings of loss, the sting of regret, the gratitude of her friendship, and the intense passion to live by her example. I’ve learned that it’s okay to feel pain even as you celebrate a life. It’s okay to forgive yourself for what you lack and let go of what “could” or “should have been.”
You can learn something from every loss, it may seem to create a hole in your life and in your heart, but it can be filled up with amazing people, memories and the gratitude that you had loved in the first place. Here’s to you Kassie, I know you will continue to touch lives.