14 December 2008

I Would Rather Be Ashes Than Dust...A Eulogy

By request, here is the full text of the eulogy delivered by Sean at Kirsten's funeral. Please feel free to share it with anyone who may have missed the service. The family has endured this past week through support from so many friends and relatives. Your intentions, and your efforts are appreciated more than we could express. Thank you all.


I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

I found this quote from Jack London on Kirsten’s website. It speaks to a place in all of us – a place of real strength and passion. It calls us to be present, and to act! It reminds us to keep the spark of life burning brightly. My sister, like my father before her, shined so brightly. They both possessed a powerful intellect that is unmatched in my experience. Kirsten’s burned with such intensity that it reached around the globe. But the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

There is a natural period of grief we all must endure as we let go of a daughter, a sister, a friend. I personally have been crushed by waves of emotion all week as I sort through all she left behind. I appreciate the tears. They remind me how much Kirsten means to me. They keep me present, and force me to evaluate what is truly important in life. I do feel a sense of loss, but I’m not willing to indulge despair. Kirsten has already found peace. Now I must surrender to what is, and just let her go to find my own. I am not here to mourn the loss of Kirsten. I’m here to celebrate the blessing of her presence in of our lives.

I had the unique opportunity to join Kirsten at work one day on the beach in Florida. We had coffee, breakfast, and arrived on the beach well before dawn. We spent the day scouring a 10-mile beach of white sand looking for white eggs the size of a quarter. She could spot them from a moving ATV, while I could hardly see the small birds who gathered nearby, indicating their location. She was incredibly sensitive to her surroundings which allowed her to be of great service in her work.

More than any other animal, Kirsten fought to protect the turtle. To her, it represented the bridge between land and sea, relying on both for its survival. This sensitive creature, vulnerable to forces on both land and sea, was, to Kirsten, the canary in the global coal mine. Kirsten studied, traveled, educated the public, accepted awkward living conditions, and even broke laws to ensure this majestic creature’s survival.

Like the turtle, Kirsten was timid and fragile beneath her thick protective shell. The same sensitivity that helped her excel in her work also created much pain in her personal life. If there is any tragedy to be found in her life, it is this: she often failed to give herself the same unconditional love that so easily flowed through her work.

It seems to me that Kirsten was at home out in the world, easily thriving outside her shell. While away, she developed a power that she rarely displayed at home. In her travels, she seemed to grow larger. Through service she found her power. She simply shined when her work inspired her. Anyone that saw her at work saw the selfless efforts of a true custodian to Mother Earth. Her conservation work kept her spark burning, and when it was lit, she was immense. Peter witnessed this on a visit to Jekyll Island, GA. Mom saw it on Antigua. And I saw it full-force on our travels through Malaysia. When she was in her element, she attracted to her all kinds of unique life experiences. For example, she told me once that she received 6 marriage proposals in one day while working in Barbados. This is hard to believe at first, but having glimpsed her world once or twice, I’d believe almost anything.

Still, at home, she did come down to earth from time to time, and had a spontaneous, wacky sense of humor. She had a wonderfully endearing soft side that was perhaps best known by my sister Megh, and her family, Tom and Gabriel. When she wasn’t eating movie popcorn, she also made some world-class southwestern food. Before this week, I knew her mostly through family. As the responses come in from friends near and far, I’m delighted to see she had such far-reaching positive influence.

Just two weeks ago, we gathered to welcome my beautiful nephew, Sebastian to the family. Now here we are to bid farewell to Kirsten. Although the tone of these two events is vastly different, the circle of life is now complete. Birth and death are but two ends to a life, equal in value, and equal in joy. They cannot exist without each other. Death is the one certainty that we all face. We deny it at our own peril. Better to embrace the truth of our mortality, allow peace to find us here and now, and live without fear. For fear and worry only waste what life we are given.

Who’s to say that Kirsten’s was an untimely death? We are but players on the stage, and we lack the director’s broad perspective. Sure there are some questions left unanswered, but there are forces at work that exist beyond our control. Who knows what will unfold in time?

I believe every morning you wake up, you’ve been blessed with a gift. What you do with that gift is entirely in your hands. The fruits of our labors may never be seen. But that’s no reason to stop believing our highest ideal, and working to make it real. Whatever you feed will grow. Kirsten’s work in raising awareness planted so many seeds, which even now are nurtured through people reading her work, and contributions aimed at continuing it. Now, the torch, it seems, has been passed…

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” These words from Mahatma Gandhi were written at the end of every email I ever received from my sister. More than anyone I know, she embodied this message. At a young age, she found her passion, and had the courage to allow it to direct her life, often sacrificing personal comforts and worldly success to win small battles on a beach you never heard of. She will always remain to me an example of living your truth, and being the change you wish to see.

Kirsten squeezed a lot of life into her short years.
She will be missed.

Thank you all for coming to celebrate her memory.


"Alaskan John" M. Dahlen said...

Thank you Sean for your very eloquent eulogy for your sister and my cousin, and for sharing it here with those of us who were unable to attend her services this morning. When we lose someone we love, their memories become treasures, and Kirsten has certainly left us a wealth of treasures. I hope you will e-mail or call if you are ever changing planes or are on the ground for any length of time in Anchorage so I can come out to the airport and visit. My love to all! John

Marion said...

What a wonderful tribute to Kirsten. I never knew her but often read about her work with sea turtles, as I go about doing my small part in helping to save these creatures. My thoughts are with you, her family, at this time.

Tony Miller said...

Thank you for sharing this with all of us. I appreciate it.

Barrier Island Girl said...

Thank you for sharing this eloquent tribute to Kirsten. I really miss her.


Anonymous said...

So sorry I did not hear about Kirsten's death until after the funeral. Kirsten had been an extraordinary friend and classmate in our childhood and teen years.

I am grateful to the Dahlen family for leaving her blog up to celebrate her life. She packed incredible accomplishments in to a sadly shortened life.

Kirsten lived humbly for a noble cause: not just the turtles she mothered. Whether guarding a clutch of eggs or teaching children, she worked for balance in nature -- including humanity.


Tim Griesbach said...

I grew up with kirsten we lived in the same neighborhood and from what my mother said we were best friends. Then we grew up and apart I saw kirsten about 15 years ago when she was still in collage she was very pasionate about marine life, I only wish I had paid more attention to what she had to say I was to busy drinking and fighting fires to listen. I was truley saddened to hear of Kirsten's passing I will always have fond memories of her and I as young kids, As I read the blog I learned what a bright star Kirsten was and the bright burning star Kirsten left in all of the people she touched. Thank You KIRSTEN

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