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  • Writer's pictureKim Christesen

Let Laughter Speak When Words Cannot

I have avoided writing about my friend of over 20 years from the day my husband called me at work to tell me she had passed away in her sleep sometime in the early hours of April 10, 2023. Like any good procrastinator, I waited until the last minute to offer her closest family and friends my most heartfelt sympathy for the loss of one of the most important people in their lives as they gathered this past Sunday in her honor. You may even think that returning from a 13 day trip to Japan at the ass-crack of dawn on the day of said celebration isn’t a worthy excuse to miss an event dedicated to the life of such a beautiful soul, but I’ll just have to fight that out with the shoe goddess herself sometime in the future.

Nothing I write will remove the pain these last six weeks have thrust upon us. The English language may have around 600,000 defined words, but none will give us comfort. My goal in what follows here is not to cause more hurt, but to remember Cindy with the love, kindness, and humor we all saw in her, and to speak to the unending support and pure joy she gave us.

Even if you don't know Cindy, chances are you have a Cindy in your life, in your friend circle, your family, or your village. A graduate of Valparaiso University, married to her high school sweet heart, and mother of two amazing children. After staying at home to raise them--volunteering, teaching religious education, earning her master's degree, leading local charity organizations and the school PTO--she returned to the classroom as a middle school teacher, instructional coach, and dedicated lover of reading, wishing for devine intervention, and cooking gourmet meals fit for kings from a kitchen the size of a coat closet.

To know Cindy was to be absorbed into her ever expanding universe of interconnecting worlds. Cindy was the star, and we were merely planets in her orbit, groups of people who know her and thus each other by association. She shared our challenges and triumphs, our fun family highlights, and the plans we've executed over the years. We may not all know each other, but we know OF each other through her.

No matter the group, whether college friends, people her parents knew, or the Riverside Junior Women’s Club, Cindy was always involved. She was the OG of multi-tasking, ground zero of making things happen. She did the work, gave from her heart, and jumped into the center of the storm, not for the likes or recognition, but because it was simply the right thing to do, because someone needed help, because to know her was to love her and be inspired by her.

Of course, who was Cindy without Bill? In the history of iconic duos, I don’t think anyone will ever need to look further than these two. Batman and Robin--trash. Simon and Garfunkel--please. Scooby and Shaggy--zoinks! Bonnie and Clyde--let’s not get violent here people.

Bill is the perfect antagonist. He plays the devil’s advocate like he’s on Hell’s payroll. If there’s a worst case scenario, Bill will figure it out, add 5 more gruesome twists and turns, yet still come out on top, all while secretly being a loving and devoted husband and father. He would often feign outrage at Cindy's shoe collection, which did rival that of Imelda Marcos, but Bill's well-known addiction to purchasing board games counterbalanced any argument.

Cindy had perfected the art of sarcasm and clap-backs the way surgeons hone their skills in the operating room. She was lethal, deadly accurate, and spared no one. Like a ninja, she would appear out of nowhere, cut you with her humor, and then all you would hear was her roaring laughter as she exited stage left. She was at the top of her game, and as a teacher, she taught her children well.

When it came to her children, I think we can all agree that Joey and Caitlin were her everything. While she always took pride in their many accomplishments, she made sure to add in the precise amount of biting humor and snarky sarcasm to keep her offspring grounded. Thankfully, Joey and Caitlin gave as good as they got, but beneath all of it was unconditional love.

Cindy and her sister Lisa lost both their dad and mom within months of each other. As I was searching Cindy's Facebook page for some photos, I came across this one which she must have put up around that time period. She missed her parents terribly, and knowing they are together again provides comfort to her family.

Yet still, the sudden loss of that all-consuming presence, that brilliant bright light, is beyond our current level of comprehension. Some of us cannot speak to that amount of pain, to the immense loss of a partner or parent. It is a level of cruelty that one doesn’t wish even on their worst enemy. Sadly, there are many who can attest to it, for it is their current reality, the loss of a child, a sibling, a parent.

In that sense, in that role Cindy played in so many lives, the light she shined, which fed so many seedlings, to lose it so quickly, has affected us all in many ways. For some, that loss is irreplaceable. For others, the sudden darkness is confusing and heartbreaking. But within the chaos, other sources of light must be called in to help finish the tasks at hand, though none could ever replace the glow that was Cindy.

As hard as this new path is, we have all been forced to take it. I’ve heard it said experiencing the sudden death of someone you love is like being shoved out of an airplane and landing in the ocean. Waves of grief will sometimes overwhelm you, coming at you from every direction. Other days, the ocean will be calm, and something might float by for you to cling to temporarily. You might even find an island to take refuge on for a while.

But eventually, you have to get back into the water. Because at some point, you’ll be reminded of the person who isn’t at your table, or in her classroom, or your meeting, or the event you’d been planning, craving a Diet Coke, screaming for Jesus to take the wheel while her laughter blankets you in its warm embrace. Those are the moments we will miss her most, but it is in those moments we will remember her too.

Pictures may say a thousand words, but you can’t hear a picture. Unless, of course, that picture is a red rubber ball sitting in the middle of a gym floor circa 1984, and your 5th grade PE teacher says today the class is playing dodgeball.

Can you hear this picture? I'm fairly certain that every Gen-Xer, most Millenials, and maybe even some of the GenZ kids have dodgeball trauma. They may have attempted to swap out the rubber for the foam, but that simply changes the sound and not necessarily the outcome.

Sharon is getting pelted even though she's out, attempting to walk dejectedly to the sideline and Tommy, who plays up a level in Little League, is still intentionally making head shots even though he's been told ten times not to do it.

But if you think of Cindy, if you see a photo of her, you can instantly hear her laugh. As distinctive as night from day, it fills us with memories of joyful times, personal to each of us, yet shared by all. When you find yourself missing her, recall her laughter. Let it wash over you, let it fill you with hope, let it bring a smile to your lips, let it dry your tears. Let her laughter speak when your words cannot.

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