On January 19th, our dear friend Kristina passed away. She was a beloved member of L’Arche Saint John since 2010. Her laughter, love of sweet things and the music of Bon Jovi, and the gift of her peaceful presence shaped so many people at McKim House and everyone that knew her. She is deeply missed.
What follows is the eulogy for Kristina, written by McKim's House Leader, Vic Woods, delivered at a small service on February 4th.
I had the privilege of knowing Kristina for the last six years. Kristina was part of the L’Arche community here in Saint John. L’Arche is an organization where people with and without disabilities share life together. Kristina and I lived together, along with many other friends of ours, at our home, McKim House. Together we went on vacations, watched movies, enjoyed many delicious meals around our table, prayed and sang together, and lived in beautiful friendship. Kristina was my friend, and I was hers.
I am deeply honoured that Kristina’s mother Karen has trusted me with the task of remembering Kristina in words. It is a privilege and it is also a burden. These words have been difficult to write, and took me a while. Writing them meant saying goodbye to my friend who I loved so deeply, who so many loved so deeply. Goodbye is a difficult word to even say.
But, being here with you all today is an opportunity to celebrate Kristina Lynn Cooper; a woman who had many qualities that made her the person that she was; her deep sense of empathy, the way that she created peaceful moments even during the most busy of days, her constant patience and understanding, her amazingly wicked sense of humour, her love of adventure (especially if it meant going whale watching), and of course, a legendary love of sweet treats.
Most importantly, I think, Kristina had the gift of connection. She had this way of deeply connecting with people around her; bringing them to a place of communion. She would often gravitate towards people who were going through a difficult time. She’d shuffle over towards someone in the circle at our Community Prayer, lean on the shoulder of an assistant having a hard day. She had the best listening, non-judgmental, ear, and was easy to talk to about just about anything.
You could see how deeply Kristina loved those closest to her. Her mother Karen, who was a tireless advocate during difficult times in Kristina’s life, and a cheerleader right by her side during the good times. And of course, her beloved Nanny, Evelyn. I remember when we arrived at Evelyn’s 90th birthday party 5 or so years ago, Kristina left us in the dust as she immediately made a beeline for her Nanny. She made her way over to Nanny’s chair, and we watched a beautifully choreographed maneuver perfected over years of deep love for one another. Kristina immediately crawled into her Nanny’s lap, and Evelyn, without missing a beat in the conversation she was engaged in, quickly assumed a very familiar position making sure Kristina was comfy and safe in her arms. We jokingly called this position the “Nanny’s Little Angel”.
Kristina arrived at McKim House August 3, 2010; and it was a momentous occasion for our community, and forever changed our home. Throughout the near decade that Kristina spent living at McKim House, she became a cornerstone of McKim House. A true diplomat, who got along with all of her friends, but someone who wasn’t afraid to create shenanigans; if she wanted the attention of everyone in the living room, she absolutely would stand in front of the TV. She was someone who created tranquility around her during very, very busy days; often being very happy to keep people quiet company or “supervising” friends and volunteers while they cooked or cleaned, but also someone who thrived in times of celebration.
Kristina was the most patient of teachers to many people who came through the doors of McKim House. She encouraged us to slow down in the day; whether that meant having a snuggle on the couch in the living room, enjoying a nice leisurely lunch together, or by picking the days that she had appointments to really, really take her sweet time getting ready.
She also kept us on our toes; you never knew when we were driving in the van if she’d take the opportunity to toss a water bottle, or if she’d try and make a grab for someone else’s brownie, or if you’d hear her laughing in her sleep over the monitor. She made life exciting, in a home that has many a schedule and often times comfortable predictability.
Our friends from McKim House are watching this service at home over on the West Side. When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to say today, I knew that I wanted to include the words of Debbie, Krista, Patrick and Stephane. These are the people that became Kristina’s brothers and sisters in L’Arche, as we say. When I asked them about what their favourite thing was about Kristina, there were a few different answers. Going out for long drives together, relaxing in the living room together, when she would play jokes (her favourite being sitting on top of Krista when Krista would nap in the living room), and when she was full of joy; “I loved her laugh” was something that each of them said. The common thread that wove between their words was just being with Kristina. Whether in the living room keeping Debbie company, having breakfast with Krista, going out for a drive with Stephane, or getting up close to Patrick playing the piano. Kristina’s steadfast, go-with the flow, presence was such an important place of stability in our home.
The final year of Kristina’s life was filled with fragility and unexpected twists and turns both physically and emotionally at the Regional. Yet even there, she created that sacred opportunity of connection that came so naturally to her, over and over again as more and more people encountered her. She obviously charmed all the nurses that took care of her; most of them were thrilled to have an opportunity to talk about the very handsome actor Channing Tatum.
But, there is one story of connection in particular that I’d like to tell you about. In the room that she was in when she was first admitted to the hospital, there was a woman named Carol in the bed across the way, who arrived the night after Kristina. Carol was going through a difficult time health-wise and a period of significant change and upheaval; she was feeling quite overwhelmed and very sad about what was happening. Immediately, Kristina gravitated towards her; she would walk over a few times a day to Carol’s side of the room to say hi; she’d creep up closely to the side of Carol’s bed. This began a beautiful friendship between Carol and Kristina; Carol would keep a special eye out on Kristina, and Kristina would keep wandering over to say hi. When McKim House would come to the Regional’s chapel to bring Community Prayer to Kristina, Carol also made the effort to be there. Even after Carol was discharged from the hospital, she spoke in deep gratitude about how much her friendship with Kristina meant to her, and that the companionship, joy, and peace that Kristina brought to her life in the time they were together brought her through an incredibly difficult time of her life.
We had a Zoom gathering last week to celebrate Kristina and her life; it was by far and beyond one of the largest, and boisterous Zoom gatherings I’ve been part of. Past assistants, House Leaders, volunteers, friends. There were four volunteers all the way from Germany present at nearly one in the morning to celebrate our friend; I know Kristina would have approved. Together we sang, prayed, told stories, ate some phenomenal cheesecake and various other sweets, cried, and laughed. It was, really and truly, a celebration of this marvelous lady’s life.
The morning after Kristina died, I woke up to start my day, my chest feeling so very heavy, knowing that I would be telling her friends at McKim House the news, and also just feeling so sad for my friend. When I walked out of my room, I saw a breathtaking sunrise; the sky was painted with incredible purples, oranges, pinks. Immediately, a wave of peace washed over me, and I couldn’t help but say out loud, “It’s good to see you, lady.”
There were so many ordinary, quiet, moments that Kristina made meaningful through her life and her presence; a warm sunbeam streaming over her favourite couch in the living room, the first bite of a delicious piece of strawberry shortcake, an explosion in a terrible action movie, the movement of the waves beneath one’s feet in a boat, looking out the window on a drive, whenever a Bon Jovi song comes on the radio… I could go on with so many more. I know even still she will always be present in these moments, and I will always look for her.
Kristina’s gift of connection, deep love of her family, friends and community, and the way that she made even the quietest, ordinary moments in the day something special. I know right now that I’m so grateful to have known this lady, and love her.
To end, I have a quote from The Little Prince; Kristina loved being read to, snuggled up on the couch in our living room, and I know this book in particular was read to her by many assistants in the early days of getting to know her:
“In one of those stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night. And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend...I shall not leave you.”