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Mature Content: Kristi’s Legacy

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

Kristi Nicholls was a Carbondalian, psychotherapist, triathlete, CAFCI steering committee member and mother of four. On Oct. 30, she legally and peacefully ended her life, with her four adult children at her side, before having to endure the grand mal seizures and strokes that would have been in her future. CAFCI dedicates this column to her.

Ron Kokish: On Oct. 26, Kristi told me she was excited about dying, about the energy called Kristi becoming something new and different. Four days later, with her children gathered around, Kristi took a medication to help her hold down what would come next. Then she drank medication to stop her heart; finally, she drank a lethal sedative, followed by another drug so as not to be conscious when the second medication took effect. Shortly thereafter, the Kristi energy transformed as planned.

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Larry Bogatz: Early in 2019, I settled into an airline seat, said good morning to the woman on my right and prepared for takeoff. I was looking forward to a long-postponed family visit, and was more outgoing than usual. As I traded pleasantries with my seatmate, I learned that her name was Kristi and that she was going to a psychology conference.

Some friends and I had recently formed CAFCI, a group of older citizens dedicated to making Carbondale an ever-better place to live for people of all ages and abilities by contributing its voice and participating in civic issues, planning and policy development. Kristi, who was at least 10 years younger than most of us, shared our mission. She asked how she could become involved, and I gave her contact information. A few weeks later, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she had met our co-chair for coffee and conversation and had joined us. Our coincidental trip turned out to be the beginning of an important, but all-too-short, friendship.

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Frank Sgambati: We are taught early about how others think we ought to live, but rarely do these teachings include much about how we ought to die, as if dying were not a part of living. Dying is what my friend Kristi often taught about, and when her time to die arrived, she lived her teachings and died on her terms.

Kristi was hopeful when she was diagnosed with cancer. She endured tests, scans, drugs and procedures along with nausea, pain, mobility issues, brain fog and depression. Gradually, she began looking at alternatives to a helpless and painful death.

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As long as she lived, Kristi taught us how to plan for death. She taught us how to talk to medical professionals about dying. She taught us that dying is living. She taught us how to say goodbye. She taught us about compassion, listening, strong values and thoughtfulness. She lived what she taught. Her final gift provided us with one example of a path to a dignified death. Thank you, my friend.

Niki Delson: Kristi reminded me to live by my word — to live with intention and agency, and choose my own path. She reminded me that I have no choice about death but do have choices about the part of life called dying. Kristi ended her life with grace and commitment and a lesson about endings and beginnings.

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Nancy Peterson: Kristi attended her first CAFCI meeting in-person. Then, COVID hit and our meetings became virtual. Wanting to deepen our relationships, we began sharing our life stories. Kristi’s story was filled with raising children, fulfilling careers, outdoor adventures and her obvious love of life. But, she had stage 4 cancer.

She wanted to live, and I watched her bravely pursue therapies to do so. Finally, her quality of life deteriorated to the point where she didn’t want to live. As a veterinary nurse, I’ve ended the lives of suffering animals, but I never knew a person who chose to end their own life. Kristi was very grateful to have that option and, although her death as the youngest CAFCI member seems unreal to me, I am also grateful she had that choice.

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Judie Blanchard: I have companioned many people on the last journey of their lives, both professionally with those experiencing cancer and personally with those I loved. Unlike Kristi, all were waiting for death. Luckily for Kristi, she had a choice under Colorado’s Medical Aid in Dying Act. Kristi’s legacy of living a full life with clarity and courage is what I will remember, and is beautifully expressed by poet Dawna Markova:

I will not die an unlived life. 

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I will not live in fear

Of falling or catching fire.

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I choose to inhabit my days, 

To allow my living to open me,

To make me less afraid,

More accessible, 

To loosen my heart

Until it becomes a wing,

A torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance,

To live so that which came to me as seed 

Goes to the next as blossom,

And that which came to me as blossom,

Goes on as fruit.

Mature Content is a monthly feature from the Carbondale AARP Age-Friendly Community Initiative (CAFCI)

Tags: #CAFCI #Carbondale Age-Friendly Community Initiative #Dawna Markova #death #dignity #Kristi Nicholls #Mature Content #poetry
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