Getting To Know The Dead

by Richard Furleigh

“There’s two types of people in my life, those who I knew before Alyssa passed away, and those who never knew her.” – Kenneth Burleigh, father-in-law

Sadly, I fall into that second category. For those of you who may not know, Kristen had a sister, Alyssa. The car accident that took her life was on May 24th, 2009, and this reoccurring date along with her birthday are always an interesting time for me. I feel such a deep sympathy for Kristen and the Burleigh family, losing a family member is never easy, but at such a young age hits so much harder.

Her death at a young age also meant that, even though I met Kristen in college, I have never met her sister.

This person, who was such an intertwined part of my wife’s life, is someone I can never meet. It is an interesting thing that for someone I haven’t met, I can feel the impact she had on those around me. I hear stories of the fights Alyssa and my wife had about clothes when they were younger, hear the family recall working with her at Gone Bananas with them, and watch videos of her with my wife. There is a person who may no longer be here physically but still has a presence in Kristen’s, and in turn my, life.

In the beginning there was a detachment from it, the rituals that happen every year: balloon release, throwing flowers in the river. Over time they have started to mean more to me, and I think that is in no small part to the feeling that I, in some small way, have been getting to know her, the life she led. There is a delight now that I get in watching Adriana’s face light up as she begins to tell a story about Alyssa, or the way Kristen rolls her eyes in response to something Alyssa did years ago, or bringing our little star pouch with some of her ashes in it with us when we travel and leaving some wherever we go. Big and small these things have helped me come to terms with one of the oddest things I have ever attempted to wrap my head around; getting to know a dead person.

It would have been wonderful to have been able to meet her, to see if the stories live up, and to see what sort of relationship my wife and she would have had together. While that will never happen, I am extremely grateful and inspired by the people who loved her most, carrying on her spirit with them. It has allowed me some sense of who Alyssa was in such a peculiar situation.

For those who may know someone who has a similar situation I encourage you to not shy away from discussions about the departed, but to get to know them much in the same way I have learned to get to know Alyssa over the years. It can feel very odd and awkward at first, but there is a very real connection to be had to those people, and those that are telling you their stories will almost always appreciate a chance to relive the fond memories they have with them. Because it seems to me that those who may not be here physically still live on within those they have touched. Until next time Pengminions I leave you with Kristen’s rendition of Cam’s “Village” adapted in Alyssa’s memory.
https://www.smule.com/recording/cam-village/424533653_1167914524/frame