A Model for Mid-Life Renewal–and She Left Us at Age Thirty

Middle-age renewal can never be achieved in a vacuum. As a speaker, consultant and author of two books on mid-life revitalization, I consistently counsel those striving for a positive, achievement-filled second half to initiate warm caring relationships with those around them. I bet like most of you, I do not always practice what I preach. All too often, I find myself intolerent of human foibles, critical of shortcomings in others and inflicting a negative rather than positive mood on friends, loved ones, even casual contacts.

Out of personal tragedy, I have discovered an ideal blue print for the renewed positive individual I seek to become. Our daughter Kristen Richards was killed at age 30, on the final day of 2006 piloting a small plane over San Diego. I always knew that Kristen was self-assured, pursuing her career and personal goals with unbridled passion. I also knew that she died performing the precise vocation of her dreams. An accomplished Naval aviator who had flown missions in the Mideast, South America and the North Atlantic, Kristen had recently left the military and was transitioning to commercial aviation. What I did not know about was the uniformly positive influence Kristen had on others.

Shortly after Kristen’s death, my wife Gloria and I received a letter of consolation from Kristen’s close friend in California. I would like to share a portion of that letter with you:

“I knew Kristen less than two years, but somewhere along the way she became my best friend in San Diego…. Kristen was unique and I admired so many things about her. She was the most independent person I have ever known. When a young life is cut short I often think of all the things that person missed out on. I do not have that regret with Kristen because she lived life to the fullest. She created any opportunity she wanted and stubbornly accomplished any goal. She was not detoured by things that would hold others back such as time, money or lack of a travel companion. I can do some things alone but I was so impressed with how Kristen could do anything alone. I would sometimes worry about her when she would take off on international trips, concerts, hikes, etc. without a companion. She always returned safely with the most fantastic stories.”

“Kristen was very genuine….I never had to wonder if Kristen was talking about me behind my back; she did not do that to her friends. In fact, I found out that once when surrounded by a group of girls that were talking unkindly about me Kristen yelled out, ‘Hey, hey!’ until she got everyone’s attention, then said, ‘Don’t you think we can all just be happy for our friend?’ She always spoke her mind and did not let an opposing popular opinion hold her back. Being in a male dominated field encouraged her to hone her wit on those who might mistake her for a weak or delicate female. She made me laugh two weeks ago when she offered her assistance to a man struggling to put something in a freezer. He said, ‘No, I’ve got it. This is a man’s job.” Kristen’s quick retort was, ‘Well, I can do just about anything better than a man so you may want to accept my help.’ (Delivered with a huge smile, of course.)”

Kristen’s insight helped me to better deal with problems and challenges as we often exchanged advise. When I was offended by a friend’s behavior Kristen listened to my plight then suggested I give the friend some understanding and forgiveness since she was clearly unhappy. Kristen also warned me of people who were not my friends and encouraged me to follow my instincts when feeling betrayed. I headed her warning because she was so sincere and did not burden me with the details of what she said. Once when someone accused me of being crazy and in need of mental help, Kristen laughed out loud proclaiming, ‘Yeah, I know I am crazy. So what!’ Her point was that the sooner we all admit we are a little off, the sooner we get on with things. I loved that about Kristen! She embraced her own uniqueness, her own craziness. She also openly embraced the strange quirks of others. She accepted people as they were without asking them to apologize or be ashamed of their uniqueness. People gravitated toward Kristen because they were comfortable being themselves around her.”

“Kristen saw the best in others and did not stand for bullying. One of the first qualities I noticed about Kristen was that she did not scrutinize anyone’s physical appearance. While others may point out a weight issue, a big nose or bad skin, Kristen seemed to not even notice. When she looked at someone she always took note of their most beautiful feature and would complement them on it. I would often hear her telling friends and strangers (men and women) how they had fantastic eyes, nice freckles, perfect teeth, etc. I would see the person rise up, blooming under the complement. I was at a club with Kristen one night when a group of guys were openly taunting a guy dancing to his own beat. Kristen waved the guy over and danced with him as the hecklers stared in disbelief. The gentleman left smiling with head held high; Kristen had made his evening.”

“Unlike most women, Kristen did not contrive to hide or dwell on her own imperfections. Rather, she confidently noted qualities she liked about herself and sought out companions who appreciated those qualities. She would encourage me to do the same. Sometimes self-conscious, I would start to be embarassed by something like my frackles coming out in the sun and Kristen would say, ‘Why? Freckles are hot! I love my freckles!” Being around her changed the way I saw both myself and other people.”

“There are so many wonderful things to say about Kristen. She was a light, a motivator and an inspiration in my life. I believe we would have been life-long friends. Kristen often told me I was a true friend to her. I hope she knew that she was also my true friend, that I loved her and will miss her very much. She did not want to grow old, fretting over her birthdays. It comforts me a little that she will not age and in my mind she will always be young, beautiful, strong, healthy and vibrant….I hope that you may find some peace in knowing that your daughter brought so much to my life and the lives of everyone she met.”

I trust the above letter from Kristen’s friend will inspire you as it has me. I thank her friend for writing it and will always cherish her kind description of our daughter. As you and I move forward at mid-life as renewed, goal-oriented women and men, I trust that each one of us can have a similar positive influence on at least one other person this very day. I would love to learn about other role models! Please share similar descriptions of people who have inspired you. Post your own blog here or e-mail me at roy@middleagerenewal.com.

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