I was leaving a women's entrepreneurship conference, late Friday afternoon, when I learned my friend, Modern Woman and fierce woman entrepreneur, Kristi Parker, had suffered a massive stroke the day before and was not expected to recover. Kristi became one with the universe on Saturday, with her loving family around her. My heart is broken. I am not ready to say goodbye to Kristi.
Kristi was the brave owner and editor of Liberty Press, the longest running LGBT newspaper in Kansas, published for 24 years. For anyone who’s ever tried it, making a living publishing an independent newspaper is damn hard, and she’s had to be especially courageous in her business. She helped so many people in so many ways, the hole she leaves in the world is vast. Even in her death, Kristi helped others. She had a living will, complete with organ donation instructions, saving multiple lives with her thoughtfulness.
I’ve known Kristi for years, but not very well. I met her through the volunteer work I did for 20 years on ArtAID, a big event that raised funds to help people in Wichita living with HIV and AIDS. We’d always stop and talk when we saw each other. I especially remember meeting her son at Riverfest. He told me it was destiny that we meet. When I asked him why, he told me, “Because my name is Jack.” When your name is Jill, you get a lot of “Jack and Jill” jokes, and I thought it was hilarious. I’ll never forget it.
In the past three months, I’ve gotten to know her better and we were starting to become good friends. Kristi was an avid reader of my articles, often sending me emails responding to what she’d read. She contacted me in December, asking me to write an allies column for Liberty Press. Our meeting to discuss what I’d be getting myself into, turned into a three-hour gabfest. Of course she talked me into it, and we made plans for my first column to run in the June Pride issue. She was so easy to talk to, and despite, or maybe because of, a hearing disability, Kristi was a first-class listener. She was always brutally honest, had an interesting perspective and wise advice, and a kind and loving heart.
Kristi stopped by my office this week, while she was out delivering what has turned out to be the last issue of Liberty Press. She had read my article last week about depression and wanted to check in on me. We chatted and laughed for about a half hour, and she told me she was in a “really good place.” As she was leaving, she told me a story about her son Jack, who is autistic and will be going to college next year. He’s undecided about where to go, and Kristi told him not to worry, that they would work it out. If he missed his Moms, he could come home. Having issues defining emotions, Jack told her, “Yeah, I was feeling a tickling in the back of my heart. That must be what it is.” I understand exactly what he means. I feel a tickle in the back of my heart too.
Hug the ones you love close. Be kind to people. You never know when you see someone, if it will be the last time.