The Unbearable Death of a Boy-Man

It’s been  a year since my son’s boyhood friend tragically died in Hawaii from a surfing accident.  His body was never recovered. I wanted to take a moment to remember this bright shiny boy and the joy he brought to everyone he met.

From Kirk's Facebook page

From Kirk’s Facebook page

The loss of a child cannot be fathomed.

Who could ever be prepared for their child to die before them?

There must be endless tears and sorrow and sadness and a forever and unrelenting pain.

For me, it’s a pure and simple matter.

If I never heard my son’s voice again or was never able to wrap my arms around him, I don’t know if I could take another breath.

…On Wednesday, November 13, 2013, Kirk Passmore, 32, a passionate big-wave surfing veteran and Hawaii resident, is presumed to have drowned and as of today his body has not been found.

One minute he was alive, surfing an estimated 20-foot wave at Alligator Rock on Oahu’s North Shore, with an audience of other surfers and photographers.

He dropped into the steep face of the wave before falling over the front of his board and into the water.

The top of the wave crashed over him and witnesses say he surfaced for a brief moment before he was crushed by another wave.

It was the last time anyone saw him.

Although extensive searches have been conducted in the area, he’s been missing since the day of the accident and is presumed drowned.

It was all caught on video.

This is the video of his last wave. Somehow he never made it out alive.

His dad wanted the his final ride shared with as many people as possible.

Maybe you heard about this. Maybe you were watching the news on television and you paid scant attention to the story while you were on the computer or eating dinner.

Maybe you read it on the internet and saw the pictures or the video.

You probably thought to yourself or even said out loud, ” Wow, that’s really sad.”

Kirk Passmore.

Why am I writing about him?

Yes, it’s true that he was someone’s child, brother, friend.

But he was also one of my son’s friends.

They went to school together.

He’s the first of my son’s friends to die.

Kirk had the biggest smile and the reddest hair. Everyone called him “Fanta” or “Red”.

He was one of the many boys I’d chauffeur around, packed like sardines in the back seat, all gangly legs and arms, endlessly stuffing their mouths —  bottomless pits of growing boy bodies– with the cookies and smoothies and other snacks cheerfully provided to everyone who came over.

A carful of boys talking about school, skateboarding; laughing, always smiling, always a thank you for the ride as he slammed the car door.

“See ya, Jason.”

A flash of bright red hair lit the way as he ran up the walkway to his house.

But no more.

I bet for most of these boys – and I still call these thirty-somethings BOYS because to me they will always and forever be “the boys” or “the guys” — my son’s friends from Kelly Elementary, Valley Junior High, and Carlsbad High School — this is their first experience with death and subsequent thoughts of their own mortality.

I feel so bad for his family and his friends who are mourning him with candlelight vigils, surf paddle-outs, tributes, and memorials. 

To honor Kirk, they’re handling their pain with grace and beauty.

One of them, artist Bryan Snyder, created a memorial wall in our town. If you’re ever in Carlsbad, check it out.

Bryan Snyder

Bryan Snyder

Our deepest sympathies go out to Kirk’s family. Our hearts are heavy and we are so very, very sorry for their loss.

The Passmore family released the following statement:

Kirk was born February 11, 1981 in Orem, Utah.  He grew up in Carlsbad, California and graduated from Carlsbad High School in 1999 where he was a member of the school’s surf team for four years.  As a youth, he was active in pop warner football, little league baseball, and basketball but his love was in surfing.

He started coming to Hawaii when he was 14 and was an experienced and expert surfer.  He was not new to big wave surfing, having surfed most of the well-known big wave locations, including Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, Pipeline and outer reefs on the north shores of Hawaii.  He was a familiar face at Todos Santos off Baja California.  He also surfed Maverick’s in northern California and Puerto Escondido in Mainland Mexico.  He spent 3 years in the southern coast of France.  He moved to the north shore of Hawaii full-time in the spring of 2012.

Kirk was a part owner of Third Stone Surfboards in Waialua, Hawaii and a Manager at Bonzai Sushi in Haleiwa, Hawaii.

He is survived by his mother, Diane Passmore (Orem, Utah), father and step-mother, David and Karey Passmore (Sunset Beach, Hawaii), siblings, Alyson Adams (Highland, Utah); Merrily Roberts (Encinitas, California) and Matthew Passmore (serving an LDS mission in New York, New York).

The family wishes to thank the Coast Guard, the City and County of Honolulu lifeguards and Fire Department who continue the search.

A lost opportunity, a huge regret, a haunting feeling

During one of my healing retail therapy sessions in the shoe aisle at Nordstrom, an older (and by older, I mean WAY older than me, like late sixties) well groomed beautifully dressed lady was sitting nearby trying on a pair of boots. She had a scarf around her neck that you could tell simply by looking that it was woven of the highest quality cashmere. She had a lovely air of grace and elegance. I think it was that regal essence that reminded me of my mom. She owned that quality too, always dressed head to toe with class.  The woman looked so together that I couldn’t keep from sneaking glances at her while I too tried on boots. I’d been looking for a pair of flat riding boots that fit snugly but weren’t too high, which is a tall order. (ha ha). I’ve never been accused of dressing elegantly. Sexy, flamboyant, stylish, wild even–but never Lilly Van der Woodsen Upper East Side elegant. Lilly van der woodsenHere’s an example of me getting dressed… If one pearl necklace is good, a dozen is better! A ring for every finger, well, why not? We have ten of them, isn’t that what they’re for? And aren’t our arms just begging to be filled with every bangle and charm bracelet in the jewelry box?

My mom would shake her head and say, “Princess Rosebud, haven’t you heard the old saying, less is more?” My response to her was, “Haven’t YOU heard of my saying, more is better?”

So I’m sitting there and this lovely woman is sitting there and she turns to me and says softly, matter-of-factly,

“My husband died last week.”

What do you do when a stranger opens up that way? What do you do? I said,

“I am so very sorry for your loss.”

She continued,

“We had been married for fifty years. I don’t know what to do with myself so I shop all day. I can’t bear to be home alone without him.”

If anyone could empathize with that philosophy, it would be me. Not that I’ve lost my life partner, but when my darling thirteen-year-old kitty died, I felt the same way. I left the house early in the morning and stayed away ’til dark, wandering around the shopping centers like a lost soul. I couldn’t bear to open the front door and know that I’d never again see her face at the top of the stairs greeting me. I couldn’t bear to sleep in our bed and never again feel her jump up and scratch at the covers to join me, nestled against my body, so I slept on the sofa until the captain came back. What made it even more difficult to bear was that it happened while he was out to sea, and I was the one who was unanchored, aimlessly drifting. I totes understood the poor lady’s pain.

“He made every day worth living.”

I asked her if she had family in the area to help her with her sadness, and she shook her head. It was on the tip of my tongue to invite her to join me for a cup of coffee when when my cell rang. It was my son. He needed me to run to the post office before it closed and send him a book he had accidentally left behind the previous week.

As I walked away, I touched her gently on the shoulder and told her once again how sorry I was for her loss and I hoped she’d be all right.

I really, really regret not getting her name and telephone number so that we could meet at a coffee shop or simply make sure she’s OK. I have a feeling she might not be. I do have that feeling. I’ve never seen her again.

For the most part, women are a truly and deeply caring and nurturing community. I dropped the ball that day and it haunts me.  It haunts me.