#Life To The Fullest – Tribute to Kris Grahnke
My son, Jeff, called me late the other evening to tell me that, Kris, his good friend for 25 years just died after a three-year battle with A.L.S. (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). To say that Kris had been “dealt a difficult hand” would be an understatement. His father died of early onset Alzheimer’s in 2006 when Kris was 19. His sister, Eliza, has down syndrome, and Kris was a fierce protector when kids would bully and make fun of her. And then Kris was diagnosed with ALS just a few months after he married Michelle, the love of his life.
Kris had every right to be angry at his situation, the world and God…and at times he was. ALS is a brutal disease. It destroys your body from the inside out, and leaves your mind intact so that you’re completely aware of what’s happening to you physically. Kris was a man’s man. He loved to run, play and live fast and large, and eventually all his physical strength was stolen from him.
I read his blog faithfully and traded a few emails with him over the last several years. As Kris’ life came to an end it seemed to me that he was able to distill life down to just the most important elements.
From my perspective, here’s what seemed to matter most to Kris:
- Time – People of faith say that our “days are numbered” but most don’t live like that. Kris actually knew (approximately) how many days he had left, and lived them (John 10:10) to the fullest. He squeezed every moment of life and joy out of his days that were possible, including making a video message he’d taped just a few days before his death to be certain that those who attended his funeral knew his highest hopes for them. It was pure Kris…fun, funny, passionate, irreverent, and filled with meaning and purpose. Kris made time work for him.
- Passion – When Kris discovered he had ALS he became a promotion and fundraising machine. He made trips to Washington DC to lobby for more research funding. He attended events, did interviews on TV and radio, wrote articles and blogs to raise awareness and funds. He lived his passion, literally, to his dying breath.
- Relationships – People mattered to Kris. His student, friends, and loved ones knew they mattered. As his good friend, Mark Kamm, said in his eulogy, Kris showed him every day that relationships are THE THING that we will want more of as life slips away.
- Fun – While Kris was relentless working as a teacher and an advocate for ALS, he also made ample time for fun. Good food, good beer, laughter (lots of laughter) and time with those that mattered was a high priority.
- Faith – Purpose and meaning in a grace-filled life were ever-present even in the midst of pain, loss and suffering that most of us will never understand.
- Grit – To my knowledge, Kris never gave up on anything or anyone. He was relentless in pursuit of what mattered. He was fierce in defending his family and friends, and fought with all his might when a fight was needed to advance a cause he believed in.
There’s a huge paradox here. As Kris’ pain and suffering increased, his ability to live life to the fullest was incredibly evident. He could have chosen to end life dark, depressed and disengaged. But Kris lived with light, full of joy and fully engaged with the people and the things that mattered most.
Kris and my son were friends since kindergarten and had been through some awesome times together…good ones and tough ones. As Jeff and I were hanging up the phone the other night, he said, “You know dad, Kris is the toughest SOB I ever met in my life.” And he meant it with the deepest love and respect.
What do you take away from Kris’ life?
How will your story end?
Kris’ Gronk’s Grace ALS Team in Rockford Illinois – http://webchicago.alsa.org/site/TR/Walks/Chicago?team_id=358613&pg=team&fr_id=12572
To read Kris’ blog – http://gronksgrace.blogspot.com/
This blog shares my perspective on how you have the ability to create new story endings that are meaningful, powerful and filled with hope. I facilitate culture changing processes that help organizations achieve greater impact. Also, I provide leadership coaching to help executives and aspiring leaders become the fullest expression of who they’re intended to be.
If you’re looking for coaching or consulting services – contact me – firstname.lastname@example.org
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