So I’m going to write about another dead person. I’m not trying to be morose or anything – it’s just that the events honoring these two men happened back-to-back. The previous event honored journalist Larry Oakes and was the subject of my last blog. Last night’s event was in memory of Matthew Link, a friend who died twenty-five years ago.
Matt’s father and stepmother gave a presentation at the Duluth Pack Store as part of its Tuesday night Outdoor Adventure series. They spoke about their trip to New Zealand – both the sights it provided and the closure it gave them regarding Matt’s death. He died in a kayak accident while participating in an outdoor pursuits school there.
Matt was my then-husband’s best friend. Four months before he died, he was best man in our wedding, and we ended up naming our son after him. A modern-day Viking, Matt was big, blond, and strong. He was always ready for adventure, sociable, and he was a good friend to my husband. Matt grew up at a nature center his parents directed in Minnesota, so he was no stranger to the outdoors, and he sought that type of life as a future profession.
The phone call in the winter of 1989 telling us that Matt died was surreal. It was one of those events that mark your life; there was the time when Matt was alive and the time when he was not. The world would never be the same for his friends and family. Many of us have struggled to find a way through life without his commanding physical presence. Making things more difficult was the postcard we received from Matt a week after he died. He must have mailed it from New Zealand just before his fateful kayaking trip.
His father and stepmother couldn’t afford to go to New Zealand at the time, which is what made their current trip all the more meaningful and necessary. Instead, Matt’s ashes were flown back and his family, including his biological mother, hosted several ceremonies for him. I recall a bonfire and Ojibway pipe ceremony on Park Point in Duluth, and a church service. After the service, we trudged through the cold snow to free his ashes into the St. Louis River, one of his favorite kayaking waterways.
Matt’s funeral was the first one I attended where I was emotionally invested in the person who died. The service befitted him, which made it all the harder not to bawl. After a point, I just gave up trying to hide the tears. And when they played one of Matt’s favorite songs, “It’s a Wonderful World,” by the gravelly voiced Louis Armstrong, I just totally lost it. To this day, that song is my trigger – tears for every occasion. So if you’re ever in an airport when a Wonderful World comes over the Muzak system and you notice a woman sobbing as you walk by, that’s probably me!
On their trip, Matt’s dad/stepmother visited the school he was attending and met some of the people who knew him. They got to see his dorm room and Matt’s father even had the guts to visit the site where he died. His father explained that the hole that Matt left is too large for total closure but that he did find partial closure through their journey.
His parents, including his mother who lives in Alaska now, strive to live lives worthy of Matt’s spirit and I guess that’s something we can all do to honor departed loved ones. Assuming your departed was as cool as Matt: would they be happy with how you are living now? Are you living up to your best potential? It’s something to think about. If living for yourself isn’t working, consider living for them.