I don’t know …

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Three words I can say with all certainty and mean … I don’t know!

This applies to many, many things life throws at us. I struggle to know anything for sure. Though, I guess, one thing I can for sure say is – my mom loves me.

This struck me this week when I was thinking about a picture I made over a year ago of Barbara Kirtland looking up with love and unending pride that her son Matthew was named to the Franklin District Justice seat and, seconds earlier, sworn in with her and her husband, Dr. Howard Kirtland, by his side.

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The reason I thought about the picture of his mother beaming with pride is she passed away Wednesday. I had taken special note of this because her husband had died only nine days earlier. We did a front page story on his accomplishments and immense importance to the Franklin community. In that story, we mentioned Barbara’s important role as well in the community.

Reading Barbara’s obituary today, a few things really stuck out to me. “Barbara was instrumental in the formation of the Kirtland Cancer Foundation and she worked hard to ensure the foundation’s mission to give back to the community by helping people and families affected by cancer.”

Wow!

That is quite an amazing thing to have listed in your obituary. Creating a foundation – which is only a beginning to build from – is simply selfless and shows a deep empathy for fellow human beings. It embodies in the act a hope for the community in which she lives. Not just now, but in the future.

Another thing in her obituary that really struck me was “She was engaging and sincerely interested in learning about the person she was talking with.”

What an amazing gift that is and the fact that someone was able to note that about her, my guess is because it was likely true.

I don’t know this family well at all. In fact, I may have only met Barbara once, on the day I photographed her and her son at the Venango County Courthouse. But, I was moved by her death coming only a little more than week after her husband’s death.

My thoughts went to the family who were still grieving the loss of the doctor, their dad, their grand-dad. And to family friends having to haul their Sunday best out of the closet for another funeral and more tears. I usually hope that going into my closet for “funeral” clothes means I’ll have to dust them off because I haven’t needed them for some time.

But, I also thought how touching it was that these two people somehow found each other and were there when they each needed someone the most. How they were a team and, for nearly 50 years, helped each other accomplish extraordinary things. The formation of the Kirtland Cancer Institute and Foundation are legacies that not only showed the commitment to the people in the community around them in life, but will help the community and individuals for years to come – and after they are no longer able to see in the faces of the people they are helping and feel the accomplishment that comes with that. They left together having given all they had left to give.

Selfless.

I trust the family of this couple understands what they have meant to the community and, in particular, individuals who have expressed incredible thanks and gratitude for helping families and saving lives. The day Dr. Kirtland died, social media was flooded with stories like, “He saved my mom’s life,” “he helped my family through the toughest time,” and so on.

I hope the family finds comfort from their grief in knowing what Dr. Howard and Barbara Kirtland mean to the Franklin area.

I also noted the family listing memorial contributions by those inclined could be given to the Venango County Humane Society, Po box 1045, Oil City,  because of Barbara’s love of animals, or to the Kirtland Cancer Foundation, PO box 108, Franklin.

Selfless.

So sorry for your loss. And ours.

About the Author

Richard Sayer
Staff photographer at the Derrick and News-Herarld newspapers in North Western Pennsylvania.