I am writing this for those of you who knew our friend Doris Kyburz. Doris died Thursday night and we are dealing with the shock of the loss.
With all the rains hitting the Bay Area, Doris had slipped and fallen on her deck and thought she had sprained her ankle. She called the doctor but couldn’t get an appointment till the next day. When she went in at 3 p.m. the next day, she got the ankle x-rayed and was sent home to wait yet another day for the results. At some point, though, it turned out there was a break and a blood clot developed, which traveled to her heart. She died in the ambulance on the way to Richmond hospital.
My office at Keio University was four doors down from the German Department, and Doris and I met back in the early 90s because nobody who ever saw Doris in those days missed an opportunity to get to know her. In a world where learning German involved becoming dutiful and focused on which prepositions took the Dative and which the Accusative, Doris had her classes singing and dancing and acting out Grimm’s fairy tales. I spotted her as a natural born teacher and we became friends immediately.
One of my favorite moments of all time was when she entered the faculty dining room, her hair dyed flaming red, covered head to toe in black leather. The only way she could have garnered more attention would have been to ride her Harley Davidson onto the balcony. I suggested it and she said she’d give it some serious consideration for her next entrance.
Taku and I had just met and while many of my friends were riding me about robbing the cradle, Doris decided we made a cute couple and became our most frequent dinner guest. At some point the strict environment of the language department made her seek greener pastures and she decided she’d become a masseuse. Taku and I had the benefit of being her first guinea pigs. Next thing we knew she was taking photos of us in our underwear. God knows what the neighbors would have thought who might have gotten wind of this. Doris was single-mindedly concerned with demonstrating over time that she was not merely concerned with tight muscles. She wanted to help us stand taller and straighter and live more healthy lives.
Because whatever Doris did she did earnestly, this new passion took her first to Massachusetts, then to Hawaii to learn from the best how to pummel strangers on a massage table. By the end of the 90s Taku had moved to California and Doris joined us at some point and decided California was the place for her. The passion for “whole body health” went the way of “German through laughter” and she found her way into the age of the internet. Specifically designing software for toys for the German market. She joined our chosen family by making a connection with Dov and Cathy Rosenfeld that has lasted to this day when she was still a regular at seders and Thanksgiving and other occasions. Dov and Cathy like to tell the story about how when the daughter they were going to adopt was being born and they needed to run to the hospital to be there for her birth, it was Doris they called in the middle of the night to be with their other daughter. “We need you, now,” Dov said. “How soon?” Doris asked. “Three centimeters,” they answered. Doris was there in ten minutes.
Doris wasn’t much of a housekeeper. Her kitchen was filled with screeching birds and her living room the playground for Moya, a huge German Shepherd and for Calhoun, the dog known as the crazy dog. I can’t tell you how my heart aches as I imagine these wonderful creatures (not the birds – I never cared for the birds) sitting and waiting for her to return. This image says all there is to say about the cruelty of death and the horror of loss.
At the moment we are working with Doris’s family in Switzerland as they face both the loss and the need to pick up the pieces that an unprepared-for death involves.
It’s too soon to be writing this. The shock has not worn off.
But I write because I just don’t know what else to do.