She is a midwife-in-training, and the question invariably comes up as she works with women preparing for childbirth: Do you have children?
She says: I say, yes, I do have a child. I am a mother. And hes no longer with me.
Her midwifery practice is focused on the about-to-become mother, so the story varies with the conversation.
I have the little bit longer version: They died in a car accident.
Theres also the long version, which she tells at other times and in other situations. In the sharing, Violet Kristen Talbots story is like an invitation as her life has become.
I feel way more available to that now having a tragedy (seems to) allow that. People will share all kinds of things with me now. When I share (my story), some facade just falls away and people will share whatever is really going on in their hearts with me. It is as if pretending everything is okay can go away now.
It has been four and a half years since she got the phone call, the one that informed her that her husband, Jon Jon Stravers, and nearly 4-year-old son, Jonah, were killed in a car accident in Colorado. They died on her 30th birthday, Sept. 2, at the exact time she was born.
I think of synchronicity as this wonderful thing, but it is not a wonderful thing. But I could not get it out of my mind. It got my attention. (I said), God, you have my attention. Whatever it is, Im paying attention.
When people remember hearing about the accident, more often than not, the response is a visceral intake of breath, and a fathomless question of how anyone could survive that amount of grief.
There was a while that I didnt know that I would make it. Literally, my body hurt so badly and my heart hurt so intensely that I wasnt sure.
It felt like I had the whole canvas of my life primed over. It was gone.
She has learned a lot in those years, unfolding the layers of grief, bit by bit, layer by layer, avoiding none of it; examining herself and her life carefully, thoughtfully and deliberately. Yes, she says, grief is survivable.
We actually do know how to deal with (grief) because it happens to every one of us. And its no less tragic to the woman who loses her 4-year-old child or her 60-year-old child it will happen to all of us. Every one of us. No one is going to escape this: the loss of their loved ones or letting go of their own body and life.
The tragedy is there, but the important thing is the community coming together. Theres this part of me that wants to focus on that: Look. Look at all the love that generated. Oh, my gosh.
Throughout her life, she can name what she calls different chapters the transition to adulthood, meeting Jon, becoming pregnant, settling down, giving birth to Jonah. Each chapter marks a beginning and an ending. So after days and months and years of working through her grief, Kristen had a ceremony.
It really was part of a feeling like I was having a whole new life. It was like dying in the middle of a life and then starting a new life.
Her name is now Violet, recalling her roots. Its her grandmothers name; her grandmother, full of strength, and it marks the beginning of a new chapter.
In other cultures, when you go through your rite of passage into adulthood (for example), youre given a new name. And by that, the community (is) directly acknowledging (and) recognizing the passage youve been through.
And so, my name was that: Im changed and Im acknowledging this and I want this to spill out and to be acknowledged by my community that I have changed.
One of the things that has changed with her intensive, intentional work is how Violet remembers her husband and son.
Whenever I think about my son, there is a choice. A beautiful memory will come up, and in that moment, I have a choice of how to think about it. A feeling will come up and the feeling is a lot like pain. And if I identify with that, I will start thinking those darker thoughts poor me, theyre gone, I wish they were here.
But if I just attach (the memory) to being beautiful, and I allow that pain it feels like my heart is breaking, but it feels like its breaking open Ill cry, of course, but it becomes this breaking open instead of collapsing inward.
And that was really the crux of it, when I realized that the love for my son hadnt gone anywhere. That it was still in me so clear and strong, the same love I felt when he got put on my chest (when he was born) this unstoppable force.
... My son might not be here for me to care for and feed and put to bed each night. But my love has not gone anywhere. Its right here and present and powerful.
It is because of her son, in fact, that Violet is becoming a midwife. (She has completed her studies and hopes to be licensed this fall.)
My practice of midwifery and what I offer to women is completely dedicated to my son. I dont know that I would have recognized the need without having known him and, in a strange way, even having lost him.
I knew, after the accident, that whatever I did had to be so real If I had any regrets left with me after they passed, it would have been that I wish I would have been more present in moments, less worried about the small stuff.
Any time I go to a birth, I realize anything is possible now. But all of it has to be OK. It doesnt mean that life is easy that saying it has to be OK doesnt mean that any of it will be easy. But it means I am willing to be present for whatever happens.
Violet remembers her husband, too, and his light-hearted spirit, which has helped keep her from sinking into the darkest of grief. He is present for her in those moments that happen between people between midwife and mother, between people sharing deeply.
He embodied that so clearly. Being open to a moment and what magic might want to be created between you and this other person. I recognize this every moment a woman walks through the door at the birth center with her belly. I recognize: This is her moment. This is our moment together.
And dont miss it. Dont miss it.
When Jon and Jonah left, it really brought in the rest of the piece: And you cant take for granted that person is going to be here tomorrow. Or that youll have another opportunity tomorrow to connect. So you better be here for it. You better be here for it right now.
This philosophy circles back to Violets openness to go another layer deeper with people, beyond the surface chit-chat, and trusting that what one has to offer is, quite simply, enough and everything.
We know how to grieve and we know that each one of us will get our turn. And theres immense comfort in being the person who is the focus of that much support. And now, being the person who knows how valuable it is to offer that to someone else.
It could be illness, it could be death. It could be birth. There is a sameness to the willingness to show up and offer support for an intense life transition to each other. Its what we can do.
Im hungry for it. Im hungry to offer it to people. The longing is so intense to give that back.
And Ill be there again. Its all cyclical. I mean, Im still here, so I have a body to lose. The cycle continues.
Every year, on the anniversary of her birth and their deaths, Violet goes to the mountains. Each year feels different, and yet, each year, she feels their presence in the stars and the sun, the wind and the flowers.
And Im listening. Just listening. Im still engaged in the conversation that happened: OK, God, you have my attention. I feel as if Im obligated that day to go listen for the answer. This mystery is too big for me to completely comprehend. But I am listening now.
Know someone living from the heart? Idaho Statesman photojournalist Katherine Jones spotlights someone in the Treasure Valley who influences our lives not only by what they do, but how and why they do it. Do you know someone we should know? Call 377-6414 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.