KURT, NICK AND DAN: A BRIEF TRIBUTE
Bad knees, hips and all, my father climbed the rugged sandstone crags above where we’d moored the Evening Star in Iceberg Canyon. He lugged along his portable chair, a jug of water, a watercolor board and his other supplies. The painting below is the result. My friend Brad, who owns the work, chose it, I'm sure, because of the memories it evokes. Fun, crazy times with his kids at Lake Powell. They were.
Evening Star, Watercolor, 21" x 29", Richard J Van Wagoner, 1998, Courtesy of Brad Kupfer**
As I mentioned in my last post, this is a difficult time of year for Brad Kupfer and his family.
Two of his four children passed away in the month of December, Kurt on the 22nd, 2004 and Danny on the 19th, 2010. They were buried on December 28, six years apart. Hence today's posting. Their graves, side by side, are located in Bountiful, Utah. Their passing, and the manner in which they died, devastated Brad's family and friends, Kurt's and Dan's friends too.
Dan fathered a son, Little Kurt, now 12. He is, according to Brad, a total stud.
Little Kurt with his dad.
Brad and I met in 1987 through a mutual friend, Mike Ferrin. Mike and Brad were neighbors in Kaysville, Utah. I knew Mike from high school and our wives and we stayed in close touch through law school. Mike, who’d recently graduated from Pepperdine Law School, had returned to Utah. Brad, Mike and I bicycled together in Davis County, mostly in rural west Kaysville. Brad went through a divorce. Mike moved with his family to Arizona where he has a thriving law practice in Tempe.
As I said, I don't know how a parent survives the loss of a child. One of my last memories of Dan, in fact, is of him, Brad and me flying to Arizona to attend the funeral of Mike and Shari's son, Nick, who suddenly passed away October 17, 2010, from a brain aneurism while on an LDS mission. I’d met Nick when he was a toddler but never got to know him. Given who are his parents, he must have been a remarkable young man. His passing shattered them, of course. His parents, for whom I have tremendous regard and affection, are thoughtful, caring, giving people. I hope, and trust, Nick's absence from their lives has grown less bitter with time, their memories of him and his influence sweeter.
Mike and Brad are close, and during the short time between Nick’s and Dan’s deaths, they grew closer. The support they provide one another endures. Theirs is a bond beyond my grasp. Mike’s second son, Rob, and Brad's son, Dan, were best friends before Mike and his family moved south. Over the Thanksgiving between Nick’s October and Dan’s December deaths, Brad and Mike, Rob and Dan, snowmobiled together near Brad’s cabin. I'm told it helped.
In my outsider, non-professional view, the compounding effect of losing two sons—both to prescription drugs readily available as the result of a cavalier industry's greed—has complicated Brad's grieving. The effect of Kurt's passing on Brad's youngest, Jordan, who at 15 found Kurt's body, has also been profound. After getting the 2:00 a.m. call, Brad himself witnessed the EMTs and ER personnel doing everything possible to save Dan.
Jordan and Brad, understandably, cannot erase those images from their minds. Fortunately, Brittany, Brad's second oldest, has a grounding effect on them both. Sometimes, often in fact, she is the only adult in the room.
The Kupfer crew at Dan's high school graduation:
Brittany, Jordan, Dan and Kurt
These days, for his own well-being and that of Brittany, Jordan and little Kurt, Brad does his best to focus on the many ways Kurt and Dan enriched the lives of the people who matter most to him—on the fact that Kurt and Dan’s influence lives on in his surviving children and grandson. But I hope Brad also recognizes the good he has accomplished, despite (indeed as a result of) these tragedies, by contributing time and resources to address the opioid crisis. In very real ways, he has helped save lives, has averted the very tragedy in others’ lives he himself has suffered. A considerable amount of good, largely through him, has occurred as a direct result of his sons’ untimely deaths.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Brad and his children over the years. Some of their fondest times were at Lake Powell. Here are a few pictures.
Pre-jump (from left) with Brad Millard, Jake Bero-Van Wagoner (his mother stayed at the houseboat, and I neither admit nor deny that he jumped), John Foster, Dan (white trunks) and Kurt 2003
Kurt, Brad Millard, John Foster, Dan
One at Brighton Ski Resort
Kurt, Jordan and Dan
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to lastamendment.com
**My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed nearly 500 pieces of my father's work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father's art reproduced in lastamendment.com are hers.