In 1991 my friend Kris Edlund and I appeared in Madwoman of Chaillot at Illinois State University. We were theatre majors. Kris' performance was lovely and received critical praise. My performance did not. I had no idea what I was doing and was quite bad in the show. Ah well, at least it wasn't caught on video.
I had lost touch with Krissy a few years after college until I saw her friend request on Facebook. I accepted her request and through pictures and status updates I learned that she lived in Ireland with her husband and his three children. Krissy had made those children her own after the shocking death of her friend (and our former college classmate) Jeanne. I was quite intrigued. How did my college friend end up living in Ireland married to my college classmate's widower?
Recently, we Skyped for my series on embracing the unexpected. My book My So-Called Unexpected Life: 10 Things I Did to Meet and Marry My Man, Be A Stepmom, Have Babies & Embrace the Unexpected tells my story. I love hearing and sharing other people's stories because in between our so-called plans life happens. And often it is much better than we ever could have imagined.
Tania: Let's start with Jeanne. And your feelings about that.
Kris: That's a great place to start because that's where it started for me. She was a great friend. We never had a single argument. I attribute that to her. She was so patient and kind and gentle and giving. I always felt very safe around her and we became friends effortlessly. I always had a protective feeling over her. All of us who loved her were devastated when we found out she had a brain aneurysm. It was not a phone call I was expecting to get.
Tania: So she wasn't ill.
Kris: No. She had just had her third baby less than a year before. Cian was going on 5. Charlotte had just turned three. Jude was going on 1.
Tania: What happened?
Kris: It was opening night at her theatre company and she was backstage giving the cast a pep talk and she keeled over and Cian was there. He was in the cast. He saw it happen. Helicopter airlifted her to the hospital. She got the best care available. I believe she held on because of her kids. If you knew Jeannie you knew she wanted more than anything to be a mom. She had no intention of leaving them. She was in a persistent vegetative state. It wasn't good. She wasn't there.
Tania: How old was she?
Kris: She was 33. It happened at the end of April 2003. The prognosis was no recovery. She died in Oct 2005. I had moved to LA in '96. I went and visited Jeanne 8 months after it happened. I spent a little bit of time with the kids one day. All of us were worried about Kevin. They had lived in McHenry, Illinois. When Kevin moved the kids to Dublin he let all of Jeanne's friends know. He needed to be with his family there. So, I bought a webcam so I could keep in touch with the kids. No offense to Kevin but I wanted to keep in touch with the kids. I don't know how this started but I started reading them their bedtime stories over the webcam. It started with one story and he was like, "Well, that was kind of fun. Wanna do it again?" And we ended up doing it every day for a year and a half.
Tania: Every night?
Kris: In LA it was 12:30 and in Dublin it wAs 8:30. After awhile Kevin and I would talk. It was good. LA was good but it was lonely. The whole pursuit-TV and theatre pursuit-for me it didn't bring out the best in me. It made me miserable. And the thing that was making me happy in 2006 were Kevin, Cian, Charlotte and Jude. I felt like they were my family. I talked about it a lot with my sponsor. I am 15 years sober. I said, "I don't know what's going on. I'm just thinking about these guys and I just want to be with them and hold them and make them happy and cook for them.
Kris: So, I prayed about it a lot. And I asked God to show me the path that he wanted for me. And to make it obvious because I'm a little stupid. There was a night that I had a dream about Jeanne. This was pretty early on-it was before she died actually. I had a dream that she and I were walking toward each other on a sidewalk. And I remember noticing it must have been an LA sidewalk because there was a tree like the root of a tree coming up through the pavement like an earthquake had cracked the sidewalk but we walked over the crack and met each other. And it was a hug. That's all it was a hug. And then I woke up and I wanted to go back to sleep because I wanted her to say something. I went to see her before she died. So I took the opportunity to sit with her and pray next to her and I promised her that I would find a way to take care of her kids and that I would never leave them. I promised her that I always would and that I wouldn't leave them. So that's what I'm doing.
Tania: How was the transition from LA to Dublin?
Kris: I found it really challenging when I moved over here [Dublin] because not only was I moving countries I had lived alone in that fabulous LA apartment for 10 years enjoying my own lifestyle and all of a sudden I was living with this guy and his three kids and I was the cook and the maid and all that. I couldn't go over there and be Maria VonTrapp with these beautiful kids and singing songs in the field. It wasn't like that. It was like, "Don't pee on the toilet seat. Clean up after yourself."
Tania: I have to say, I would look at pictures on FB and it looked as if you had embraced it like a saint. So there was a struggle for you.
Kris: There were two layers to it. The first layer was about Jeanne. I felt an obligation to my friend. I felt like I was there doing her a favor. That couldn't last long because what will happen is that you will go nuts. I had to find a way to be the woman in the house and not feel like I was living under another woman's shadow. I had to find the delicate balance between honoring my friend and taking care of her kids the way I promised and making these kids mine. Because I couldn't stay and I couldn't raise them unless they were mine. And they are mine. These are my kids. We had another kid [Oliver] and I have four kids and each of them is equally my own.
Tania: It was a different transition for me. I think there is a difference when a mother has passed away versus a mother who lives eight minutes away in the next town. In your pictures it seemed to come so naturally to you. It didn't come as naturally to me.
Kris: There is a huge difference being a stepmother to kids whose mom is still around versus being a stepmother to kids whose mother passed away. Also, my kids were very young. So, I feel they have a right to have a mom and I know Jeanne wants them to have a mom and I know Jeanne wants them to be happy. When you are caring for kids you did not give birth to it's easy to feel like you are being kicked around like you are a doormat. You're there to load the dishwasher and buy the school books and sign the homework and buy the clothes and get the new shampoo and you're not allowed to call them your kids? I found it easier to take them in and make them my kids then to think of them as someone else's kids. Frankly, I am not a saint. I couldn't do this unless they were my kids. It took two rounds of counseling to work through and make my life-my life so that I'm not filling someone else's shoes.
Tania: Is Jeanne a subject in the household?
Kris: Sure. We have a mass every year on her anniversary. Every now and then Charlotte will do something that is so Jeanne it's ridiculous. I'll often find myself saying, "Oh my God, that was so your mom." She comes up in conversation a lot. At the same time, we do live our life in the present. That was part of what came out of counseling for me-the need for me to live my life in the present because otherwise I will go crazy.
Tania: Do you still sometimes just go, "What the hell?"
Kris: When I first moved here like after two months-I said to myself, "What the f-- did I do? What have I done?" Every now and then I look around and I'm like-what the what?-this is not what my life is supposed to look like. But I am comfortable here. It's been 8 years. I'm very satisfied. I can't imagine my life going any other way. I shudder at the thought of not having what I have today. Because it's so right for me.
Tania: In general, did you want children?
Kris: Definitely. In fact I’d still love to have another a child but we can’t afford more than four. I might have only had one but we really have four. We can’t have five. We just can’t.
Tania: Do you ever resent that?
Kris: I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t before. In general, no. I feel that we are right the way we are. I had some drama. I fell and my water broke and I was in the hospital for 9 weeks. So, I just don’t know if I want to do it again. I got a good pregnancy, I got a healthy baby. I don’t want to push it.
Tania: Did you ever have those conversations in the hospital-like what the hell? Everything I have done so far and now my pregnancy is going to have a glitch?
Kris: There is another way of looking at that experience. It was hard for me not to feel sorry for myself when I was in the hospital. But do you know I had a room to myself for 9 weeks. I didn’t have to cook a meal, wash a load of laundry. I watched movies on my DVD player. I relaxed for nine weeks before I had a baby. I may not have gotten the house totally clean but I got to sleep. There is value to that. The other part of that was when [her son] Oliver got sick he was 10 days old. It turned out to be Infant Botulism. And again, we were like, "What the hell?" It turned out to be our pet turtles. We wonder whether I had been home for the duration of my pregnancy what would his health have been in the end. So, in a way me ending up in the hospital for 2 months was God’s way of protecting him. He could have come out differently. I just think God works in mysterious ways.
Tania: Yeah, but he can be so darn confounding.
Kris: That’s why I say make it obvious-because I am really dumb.
Tania: Yeah. I mean yeah to "make it obvious" not that you are really dumb. What do the kids call u?
Tania: Awww. When did you get married?
Kris: I got here in July 2006 and we got married in July 2008.
Tania: It’s a beautiful story and it’s comforting to hear that there were the wrinkles because it humanizes it even more but also makes it that much more amazing.
Kris: Yeah. Huge wrinkles. You were an aunt before you were mom, right?
Kris: Were you the coolest aunt ever?
Tania: I think so.
Kris: I thought I was too! I thought I’d be the best mom. I was a great mom before I became one.
Tania: That's hilarious. Once you moved that was it, right? There was no, “Let’s see...“ and then you might break up?
Kris: I knew this was it. I prayed about it for a good year. I knew it was going to work. I already thought of them as my kids. It was this thing that was put in me. It was the purpose that I was given. It's what I feel I was supposed to do. I am sure there are people out there who knew just Jeanne who aren’t happy with it. But I had to let go of that because I have to live my life and this is where my life took me.
I tried to get a picture of Krissy doing her best "coffee talk" pose. It didn't turn out great because there's a flash in the picture.
On second thought, maybe it's Jeanne. You never know.
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