Santa Fe Living Treasures ‚Äď Elder Stories
Honored October, 2013
Owen has dedicated his life to the assistance and spiritual aid of people facing their death, and gives hope and inspiration to the loved ones experiencing their greatest loss. As a leader in the hospice end of life support and grief counseling field for over 30 years Owen Kunkle‚Äôs spirit of compassion, humility, tenderness, humor, and adventure has sustained many families and individuals. He helped establish the PMS Hospice Center in the early 1990‚Äės and now serves as the agency hospice chaplain, bereavement counselor, and family/staff group therapist. His extended work embraces Doorways, a collation of local end of life professionals, Gerard‚Äôs House, providing support to children who have lost a loved one, and Compassionate Friends‚Äô grief group. His involvement in the Interfaith Leadership Alliance gives Owen the opportunity to work with Muslim, Jewish and other Christian faith leaders to help the homeless. He has touched many families officiating at births, weddings, and funerals. Owen is a true community man: he can be seen flipping pancakes on the plaza on the 4th of July and on New Years Eve it is Owen who often blesses the event of ‚Äúlight up a Life‚ÄĚ an annual fundraiser for Hospice.
The following testimonial beautifully describes the breadth and depth of Owen‚Äôs gift to others
‚ÄúMy mother died at 95, frail and ready to move on. Her death was expected, but still it was a shock. I was suddenly motherless. And I was filled with another kind of emptiness. I had no religious or spiritual place to put this loss, nothing to turn to in the way of comforting belief, no person who could tell me what to do next or how to handle these feelings. My mother's death left me feeling at sea, rudderless and lonely.
Through hospice I was eligible for grief counseling. I was nervous when I found that the counselor was actually attached to a church, but was assured that there would be no missionizing involved.
And how foolish my fears! Walking into his office I was immediately at ease. In fact I may have even started crying at the mere sight of Owen's kind, compassionate face and sound of that wonderful gentle voice. I never been in the presence of someone so generous, so welcoming, so loving of a stranger. He listened with not just his ears and mind but with his heart. I could feel it. Whatever poured out of me he accepted and honored. He somehow was able to communicate to me that my feelings, my behavior, my thoughts and fears were all perfectly normal; and at the same time, he made me feel special, unique and valuable. Owen also ever so gently helped me see that I could hold this loss and these complex feelings in a kind of spiritual space, without fear of being recruited into organized religion. Death is so huge we have to dig deep within ourselves...and reach out far beyond ourselves ... to deal with it. Owen took me there and I am forever grateful.‚ÄĚ
Living in a community can be an art and a social practice if applied consciously. Owen represents the spirit of open-hearted generosity at work in our community, through which one is giving back the very best that is within them to serve others.
Story by Nancy Dahl
Photo ¬© 2013 by Genevieve Russell