How I Live With Unimaginable Loss

By Shayna Mace | Photography by Shalicia Johnson

Kristin Keir never thought on a sunny morning last September that it would be the last time she would see her partner, Dax Bakken, alive.

Bakken, a healthy 51-year-old, was about halfway through the bike portion of the Ironman Triathlon in Madison, a grueling race in which participants swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and finish with a marathon.
Keir and their 8-year-old daughter, Maeve, waved to Bakken and swapped “I love yous” as he rode past them and turned the corner, out of sight.

A short time later, Keir got a call from an officer who informed her that they were transporting Bakken to the hospital. After he had rounded the corner, an Ironman official and off-duty police officer noticed Bakken had gotten off of his bike and sat under a tree.

Keir, Maeve and their family rushed to the hospital. Bakken was unconscious before CPR efforts were eventually ceased, and he passed away shortly afterward. Life shattered for the family, including Bakken’s two teenage sons from a prior relationship.

In the months since, Keir and Maeve have been seeing a trauma therapist. It’s helping the duo work through that traumatic day and the complicated feelings that accompany a sudden, shocking death of a partner and father. Keir also marvels at all of the “things that have gone right” since this nightmare began.

Keir and Maeve have had tremendous support from friends and family members, including child care assistance, meal and supply drop-offs, regular check-ins, donations and simply reliving memories of Bakken, who was “funny, smart as heck, and a beautiful person,” she says.

Rituals have also helped Keir and Maeve experience and process their grief. They talk about Bakken daily, look at photos and watch videos, create art to honor him and go to breakfast at Denny’s (“it’s what she and her dad always did”). Keir journals a lot as well.

As a registered nurse and case manager with Agrace Hospice Care, Keir is frequently exposed to death and grief. Still, she admits her job never prepared her for this. However, it’s given her perspective.

“I won’t lie, most days I experience devastation and heartbreak deeply. And I can be outcome oriented, but I can’t be that way with this. My goal cannot be to simply feel better. The goal is to exist in the depths of this each step of the way, whatever that looks like, as we start to experience this new life. I’m learning it’s not about moving on — I don’t think I will — it’s moving with this.”

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