By Greg Duncan
Loss is a part of our lives. If you live long enough, you will eventually lose someone you love. For those who lose a loved one to cancer, the experience can be excruciating. Watching them slowly slip away, withering right before their eyes with little to no hope of a reprieve takes a serious toll on the ones left behind, leaving them with nothing but the a hole in their heart and memories of those lost.
Ken Kylberg lost his wife to cancer two years ago. She left behind a broken-hearted husband taken to his emotional limit. But in her passing, she delivered a gift of love, kindness and selflessness from beyond.
From their first conversation, Ken and Laura immediately felt a connection. Ken knew right away that the two were destined to be together. The relationship quickly progressed and not long after they started seeing each other, Laura was diagnosed with cancer.
Despite only knowing each other for a short time – where some would have cut ties and ended a relationship sure to be full of hardships and pain – Ken decided he wasn’t going to leave her side and the couple married.
“I couldn’t imagine someone who would leave a spouse in that kind of trouble, but it happens all the time,” said Ken. “It damn sure lets you know what you are made of. It tests every inch of you.”
“She never did not smile,” said Ken. “That was one of the most amazing things about Laura. She always smiled.”
Throughout their relationship, the couple went everywhere together, including hunting trips to Ken’s lease. Like many Texans, Ken grew up chasing whitetails and dreamed of one day hunting elk out West or maybe even stag in New Zealand. Laura was too weak to make such a trip. Not wanting to leave her side, Ken abandoned his dream hunts.
“She wasn’t near strong enough,” said Ken. “So we didn’t make it.”
As time passed and trips to the hospital increased in frequency and stay times became longer, Laura rapidly declined in health. Ken cared for her while she was confined to their bed. One day, Laura called Ken into the bedroom and handed him an envelope. Ken opened it to find a sizeable insurance policy taken out by Laura on herself.
“I was the beneficiary,” said Ken. “I had no idea what it was. We had never much discussed the end details. Death was evident for a couple of years, but you try to avoid those issues at all costs.”
True to her unselfish ways, Laura had taken out the extra insurance policy strictly to fund the two bucket-list hunts.
“It was bittersweet because it’s something I always wanted to do, but for her to die to make it happen was tough,” Ken said. “She told me, ‘don’t you dare use this on your bills and it better be used for hunts or I will come back.’ I guess she knew her time was pretty close, so she decided to give me that envelope.”
Laura lived each day for Ken and he tried to make every day the best it could be for her. Three days after presenting the envelope to Ken, Laura lay in bed resting at their home.
“I kissed her on the forehead and told her she could go if she needed to,” said Ken. “About 45 minutes later, she was gone.”
After a long grieving period, Ken stuck to his word and began preparations for his hunts. With so much riding on the two hunts, Ken turned to Greg Ray and his Outdoor Solutions team to find the perfect outfitters to give him the best chance to take an animal of a lifetime.
“You bump your head a lot trying to get into good outfitters,” said Ken. “Relying on Greg and his team was good because they do the legwork for you.”
Greg Ray set up Ken for a trip to New Mexico and after a long discussion enrolled Ken in his long-range shooting school to sharpen his skills before heading to elk camp.
“The outfitter told me I could be shooting at super long ranges,” said Ken. “Growing up in Texas hunting whitetails, I hadn’t really taken a long shot before. Had I rolled into that outfitter without taking the class, I wouldn’t have done too well.”
On the second to last day of Ken’s elk hunt, his guide spied a bull bedded down about a mile away. They broke for lunch and returned with the hope the bull had moved.
“We came back and nothing was moving,” said Ken. “I laid down to take a nap and the guide told me I needed to sit up. The bull walked out into the open at 515 yards across a canyon. I sat down and drop the sticks and was ready in 30 seconds. That’s all it took. I dropped it.”
After Laura passed, Ken had her body cremated and carried some of her ashes with him to the top of that New Mexico mountain. Once arriving at the downed bull, Ken spread some of Laura’s ashes to honor her life.
“There were a lot of tears,” said Ken. “It was the most emotional thing I have ever felt. The guide knew my story and I think he got more emotional than me. He had lost his mother to cancer the previous year.”
Ken followed up his elk hunt with a trip to New Zealand. Laura was a traveler by nature and the couple had always discussed going overseas to hunt a stag. Joined by his son and brother, Ken boarded the international flight to wrap up his commitment to Laura.
Ken downed an impressive stag in New Zealand. As Ken spread Laura’s ashes, he felt a sense of closure as his journey concluded.
“It was real bittersweet when it was over,” said Ken. “It wasn’t about the stag. The whole journey was over. I am sure she was looking down, very proud. I love her more today than I did back then.”
Ken’s story is one of heartbreak, anguish and sorrow but also one of unbridled displays of selflessness from Laura. The end of her life brought sadness and an overwhelming feeling of loss. From her ashes and beyond, Laura’s legacy lives on in the memories of those who loved her.