By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
When a cancerous tumor in Mickey Krupa’s spinal column left him in a wheelchair, Krupa, 42, put on his game face and hurled the football from his second floor porch to his two young boys who fought for points in a game of 500 below.
Until the cancer robbed him of his mobility, Krupa used to teach Nordic skiing at Beaver Creek and climbed the world’s tallest peaks.
This may explain why, when I met Krupa, he seemed out of place.
What was such a vibrant, young father with a quick sense of humor and a nimble mind doing in a hospice? How could he be dying? Other than the wheelchair, Krupa seemed full of life.
Krupa was receiving care for severe pain in the limbs he could no longer use at the Denver Hospice Care Center at Lowry. A stunning new building, the hospice echoes Colorado’s peaks with its soaring ceilings and natural rock accents. Krupa loved it there because it was so beautiful and the caregivers focused on relieving his pain, but keeping him coherent. His immobility meant he could no longer care for himself at home and he didn’t want to be a burden to his family.
“I wish I could live here,” Krupa told me.
His comments were prophetic. I thought Krupa’s stay at the hospice would be brief, a chance to get his pain under control, then he would return home. I told him I was pulling for a miracle recovery.
Related: read Solutions’ end-of-life news and commentary
I had visited the Care Center to learn about end-of-life decisions and to understand how families facing death viewed the hotly debated subject of so-called death panels.
I expected to meet older people. I didn’t expect to meet Krupa. We spent a short time together and he changed my perspective. Krupa spoke candidly about his views on the politics of dying, and shared his fears that his boys were just the wrong age to cope with losing their dad – too old not to be devastated, and too young to have the maturity that might make such a loss easier to understand.
He shared his worries about impossible choices as the cancer kept getting worse. But, he said that writing down his wishes with his doctors and his wife in an advance directive gave him a sense of control. He was full of certainty about these tough choices. Our eyes filled with tears.
Mickey Krupa died at the Denver Hospice Care Center on February 17.
His sister, Marissa Krupa, was among many family and friends who shared stories about Krupa during a Memorial service on February 21 in Denver. Another service in his honor will be held in Beaver Creek. The date has not been announced.
The family has been through almost unthinkable heartache. Both Mickey and his mother were diagnosed with cancerous tumors within about a week of each other. His mother has a brain tumor and was not able to attend the Colorado service.
Marissa Krupa is planning a journey in her brother’s honor starting this summer. Starting in July, she plans to climb several peaks that Mickey helped pick along the Pacific Coast in both North and South America. She asked friends to write messages to her brother, which she will then leave on the summit of each peak. Anyone wishing to share a message can send it to mailto:[email protected]
Marissa Krupa told mourners at the Memorial service that she and her brother spoke before his death about what it means to leave a legacy. She hoped that one of his legacies was living with courage in the face of death. He called on her and others to remember Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.”
“Think of me in this regard, particularly the unbelievable climbing trips to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. We’re all afraid to die, but to do those kinds of things, you have to be willing to defy death,’’ Mickey Krupa told his sister.
Then Marissa Krupa read Frost’s poem and toasted her brother.
Survivors include Krupa’s wife, Liz Espinosa Krupa; two sons; brother, John Krupa; sister, Marissa Krupa; and parents, John and Margarita Krupa.
Messages in Mickey Krupa’s honor: [email protected]
Steven and Spencer Krupa Education Fund, Bank of the West, P.O. Box 2650, Evergreen, CO 80437
Beaver Creek Ski Area memorial. Care of: Nate Goldberg, manager at Nordic Center; 18 Aspen Glen Ct., Edwards, CO, 81632
Nordho Ski & Bike Trust Fund, Nordho Trust Fund, c/o NTF Custodian; 5702 E. Gunnison Pl., Denver, CO 80224