Go with God, Dear Friend

Life is so often more than we see on the surface.

A dear friend of mine died this week. On the surface, she was a disabled woman in her 60’s, living alone, managing the routines of life only with a great deal of assistance from her sister and friends. 

The entire sixteen years I knew her, Karen was in pain, the victim of chronic conditions that left her in absolute agony much of the time – enough so that she was on morphine to cope with it, and there were still nights when she couldn’t sleep, couldn’t find anything approaching a comfortable position.

But if that’s all you saw, you’d be missing the gift that Karen was to those of us who loved her. Her health problems plagued her from a very young age, and yet she fought to live life on her own terms with a grace and humor that belied the pain.  Although she described herself as shy, she loved meeting new people, and approached them with such warmth that I seldom saw her rebuffed. She loved to travel, loved photography, music, poetry and art, and had an adventuresome streak a mile wide.

Karen

She traveled for a while with Billy Joel, as a photographer for his band (not the man himself – she’d always make that quite clear) and at another point in her life, was involved with hot air ballooning, part of the support team that followed the balloon on the ground.

I met her online in 1997, and then in person in Los Angeles in March, 1998, where we were attending a seminar on the television show MacGyver that was part of that year’s Paley Festival.

You know how sometimes you just click with someone? That was me and Karen. I have vivid memories of laughing to the point where we couldn’t breathe that weekend, and once we were back in our respective states, we kept in touch, eventually deciding we wanted to take a trip together. 

One trip led to the other, and we added friends along the way.  Over the next ten years, we had all kinds of adventures, from a visit to the Stargate SG-1 set, to cruises, to trips to Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago, and the UK. We flew in a helicopter, went to the top of a mountain in Whistler, visited Barrow, Alaska (on the arctic circle), saw Stonehenge, Avebury, and Hadrian’s Wall, celebrated New Year’s Eve on the Thames, and were in LA the night The Return of the King swept the Oscars.

Karen glacier 3

Not all of our adventures were that glamorous: we visited the Prince Rupert, B.C., city dump in the hopes of seeing a bear (we didn’t, but we did get some amazing photos of bald eagles) and we were prone to getting lost and going in circles when driving in unfamiliar cities. (Hey, this was before smart phones and GPS, okay?)

Karen was the single most generous person I’ve ever known. She loved to surprise people with things they’d admired, and today, I’m looking around my house, which seems full of things she gave me, from the inexpensive and silly to the art work she loved and thought I’d love, too. (She was nearly always right.)

One of her favorite people in the universe was her nephew. She called him the brightest light in her life, and finding just the right gifts for him was a priority on every trip we ever took.

She wasn’t only generous in terms of physical gifts, though, but also of time. When you talked to Karen, you knew she was listening; when she told stories, she stopped periodically to make sure you were interested. And you were, or should have been, because she’d led a fascinating life.

When I first met her, she was still working, but gradually, that was lost to her, lost to her increasing disability. Where once we’d had the misadventure of being lost in a small Canadian town in the middle of the night (dragging our luggage behind us), it became increasingly difficult for her to walk more than a few steps at a time.

Travel became impossible, even with me there to help her, so the last few times I saw her, I went to visit her, flying down for ten days in 2010, taking a road trip to see her with two other friends in 2012, and then spending this past New Year’s with her. I will forever be grateful for that week, not just that I was able to go, but that she was feeling better than she had the last few times I’d seen her.  We hung out, watched TV (she got me hooked on Bones, by the way), talked for hours, and went to see The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug together.

One of the things we talked about that week was how purposeless her life felt. She could no longer drive, and felt increasingly disconnected from friends, so I set up things to make it easier to stay in touch with us (Twitter, a GroupMe account.) It worked, too, as the weeks after I came home she was more active in our lives.

Here is where I’m conflicted: I’m heartbroken that she’s gone, particularly when she seemed to be doing better; I’m sad that I won’t be able to share Bones with her anymore, or the third Hobbit film, and that we’ll never do the SG-1 marathon we discussed. I’m desperately sorry for her sister and nephew, and for all of us who were privileged to know and love her.

But I can’t bring myself to regret that she’s no longer in pain.  I know that, however grateful I am for the week we had last month, and the temporary reprieve she had, that she was still in pain, and it wasn’t going to get better. Not on this side of death, at least.

What I do regret is that I could never get her to see that she wasn’t a burden on any of us, that all of our lives – and I know for certain this is just as true of her family – were enriched by Karen’s love and laughter. That however much I love the adventures we went on – and many of the highlights of my life to date involve her – that I equally loved just sitting in her living room, drinking tea or coffee and chatting with her.

On her Livejournal, Karen had said this:

“No matter where the road takes us – (far away, or around the corner) – when adventures are shared with friends, the experiences are pleasantly implanted in my heart to be re-called and re-lived at will……I am a Christian, I believe that life is a gift, and I cherish each day. My family and friends are the true treasures of my life. They hold the keys to my heart.”

She died relatively young, and yet had packed so much living into the life she had, I find myself wanting to respond to her death by being more like her, by being more like the woman who wasn’t completely sure what meaning her life had.

It had great meaning, dearest of friends. Go with God, until we meet again.

IBK2

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13 thoughts on “Go with God, Dear Friend

  1. What a lovely post and tribute to your friend. Loving people is always worth it. Karen is a great example; we can all take a lesson.

    I remember when I was younger ( about 10 years ago), I worked with a woman who eventually became a real mentor in my life, and she and I would talk about life, and she would always comment about how beautiful the aging process can be, how the media gets it wrong most of the time, and that we must constantly remind ourselves that life and people *are* the good stuff. We take our feelings of loss and, like you said, try to be more of that ‘good’ in the world. You can be the ‘Karen’ to someone else, etc.

    A bit unrelated, but a new blog I’ve found recently is “Modern Loss”, and I think you would really appreciate it. http://modernloss.com/ . Let’s all continue to be real with one another in life.

  2. This is so beautiful and full of love I don’t have words to do it justice. I’m sorry that you lost your friend but I an rejoicing that she now has a new body and is able to do everything her Earthly body wouldn’t let her do.

    You and Karen’s family are in my prayers. ❤

  3. This is so beautiful and moving. It sounds like you were blessed to have such a lovely woman as your friend. I am so sorry for your loss, and feel just heartbroken for you and for her family and friends, especially for her sister and nephew.

    It really is difficult to say goodbye to someone you love, even when you know that living for them was suffering, even when you truly believe they are in a better place now; a place without pain and suffering. I’m praying now for her family, for you and the rest of her friends.

  4. That was lovely! Great pic of her in the middle of the post, too! One of my favorite Karen moments was her first snowfall. She was from Beaumont, TX, and had never been in falling snow. We were in Albuquerque, NM for the Balloon Fiesta (Oct, 4 1988?). 4am. I opened the hotel door to see if it was raining. Nope, but it looked weird. Just as my brain caught up, I hear “Oh. my. god!” from behind me. We were on the second floor (which she hated–fear of heights) running up and down in front of our friends’ rooms playing on the balcony, in PJs. She was like a kid and in heaven. I think we stayed an extra day, to play. Great ballooning memories.

  5. A beautiful post for a beautiful friend. I didn’t know Karen very well but she was always an absolute sweetheart to me. I was incredibly saddened to hear of her passing. She will be missed. x

  6. I am crying. You so totally captured Karen’s beautiful spirit. By the time we met in 2005, her physical issues were more than most people could have handled even with a grimace but she met life with a smile. Despite her challenges, she & I had so many adventures from working on films to going to see so much of the live music Austin is famed for. Working on a 48 hour film project, she cold-called Threadgill’s and got us their amazing banquet hall to film in for free. She was unstoppable and people just wanted to be with her and do what she asked! She loved Twilight and in addition to her dragging me to midnight showings of the films, we even took a road trip in a lightning storm to Dallas to see not one but two shows in one night by “Jasper Cullen’s” band. Then we drove home! For once our shared insomnia proved useful. Karen had a blast meeting one of her favorite Twilight vampires and she charmed band and fellow fans alike. She remained ever young at heart and was one of the bravest people I’ll ever meet. As you have said, Karen seemed stronger the last few times we were together than she had been in ages and I was looking forward to getting her out of her house more–she had enjoyed a trip to Olive Garden to lunch enough that she was motivated! She’d told me to stay away while she had a cold (she was always thoughtful) but I was expecting to see her this week. She told me I had to tell her all about the whirlwind trip to Hollywood to visit a mutual friend of ours from our filmmaking days and to see a kickstarter film I’d backed–a trip I doubt I would have taken if not for Karen telling me I simply had to do it. I talk myself out of things whereas Karen never held back from anything she had a hope of managing. I was looking forward to telling Karen all about the young woman I met at that premiere who has the same health condition and some of the same verve for life as Karen and who was herself present to meet one of her heroes, a vibrant and successful screenwriter and actress who is currently showrunning a hit show despite also sharing their diagnosis. I spoke to both of them of Karen and was looking forward to telling her all about those conversations and to showing her the film. I keep running across things that remind me of Karen and cause the sense of loss to reverberate in my chest–from seeing the pot pies I used to pick up at the grocery store for her while shopping tonight–to the realization during a sleepless night watching DVDs that the woman who gave me the gift of Doctor Who won’t see if she likes the Twelfth Doctor (she wasn’t convinced–she liked her actors younger and cuter!) to something funny on the internet I think she’d enjoy. As you related, simply hanging out, maybe watching some TV and commenting on it or just chatting about life was more fun for me than Karen ever seemed to believe. We had fun doing things but we also had fun just being together. I could never have had enough hours with her and I wish desperately I’d found a way to have more. After her sister called me with the sad news, I called Karen’s phone to hear her lovely voice again–her sweet tones at the end telling me, one last time, to “have a terrific day.” Thanks to Karen I’ve had many more than I otherwise would have. She will be the angel on my shoulder in the days to come telling me not to wait but to live life fully right now. I want to be more like Karen. I want to do less complaining about things not being perfect and a lot more grabbing life by the horns and enjoying the ride. Rest in peace beautiful friend knowing you were loved.

    • Thank you for sharing these Karen-stories with me! I wish I could tell you how glad I am that you were there, near her and able to pop in and see her, and do things with her, and I’m glad we got to meet that time.

      And I’m glad Karen encouraged you to go to LA, and you know what? I’m convinced she now knows the stories you were going to tell her…but it’s not the same, and I’m going to miss her, so much.

      • I am so glad you got to visit with Karen again and that y’all went to Hobbit: Pt 2 together. I know she’ll be there in spirit for the 3rd part! I don’t think I realized until now how many things in daily life brought our sweet friend to my mind. Now those fleeting thoughts fully register because they make me sad but they also keep her in my memories. We had a lot of missed connections towards the end–seemed to often that if I made it the hour into town, she wasn’t feeling up to a visit due to lack of sleep. We always said we’d try again next week–and now that’s not possible. I’m making it a point to say yes to things–to push that bit harder. I really do feel like she’s with me urging me on as she always did. If you ever find yourself back down here with time to spare, call me and we’ll get together and toast Karen and maybe see a band in her honor.

      • Thought of a way to give you my contact info safely here. Take K’s iphone number, area code is the same. Then starting with her 7 digit number do the following to each number in order. -1, +2, same, -1, -5, +2, -8 to arrive at mine. Text me that it’s you and I’ll text back to confirm.

  7. A lovely tribute. Karen was friendly and not shy! I had barely met Karen when she invited me and my daughter to join her for a free screening of How to Eat Fried Worms. God speed Karen.

  8. What a lovely piece to celebrate your friend. I didn’t know her, but reading your words, I know I would have liked to. And by your own words toward the end, I think that Karen knows that she wasn’t a burden to you, that she was a joy. I am sorry for your loss and have celebrated her life with you for at least these few moments. Michele

  9. Pingback: Fan Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies | Lunatic Worlds

  10. Pingback: Loose Ends from a Fan (Personal Reflections on Bones) | Lunatic Worlds

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