Karen

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I sat at work today, knowing that my friend was dying, and I listened to music that made me forget for a while. And then I’d remember again and stop breathing for a second, and then I’d breathe deep to try not to cry, and I did that over and over.

It’s over now, and somehow even when you know it’s coming, it still shatters you. I sat at work all day and wanted to write a story. I felt like I needed to get it out before she was gone.  But now she’s gone, and the story is stuck somewhere in my throat, and I just want to scream instead.

I just keep thinking, she didn’t even get to turn 40.  She didn’t get to watch her daughters graduate, or her son get married. And I didn’t get to watch her turn into everyone’s favorite grandma while I slowly turned into the crazy old lady who screams at people to get off her lawn and the neighborhood kids are convinced is a witch who eats babies.

Because if I get to grow old, I will be a mean old lady. But not Karen. She probably would have tried, just so I wouldn’t feel guilty, but we all know everyone would have loved her.

And on a logical level, I know that we’re all going to die, and it’s inevitable, and most of us aren’t going to die quietly in our sleep at 95 after living a long and love-filled life.  Many of us are going to die too soon, and it’ll hit me again that I’ve lost someone I love, or I’ll be one of the people they say died too soon. There’s no way to know.

I just know I didn’t want Karen to be one of those people who died too soon, but she did.  And I hate it.

I’m not a very nice person. I don’t like being around people all that much, and I’m really not kidding when I say that if I grow old, I’ll probably be mean as hell.  That’s just the reality of my personality. People irritate me. And I’m not one of those people who will have hundreds of people show up at my funeral unless I die in such a way as to be memorable.  Like Bonnie and Clyde memorable, and since I’m not a violent person by nature [I realize that my dislike of people and general non-violent sort of personality are somewhat a contradiction in terms, but I’m more of a monk or hermit type than serial killer…aren’t you relieved?] I’m likely to die and be gone and the people I’m close to will show up and be sad, and life will go on.

I don’t say this to elicit sympathy or anything. There’s a part of me that wishes I was an extrovert and a people person who everyone just loves to be around because I’m in the room,but I’m not, and that’s okay. Part of the beauty of making the half-way mark to my natural life expectancy is that I don’t feel the need to try to be different than who I am anymore. Yay for small victories.

But Karen. See, Karen WAS a people person, and she was amazing. And she and Chris adopted us for a while, and I got to sit in the light that was Karen, and I can honestly say that I am a better person for having known her.

I remember the first time I ever saw Jacob, her oldest.  He was a toddler, and we’d been going to church a very short time, and there was this little blond cherub running up the aisle with his arms pulled back behind him funny, and my breath stopped, because that was, without a doubt, the cutest baby I’d ever seen.

Jacob was the first person who made Shaya laugh out loud in that great big gleeful baby belly laugh, and I remember being absolutely delighted that he had managed to do what I hadn’t. He’d made my baby laugh, and I swear, angels cried.  And then when Shaya was a toddler, we ended up living less than a block from Chris and Karen’s house, and we ended up spending a lot of time with them.

Here’s what you have to know, though. I’m mostly an introvert. I’m not shy, and I don’t really hate people, but when I’m with them, it drains my energy pretty quickly. I’ve finally accepted the fact that I can maintain 3 or 4 close friendships, and that’s it.  Steve is one, so that leaves me with enough energy for one other couple.

And Chris and Karen were that couple for a couple of years. And it’s crazy, because as we’ve neared the end and people have posted memories on Karen’s wall, I’ve realized that Karen was able to maintain real, authentic, close friendships with more people than I even know, let alone have a relationship with.

And she and Chris are amazing parents. I used to watch them play with their kids and they actually liked it! I was a little jealous because they would do activities with their kids and play games with them because they liked it, not because they felt obligated as parents to entertain their kids.

I have a vivid imagination, but I’m terrible with kids. No, seriously. I’m great with protecting them, and I love them with all the fierceness of any mama bear who ever lived, but when it comes to relating to them and playing with them, well, not so much.

I’ve managed to raise three of them, and they are exceptional human beings, but sometimes I swear it’s in spite of me rather than because of anything I’ve done.  Karen loved being a mom, though. I swear, it was her calling in life, to give those babies life and then raise them and be there for them as long as she could.

People will talk about what an inspiration she was and how she’s a hero, and that is true, but I feel this itch and I need to make sure that you know Karen wasn’t a hero because she had cancer. And the way she dealt with it doesn’t really make her a hero, either, because Karen dealt with cancer the same way she dealt with everything.  Cancer didn’t change her so much as it made who she always was visible to people who maybe hadn’t noticed her radiance before.

Cancer was nothing in the grand scheme of her life, except that it ended it way too soon. Karen is a hero because she lived her entire life with passion and purpose, and I’m not kidding even a little bit when I say that she made every room a little brighter just by being in it. The end isn’t what matters when we talk about Karen. It’s the middle that matters.  And the fact that I got to be a part of it makes me feel incredibly blessed and honored.

My heart is broken. And I wish she was still here. But I don’t regret giving her a piece of my heart, even when the ache from the hole she left stops me for a minute and I have to slow down and concentrate on every breath to keep from bursting into tears.

I just need you to know that Karen is a hero for how she lived, not how she died. I need you to know that she mattered to me, and that I was one of the countless people who she managed to just ‘click’ with, and that the fact that she clicked with me is a crazy, beautiful testament to how wonderful she was.

I’m gonna miss her like crazy.

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About Shelbi

Work-at-home wife, mom of three kids, and caregiver for my brother, who has Cerebral Palsy. Never a dull moment, in other words. No idea how much I'll post, since I'm super busy these days, but maybe I'll get over here once in a while.

2 responses »

  1. Shelbi……..wow is all I can say! I am startled by how much we are alike! But I will tell you that you are a strong incredible lady! I wished we had been able to spend more time together! I have known you for almost 13 years now and I have enjoyed conversation with you as there is never a dull moment! Karen has blessed so many people but you have too my dear friend! Many blessings to you!

  2. Shelbi, you have a gift for writing. I didn’t know Karen, I met her once just in passing, but my heart is hurting today for her parents, husband, children, and friends. I find I’m having a hard time not crying for these people that I don’t know. It is only natural that we will have to bury our parents someday but to lose a child or a spouse has to be the worst or to lose a parent while you are still a child. Thank you for sharing your story and may God bless you.

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