Category Archives: dying

Kari’s Smile Lives On

This is the final post in tribute to my high school classmate and friend, Kari, who died of brain cancer in 2000.  It isn’t her complete life story, she was impacted by many friends and relatives she cherished. It’s a small view into her world through my experiences, which at times are fuzzy with time and grief.


To catch up first read:

And I Almost Killed Her Once
(a glance back to our high school life)

The Lord’s Plan Unfolds
(how our paths intersected years later
when she moved to my parents’ hometown)

The Beginning of the End
(Kari’s final year of treatment and life)

The Dreaded and Inevitable End
(goodbye to Kari was hello to grief)

 

Losing a friend at the young age of 36 was one of the hardest things I’ve lived through. For at least six months, I cried every day.  I’d never lost anybody close to me and I had no idea grief could become a part of your personality. I viewed life through grief-colored glasses.

During this time of emotional fog, a friend visited.  She sat on my couch with a cup of coffee, tucked her feet under her, and chatted to catch up.  I loved this friend, but she hadn’t read or answered my emails about Kari and was out of touch with my life.  I didn’t want to relive the pain to catch her up. Her words bounced around the room and for the first time in our relationship, I felt disconnected from her. My grief was a chasm between us.

After about 30 minutes, I excused myself, went into the back yard and called a close friend, Kirsti.  I sobbed about how hard it was to talk to people who didn’t know the story and didn’t understand how my life had stopped.

“I just can’t get over Kari,” I cried.

“Mindy, you don’t have to,”  she said.  She gave me permission to grieve and removed the burden that something was wrong with me. I also came away from that conversation understanding that if my visitor didn’t know or understand my grief, and that was OK, too. She was still a good friend.  I walked back into the living room and finished our visit.  The  coping skills I learned through that conversation with Kirsti have carried  me for 14 years, and I have shared her wisdom to others frozen with grief.

I actually remember the first day I didn’t cry for Kari.  It was at least six months after the funeral.  I was cleaning  the house and thoughts of her came, but not the tears. I cherished a few good memories, then continued cleaning.  Eventually, I went an entire week without crying, then a month.  I never stopped grieving,  I learned to live with my grief.

The year after Kari’s funeral, I tried to stay in touch with her kids through phone calls, email, and letters.  Then, they moved.  I had a baby. Email addresses changed. Two of her kids  graduated and moved out on their own.  I moved. Her family moved again.  My family of eight moved to Washington. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  Then I moved one final time. My cancer came back.  

When I joined Facebook and starting “finding” people, I was thrilled to touch base with Kari’s daughter, Holly.  I was even more thrilled to learn she was very happily married with adorable kids and lived in Washington – one hour away.

The first time we met up, our relationship took up where Kari’s and mine left off.  It was a natural friendship we both felt.  We caught up on the missing years.  Her love story was so much like her parents’, it astounded me.  Love at first sight and married within a few months. She had her mother’s exuberant personality and the ability to light up a room with her smile. Our relationship filled a gap we’d both felt for years.

We’ve shared tears and  laughs. She told stories I hadn’t heard or remembered and I shared stories of high school. Kari was as honest with her kids as she was with me, and often shared her mistakes and regrets.  She never tried to make herself look perfect in their eyes, she was real.

My conversations with Holly remind me of the afternoons Kari and I spent together, baring heart and soul.  One day, Holly and I  were reliving the final days of Kari’s life.

Holly sat in the antique rocking chair that has soothed generations in my family, and started crying.  She finally choked out she’d always worried and wondered about her mom going to Heaven, and if she was ready.  

It was time to tell her the story.

I  confessed I almost killed her Mom driving drunk in high school, then explained how I came to know Christ as my Savior in college and experienced a radical life change.  I relived  meeting Kari in the thrift store in Helena and our subsequent afternoon visits. But, when I repeated the verses Kari and I  discussed about salvation and Heaven, I saw visible relief in Holly.  The same marvel that Kari and I often shared, that the Lord spared me from causing  Kari’s death to be there when she was facing death, wrapped around Holly’s heart. More of God’s purposes had been revealed.

 

BB and Hatfields 358At the park that afternoon, a tears came when I was pushing this little tiger in the swing.  Kari’s grandson was laughing and giggling and probably wondering why the crazy ol’ lady was crying. Tears came because Kari never pushed him in a swing, then tears came because I could. I chose to rejoice for what I gained, not grieve for what I lost.

BB and Hatfields 344This little Princess looks like her mommy and her Gramma.

BB and Hatfields 364This little guy snuggles all worries out of your life.

BB and Hatfields 406

Holly and I cherishing a final moment together before she and her family moved out of state. Her friendship has been a comfort and a joy. 

This woman is LOVED!Kari would be so proud children and her grandkids.

BB and Hatfields 413

Goodbye, but not forever.

Kari’s smile lives on.

The Dreaded and Inevitable End

 

This is the fourth part of a tribute to my high school classmate and friend, Kari, who died of brain cancer in 2000.  It isn’t her complete life story, she was impacted by many friends and relatives she cherished. It’s a small view into her world through my experiences, which at times are fuzzy with time and grief.
To catch up first read:

And I Almost Killed Her Once
(a glance back to our high school life)

and

The Lord’s Plan Unfolds
(how our paths intersected years later
when she moved to my parents’ hometown)

The Beginning of the End
(Kari’s final year of treatment and life)

Still hoping for a miracle cure for brain cancer, Kari and Tony traveled to Seattle, Washington,  to try their final option available, the Gamma Knife. 

Hello from Washington Kari 003

They enjoyed  picking sand dollars at the Pacific Ocean and cruising in a boat through the Puget Sound. When Kari sent this picture through email,  I printed it on plain paper and tacked it up on my sewing cupboard door, where it’s been ever since. I love that smile.

October 6, 2000, she sent out this email to friends and family members.

Kari's letter

She began going downhill. During a phone call she was telling an animated story about one of her kids in a minor fender bender.  She just stopped talking. At first I thought she’d pulled the phone away from her ear and was talking to someone else in the room, ya’ know how kids always interrupt, but there was no other conversation or sound.

I called her name. Over and over, louder each time, until I was yelling. She finally put the phone to her ear again, and I could hear rustling sounds,  but her mind was blank. When she did speak, she was fuzzy and confused. She couldn’t finish her story and couldn’t answer my questions.  I tried several times, then kindly told her I had to go and told her to hang up the phone. I repeated my instructions until I heard a click on the other end.

Conversations and emails stopped after that. In November her husband called to say hospice was there and invited me out for a final visit. I drove 828 miles with five kids and deep sorrow.

The family was gracious enough to allow me into their personal space by visiting daily in the afternoons.

The hospital bed was in the living room, and Kari was there with a hospice nurse. The kids went to school, came in jumped on the bed for a hug, talked about school, ran off to basketball practice, school activities, and outings with friends. She would ask “How was school?”  or “How are you doing?”  Mostly, she just held tightly to the hand of who was nearest the bed, and said, “I love you.”

In my ignorance, I asked Kari’s husband why they weren’t all spending more time with her, why they were still going to activities when she could die any moment. He was so gracious to answer my question without offense. “Kari and I decided from the beginning that cancer wouldn’t rule our lives. We wanted the kids to live as normally as possible for as long as possible.” Routine was part of their coping. It was a great decision they’d made together ahead of time and made so much sense.  Kari didn’t want her kids to sit around and watch her die, she wanted them to live.

A fighter, Kari hung on for two weeks after I’d arrived. I  read to her from the Bible, often Romans 5,  or would sing a hymn.  I’d heard that even though people lose their ability to speak, they can still hear and understand.  I chatted randomly and  my voice filled up the empty spaces.

In the very end, we were just silent.  She couldn’t speak and I was speechless.  I would just climb into the bed next to her and we’d lay there.  She’d turn to look at me, staring into my heart, and she’d smile.

When we knew death was hours away, I panicked. I didn’t want to stay and actually see her die, but I didn’t want to leave. I knew I would be driving back for the funeral with a classmate, so made the agonizing decision to leave.

I had driven as far as Valley City, North Dakota, my birthplace, when I received a phone call from Tony. Kari had died.

  Kari's Funeral Brochure

A few days later I drove back to Montana with Janet, another high school classmate. 

Life and death are always circular. 

Kari's Address

The address she gave me when our paths first crossed?  It’s still her address.

 

Kari's grave

She’s buried right across the street in a large cemetery.

I had always thought that our meeting, that divine appointment in the thrift store,  was for Kari. The Lord wanted to bring me back into her life for her death. But, I’ve been a slow student. In her death, Kari taught me how to live. She taught me to forgive and to smile through my pain. She taught me how to fight my own ten year battle with thyroid cancer.

And that smile I love so much? 

It lives on.

To be continued…

Bald Women are Beautiful

In the noisy  drink shop, I leaned towards the woman in front of me and said near her ear, “Bald is Beautiful!”

She was a little surprised and emotions swirled on her face as she registered my comment, then turned with a smile and said, “Thank you.”

She truly was beautiful. And she was very bald.  We were in a mall in an area of fashionable and opulent people, where women monthly spend more money to tan and tweeze, primp and pamper, trim and accessorize than I spent on my first car.  She had the guts to dress up, put on lipstick and brave her baldness.

“Wigs are so uncomfortable, scratchy and warm in the heat,” I said. “I like seeing you going for comfort.”

 

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(Photo used with kind permission from Bald is Beautiful website)

“Yea, my sons encouraged me to stop worrying about it and  just go natural.”

“Where are you at in your cancer treatment?” I asked. “I was just declared cancer free after ten years of thyroid cancer.”

With quivering lips and a catch in her voice she answered, “Stage IV metastatic breast cancer.  I’ve been fighting three and a half years.”

Her raw emotion illustrated the  truth my question made her face, again.  We both knew what she was really saying.  She has suffered for three and a half years through surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and medication. With Stage IV cancer, to suffer through treatment is to be alive. When the suffering is over, usually so is your life. I knew the statistics.

What do you say to the stranger who is standing in line who might die, knowing you’re going to live?

“What’s your name?  I’d like to pray for you,” I said.

“My name is Lynn,” she answered. She talked a little more about her cancer and ended with “and I just thank the Lord.”  Not many people talk about malignant cancer and thankfulness in the same sentence.

“Oh, are you a Christian?”

“Yes, I am,” my bald friend answered. “And I couldn’t have gotten through this if it weren’t for the Lord.”

“I agree,” I empathized.  “I’m a Christian, too, but I have the issue of Survivor’s Guilt.  I’m going to live and several of my friends have died.”

I almost couldn’t handle the words as I shared them with my beautiful new friend.

The lined moved forward and she placed her order. Then she turned back towards me, placed a hand on my arm and repeated, “I don’t know how people go through this without the Lord. It’s been so hard.”

“I know,” I agreed.  “I’ve learned so much about suffering and am thankful at the end of all of this all, we have eternal life. Life on earth is hard… and short…but then we get to go to Heaven.”

The teenage cashier joined in our conversation by asking Lynn, “Are you a Fighter or a Survivor?”  After Lynn answered, she explained, “My best friend has cancer, I take her to her chemo every Monday.” My heart ached for the young teen suffering through cancer, but felt thankful joy for the faithfulness of her loving friend.  Both would be forever changed by cancer.

The conversation continued as we moved through the line and when it naturally ended,  Lynn and I hugged in the line.  We knew we’d see each other again…in Heaven.

Since that day I’ve thought about this divine appointment many times, and when I think of Lynn I pray for her and her family. I pray she’ll be in that small percentage that survives this cancer.

Cancer changes everything.

It makes a 60+ year old woman baldly and boldly face  death sooner than she planned.

It makes a 49 year old  woman face life without the things ten years of cancer took from her.

It makes a teenager compassionate and engage in the conversation of a Fighter and a Survivor fellowshipping about cancer’s reality of life and death.

But going out in public bald is more than just a statement about defying social expectations of beauty.  Lynn probably had other conversations during the day that reminded her again and again –

She has Stage IV cancer,

          But, she has Jesus.

She may die from this cancer…

          But, she’s going to Heaven.

Lynn is facing malignant cancer with courage and faith.  She didn’t hesitate to share her joys and sorrows, and thanked and praised the Lord for His goodness to her.  In less than five minutes she made a profound impact on my life.

image

She was bald.

And she was very, very beautiful.

**********

I received permission to use the above photo and logo from a website “Bald is Beautiful.” This is their mission statement:

Bald is Beautiful wants to help promote strength, empowerment, and beauty for people who are battling cancer.

​Bald truly is beautiful, and we are here to help spread the word. We are raising money that will not go into a “pot” but instead go to the people who are currently fighting this battle.

​We hope to bring joy, laughter, and hope that not all is lost, except maybe a little hair!

Click on the above image to find their site.  Click here to shop and here to read more true stories honoring very bald and very beautiful people.

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The Sting of Death

Several years ago, a dear older brother from our fellowship
gave me two copies of a book he wrote.
I mistakenly thought it was a book preparing a believer for death.
The books were placed on my shelf for future reference.
Afterall, I wasn’t planning on preparing for death,
I was praising the Lord for keeping my three tiny cancer tumors from growing.
When this dear brother, Doug Kazen,  went to be with the Lord he loved
Saturday, March 17, 2012,
I felt a great sting and a horrible loss.
It was then I realized his purpose in writing the book.
He wrote this to comfort those who had lost a loved one to death.
It felt like he wrote it just for me.
Although we mourn the passing of his physical body
and the loss of his earthly ministry,
he leaves behind a great legacy of faith.
He loved the Lord Jesus.
I often heard the story of his conversation at the age of 12
and he still marveled about his lovely Savior.
He loved the Bible.
He was a gifted Bible teacher and studied faithfully.
You always learned something, even in a short conversation.
He preached across the United States and in several other countries.
Even though he was well-known, he humbly chose to serve
as a Bible teaching elder in a very small fellowship of 40 people.
(Voices for Christ has a few of his messages available online.)
He loved the believers.
He bestowed his love in a myriad of ways:
words of encouragement, a fatherly hug when needed,
listening with his ears and heart, and words of thankfulness for service.
All my kids felt his love and appreciation.
He loved the Gospel.
His first message preached was a Gospel message,
and he never lost the thrill or joy in being able to share
about the salvation he’d experienced.
Even in his last days on earth,
he joyously preached the Gospel to the hospice nurse.
He loved his wife.
All of my kids knew and loved the story of how he fell in love
with his wife, and knew his love had only grown in their 55 years together.
I know brother Doug is not feeling any sting or any pain.
I know that he is in the presence of the Lord.
I know he is better off.
I know.
I believe.
But, like many others left behind,
I feel the loss deeply.
Other than the story of how he fell in love with Edyie in one glance,
I loved to hear the story of one of his greatest disappointments on earth.
You see, Doug was going to be a dentist. 
He was brilliant.
He was talented.
But, he had big hands,
too big to do the delicate work required as a dentist.
At this point in the story,  he would hold up his big beefy man-hands,
that looked like they should be holding a football, an axe or a sledge-hammer.
He would tell of the despair that caused him great  to doubt and fear the future.
But, it took this great discouragement
to put him on the path the Lord intended.
He was also drafted and served  the United States
off the battlefield as a Conscientious Objector.
Two things he didn’t plan.
Two things that were beyond his control.
Two things that brought him to his ultimate destiny.
You see, Doug ended up inventing and manufacturing
portable dental and medical equipment for the military,
fulfilling a great need and providing a great benefit to the world.
Click on the link to see how this amazing device unfolds.
His greatest disappointments in life were only roadblocks
 to make him turn to the path of the Lord’s purpose.
Missionary dentists also this equipment.
Check out the story of his company, Aseptico.
His equipment also blessed Jamaica after Hurricane Gilbert.
But, if we only honored him as a successful businessman,
he would be disappointed.
He asked his wife to ensure his life story would NOT be told at his funeral.
Still marveling at the salvation he’d experienced at age 12,
he asked that  only the Gospel be preached.
Now, that’s a godly man whose death leaves others
feeling the sting of his loss.

Good thing he left behind a book to comfort my sorrowing heart.