Tag Archives: high school friends

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…