Back in 1993, after briefly returning to my home town, my son and I headed to the western suburbs of Chicago to start the next chapter of our lives. I had lived in Chicago right after graduating from college and Mr. C had been born there so in a strange way, it felt like I was returning to where I belonged. Shortly after arriving, I started working downtown and enrolled my son in daycare where he quickly became best friends with an adorable little boy named Christopher. Every day held a new “Christopher story”, the adventures of two three-year-old little boys filled with burps, farts and Power Rangers. Apparently, Christopher had been sharing these stories with his mom, too because soon I was approached by a woman with a warm smile, kind spirit and infectious laugh. Her name was Karen and at the time I had no idea that she would become one of the best friends that I would ever have in my life.
Karen and I may have met through our sons but, we shared a lot more than that. She and I were both single mothers at the time. Not only did we provide moral and emotional support for each other but, on a more practical level, we were there for each other in the care of our children. We provided a shoulder to cry on, sleepovers for the boys to give the other a break and she was one of the few people close enough to me to be able to tell me when I was wrong. She taught me that Chuck E. Cheese is a lot easier to handle when drinking lite beer and how to spot a bachelor in the grocery store (it has to do with deciphering the items in his cart). She also had this amazing family that she so willingly shared with us. On holidays that we couldn’t travel back to be with my family, as well as other family occasions, they graciously opened their doors to me and Mr. C and were always so generous and caring. Beautiful people.
After I got married, Karen and I didn’t see each other as often and after Thing 1 and Thing 2 came along, we talked when we could. Mostly my fault, not hers. I was too caught up in the business of life but, ours was the kind of friendship that no matter how long it had been since we last spoke, we could pick up where we left off without missing a beat. I spoke with Karen several months before leaving Chicago and exchanged emails right before I left, but I didn’t get to see her. Two months after my move I received word that Karen had died. What seemed so sudden and shocking to me was, in fact, not at all sudden for her. In reality, at the time that we last spoke those several months ago, she was dying. She had said nothing, not only to me but, also to her family and most of her friends. Although I would have wanted to see her, to laugh with her, to tell her how much I loved her, death is probably one of the most personal things that we will ever experience and she wanted to deal with it on her terms. I can respect that.
Two things have struck me since her death:
- I knew her for nearly 20 years but, as I reflect on her and our friendship, she came and she left. It feels like such a brief period of time; and
- For as long as I knew her, Karen always said that she thought that she wouldn’t live past the age of 50. When I asked why not, she would say something about people dying young in her family or about it being just a gut feeling. I thought she was nuts. Today, January 31st, would have been her 51st birthday. Now, I don’t think that she was clairvoyant but, I do believe that this speaks volumes about the power of our words.
I’m still working through this. Just the other day, I was thinking about something going on with one of my kids and I thought “I should call Karen. She will understand all of this.” Then I remembered that I can’t call her. It’s going to take a while for me to get my head around it but, I wanted to take a moment to remember her…her laughter, the way she told a story and how she loved to dance. And I wanted to wish her a happy birthday, so…Happy Birthday, Karen!