A Shining Light



I ask the indulgence of those of you who might seek out this blog from time to time for it’s highlighting of creative endeavors. Because just this once, I’m going to write a tribute to someone special, and let her light shine… let it shine!

My sister Karen passed away in 2008 when her daughter, Kali, was 15 years old. Recently, Kali expressed the feeling that she’s starting to forget things about her Mom. She has requested pictures, mementoes, and remembrances from those of us who also knew and loved her. Since I gave photos to Kali and her brother, Derek, a couple of years ago – special albums and a box for each of them, precious beyond measure – I wondered what to give now, to this hopeful request from my niece?

I offer this essay.

Karen’s best virtue was forgiveness. I never knew her to hold a grudge, sit in judgement, or act in meanness…ever. As children, Steve and I often treated her disdainfully, to our regret. The truth is that I was never going to be able to appreciate her until we no longer had to share a room together. We were so different – Karen an outgoing, messy tomboy and me an introverted, indoor bookworm. She was ‘Punkin’ to our parents and I was (a little) jealous.

Thankfully, we all grow up and as adults Karen, Steve and I have shared supportive, loving and loyal relationships with each other… no doubt, in part because she forgave us. Throughout her life, over and over again, Karen freely gave forgiveness for hurts both large and small. I find it to be the hardest thing of all to do and yet she made it seem effortless. I know it was not.

Karen was fun. No matter what the occasion, it was always going to be better if she was there. And if there was around our Mom’s kitchen table, laughter until tears flowed was a guarantee. I will forever long for those Sunday afternoons when we gathered all together for popcorn, chips, beer (the adults, including Great Grandma), pop (the kids and me), and cackling laughter.

In the same spirit, Karen was a good sport. She was game for just about anything… even tasting horse poop on a double dog dare as a kid. 😉   She was the one you wanted to go tubing with, jump on a trampoline with, or try out in-line skates for the first time with.

Karen couldn’t cook and she was the first to admit it. She never made a birthday cake that wasn’t lopsided or challenged in some way… but they were always perfect for gathering friends and family around to sing happy birthday to a beaming kid.

Actually, most of them tasted better than they looked. (I’m not one to pass up cake!)

As far as I know, her children thrived on poptarts, crackers, and no bake cookies. Kali, call me out on this if you can. 🙂

Karen was self-confident. She secured her job with the City of Lansing as manager of their television station, in part by claiming skills she had yet to acquire. She knew she could do the job if given the chance and wasn’t afraid to learn as she went. I was in awe when I found this out.

She was also a pear shaped woman who wasn’t afraid to wear short shorts or a bathing suit. That’s a whole other kind of confidence!

I had a vivid dream of Karen after she passed where she came walking toward me, paused, posed and ran her hand up the side of her leg and hip. Smiling radiantly, she said “Look at my heavenly body!” All the curves and none of the cellulite.

Karen was thoughtful. Once, when she was well into her battle against breast cancer, we were talking on the phone and I was complaining about some perceived hardship in my life. Suddenly, I stopped, realizing the shallowness of my conversation in relation to the reality of her life. I apologized. She stopped my apology, saying, “Don’t ever think that your problems aren’t important because of mine. You matter to me.”

She was no saint, but sometimes she came close.

I think of Karen every time the phrase “Hey there!” pops out of my mouth. It was her standard greeting and you knew by her inflection how things were going. Most of the time it was upbeat. But there were moments when her guard was down, tears welled, and hugs lingered. In those times we buoyed each other’s hopes and called in reinforcements (Mom!).

Sometimes a girls overnight to the casino was just what the doctor ordered.

Karen’s light shines today because of the lives she touched and the love she gave. Every day a ray of her sunshine extends itself when any of us think of her and remember her and carry on in ways that remind us of the unending connection we share.
So the next time you hear me say the words “Hey there!”, know that, just maybe, someone else is saying hello too.