It crossed my mind, as I stood consumed by silence, why some say it’s better to be alone; it protects you from the heartbreak and pain of people leaving. But as I looked around the room, the thought slowly dissipated. My gaze drifted towards Dennis as he paced the room gathering paperwork, to my dad’s hands as he typed into his phone with trembling fingers, to my boyfriend’s arms that were wrapped around my own, and to my mom who was kneeling on the floor next to Karin. My heart thumped behind the walls of my heavy chest as I remembered why it is that we fall in love.
When I was born, Karin and Dennis opted out of being called grandma and grandpa. Instead, they wanted to be known as our “grand-friends.” And as I shuffle through the memories of time spent with Karin building cardboard box houses in her basement, attending Broadway productions, listening to Coldplay, baking holiday cookies, adventuring to Newport Aquarium, and sitting on the beaches of Cape Cod, I realize just how grand of a friend I had.
She was patient, loving, and unconditionally kind. She taught me how to live a fulfilling and joyful life simply by living her own.
Karin introduced to me the world of theater and instilled within me a passion for the arts. She was in the audience for every stage production and choir concert, and never missed a chance to belt out Phantom of the Opera as it poured from the car speakers. She attended our softball and baseball games, and was in the bleachers for all the soccer tournaments. And when Ryan picked up the sport of curling, you could be sure she was there, too.
She was an avid reader, always gifting novels from her extensive library to include me in her world of literature. When I was little she sent me handwritten letters, the pages adorned with colorful sketches to accompany stories of her students in Massachusetts, words of encouragement as I learned to ride a bike, and descriptions of the ducks in the lake outside their Sturbridge home. And, as I grew up, there wasn’t a house, dorm, or apartment I lived in where I didn’t receive a letter from Karin for one reason or another.
She was an educator by nature; every game we played, book we read, or road trip we took had a lesson. Whether it was learning about diversity at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, exploring the wonders of space at COSI, or getting creative at the Columbus Museum of Art, she was continuously seizing opportunities to cultivate a passion for curiosity.
She encouraged personal growth and inspired a love of learning without ever having to tell me how important those qualities are; the way she lived her life and guided my own was reason enough.
Above all, she loved her family. Even as the Parkinson’s robbed her of her steady hands, she devoted her time to collecting memories and photos to write a book that encapsulates our genealogy and celebrates our history as a family. She dedicated the book to my brother and I, a testament to the value she placed in her loved ones. She wanted Ryan and I to know who our relatives are and the impact they made in the community. She wanted us to be proud of our heritage and continue to make a positive difference in the lives of others. She wanted us to know ourselves and to love ourselves in the same way she loved us.
Karin was a daughter, wife, mother, sister, grand-friend, and aunt to one of the luckiest families on Earth. Her pride and love for each of us was reflected in everything she did. Even as the dementia took her to other worlds, they were worlds in which she saw Ryan or I on the cover of a magazine for international volunteerism or a TV program about adventurous travel. And you can be sure she told us just how proud she was.
She always saw the good in those she loved, and celebrated every accomplishment with sincere enthusiasm. If we could each love ourselves the way Karin loved us, we’d all have a little more joy in our lives.
I crossed the room and knelt down beside her. And as I rested my hand on her shoulder, I tried to put my feelings of gratitude and sorrow into words. But as the jumbled thoughts swarmed through my brain I realized that maybe words weren’t necessary after all… She already knew. There was nothing I could say that would bring her back, nothing I could say that would express the immense love I feel for her still, and nothing I could say that she didn’t already know. I envisioned waves of beautiful colors radiating from my heart and consuming hers in the love and adoration I couldn’t express with words. If I couldn’t say it, perhaps she could still feel it…
I looked up at her, smoothed back her hair, and whispered the only thoughts I could sort out. “I love you. Ryan loves you. Thank you.”
As we left the apartment Josh asked me if I wanted to take a walk. He wrapped his arm around my waist and we sauntered into the parking lot. He turned us around and showed me the sky. For the first time in a few days the sun had made an appearance, and it had painted a small yet stunning sunset across the sky. “See?” He said, “She’s still with you.” I thought of Dennis, mourning the loss of his life partner and love. I thought of my parents and their unified efforts in easing her burdens over the past few years. I thought of my family who is facing the absence of a phenomenal daughter, sister, mother and aunt. I thought of Josh and the unwavering strength with which he was carrying me through one of the hardest days of my life. Suddenly my sorrow began to feel a little lighter.
The pain that burdens my heavy heart is a pain that I am fortunate to have; it’s a pain that means I had something beautiful, something made of love, something that filled my life with joy, something that I will continue to be changed by in the years to come. This is why we fall in love.
Karin, you will forever be loved and deeply missed by all. Rest In Peace, Grand Friend.