I’ve been writing these posts for nearly twelve years. This is my 748th one. Taken together, they provide a glimpse into my life — the good, the bad, the ugly, the sad. Today’s post is a sad one.
On Tuesday, I lost one of my oldest and dearest friends when Karen Wunderlin died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism. She and her partner, Mark, were in Snowmass Village for some serious skiing, a sport that Karen had enjoyed every winter for the past 45 years. They had plans to head out for a full day on the slopes. She died early that morning.
How could this be? I couldn't believe that she was gone and I couldn't imagine life without her. My world was turned upside down. I wasn't sure I could find a way forward.
Karen was an amazing woman who made a big difference in this world. (You can read her lovely obituary here.) But today, I want to tell you about the difference she made in my life -- and the lives of my children.
Karen was one of the first people I met when I moved back to Louisville after college, 40+ years ago. Our lives quickly became intertwined. For more than 30 years, we lived no more than 10 houses apart. Our children were best friends, as were our husbands. Together, we celebrated weddings, baptisms, birthdays, holidays and all the days in between. We also mourned together the loss of loved ones, skinned knees, and life disappointments. We shared meals, vacationed together, even shared office space, often working on projects together.
I can say, without a doubt, that I would not be the same person I am today without Karen in my life. Karen's obituary notes that her sense of possibility was contagious and goes on to say, “Her energy and joyful intensity lifted us up and made us better."
She made me better, that's for certain. She was my encourager and #1 cheerleader.
Let's go skiing in West Virginia, she would say.
I've never skied before and I'm not very athletic, I would reply.
Let's put our girls in preschool together, she'd say.
Are you kidding me? School starts in a week and there is no way we will find two spots, I'd say.
Let's move our home offices to a real office on Frankfort Avenue, she'd say.
Hmmmm...that sounds complicated and scary, I'd say.
I have a client who wants a website. I need you to create it.
I've never done that, I'd say.
You get the picture. Karen was usually the one with the grand idea; with her encouragement, I'd go along, often being the one to implement details to make her grand ideas happen. She was my ying. I was her yang. Together, we made an awesome duo.
But how Karen treated my children is what is the most telling about her -- and about her big heart.
When Son Jack turned nine, she brought over a large pan of homemade tiramisu for his birthday. It made him exceedingly happy. But the best part of the gift was her commitment to bring him one every month for the next year, always on the 9th of the month. Twelve tiramisus. Really! Who does that? Especially given how busy Karen was with her own family and work commitments. For Jack, it was an act of love that I'm sure he will never forget.
Daughter Mary had a hard time deciding where to go to college. The deadline for deciding was at midnight and she simply could NOT decide. With three hours left, I told Mary to put on her jacket and go down the alley to Karen's -- and not to come home until she had a decision. Forty-five minutes later, she was back -- with a firm decision. To this day, I don't know what Karen said to her, or what questions she asked her, but I do know that each of my children have looked to Karen for her sage advice.
Karen has always been there for Maggie, our oldest, acknowledging every milestone, every accomplishment. In 2015 Maggie was invited to ring the closing bell of the NASDAQ, an honor that was bestowed for having won a business plan competition. When Karen heard that she was headed to NYC, Karen booked a ticket and was there cheering her heart out for Maggie. Really? Who does that. Especially given how busy Karen was with her own family and work commitments. For Maggie, it was an act of support that Maggie will never forget.
I have spent the last few days in an unsettling fog. The only other time I have felt this discombobulated was another Tuesday morning, more than twenty years ago. Karen and I were at our office when we got a call to turn on the TV. We watched in horror as two planes hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Our world was turned upside down. By Friday of that week, we were worn out with worry, distraught about our country, anxious about the future.
Let's gather our families and head for the woods, said Karen.
Yes, let's do, I replied.
We piled five kids, four adults, sleeping bags, tents and coolers into two vans and headed for a campsite, far from news of the world in turmoil.
We pitched our tents and just as the sun went down and the stars came out, David picked up his guitar and began to play. After an hour or so -- and after singing all the verses of Alice's Restaurant -- David began to strum Kumbaya. Julie began to sing, then Jack added his voice: Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya. Then we all joined in, asking the Lord to Come By Here. It was our soft-voice anthem of togetherness, our plea for peace. On that starry night, it was just what we needed to be comforted and find our way forward.
May all of us who so loved Karen come together, remember her goodness, and begin to find a way forward. Rest in peace, dear friend. You are loved.