I met Karen 15 years ago through an ad that I found in Victoria magazine. It was an ad for "The Victorian Letter Exchange." For $10.00 a year you could get a quarterly newsletter that contained all sorts of lovely tidbits about the Victorian Era AND the privilege of being hooked up with a "sister romantic" to correspond with. The gals that ran "The Victorian Letter Exchange" paired me up with Karen. I got a beautiful postcard in the mail that told me Karen's name and address, plus a little bit about her...her husband and childrens' names, her hobbies, etc. I knew from the moment that I received that postcard that Karen and I were going to be good friends!
Soon letters between Karen and I began to criss-cross in the mail. She lived in Ontario, Canada; I, of course, lived in Missouri. That was July of 1989.
Karen and I shared so many things! And we were constantly sending one another some lovely little keepsake...I'd send her "bunny buttons" (tiny buttons shaped like rabbits...Karen's maiden name was Hare and she collected rabbits) and she would send me something sweet to add to my heart collection (John and I were married on Valentine's Day so I collected hearts). I wrote her and Greg a special poem for their 25th wedding anniversary; she sent me 2 x 4 samples of the wallpapers that she was decorating her recently purchased "house of dreams" in. We exchanged post cards, recipes, and craft ideas. She even sent Amber an illustrated story that she had written about "Rebecca Rabbit." Karen was quite an artist!
But, in nearly every letter that Karen sent she would comment on how tired she was. "I'm exhausted tonight," she would say. "A year off has made me a little lazy, I think." (Karen was a school teacher and had taken a year off work due to poor health. "I'm so tired these days," she would say. "I'm in bed so early each night."
Well, Karen and I continued to correspond and call one another occasionally over the next year or so. During that same time I got very heavily involved in homeschooling my five children...and Karen...was diagnosed with cancer. The last time I talked to her on the phone she was undergoing intense chemotherapy treatments and she was so tired and so weak that her husband had to hold the telephone for her in order for her to talk to me. I never called Karen again and not many, if any, letters were exchanged after that. I never knew, from that point on, what happened to her.
Throughout the following years I thought of Karen quite often. I kept all of the pretty letters, cards and other things that she had sent me in an album. Every once in awhile I'd pick it up, go through it, and wonder how she was. She was the first person that I ever met that liked all of the beautiful things that I liked. She was so special! But fear kept me from calling her...from writing to her. I didn't want to know how the story had ended...if it had ended. (During those days fears of all kinds kept me bound in many ways...making everyday life a struggle at times. The Lord has healed many of those fears over the years. Praise His holy name!)
Well, we moved from Blue Springs to Liberal in May of 1996. At that time the album of all my beautiful memories of Karen was packed away. I didn't think much about her anymore. New friends had come into my life and, with starting the church and all, her memory just sort of faded into the background.
A few months ago I was unpacking a box that had been packed long ago. Much to my surprise and delight...there was the album that contained all my memories of Karen! I looked at all of the lovely letters and things and, once again, began to wonder what had happened to her.
Trembling, I picked up the phone and dialed her telephone number. I knew if she were still alive that she would still be living in her beloved "house of dreams." But, much to my disappointment, the number was no longer in service. I tried doing an internet search. I made a few phone calls, wrote a few letters, and talked to several very nice people...none of which were able to help me find out any information about my friend, Karen. So, eventually, I put the album away and gave up trying.
Well, night before last I was going through a box of stuff...looking for something else...and guess what? There it was again! The album! I laid it aside until yesterday morning and, upon rising, I said, "Lord, if there is any way for me to find out what happened to Karen, please, Lord, reveal it to me."
My next thought was..."Do a Google search. Type in Karen's address and see what comes up." I did. And, would you believe it? Up pops Thornton Country Gardens B&B...and there was an 800 number!
I called it. I spoke to a lovely woman named Edyth. I briefly explained that, 15 years previously, I had corresponded with a woman named Karen who had lived at that address. Did she know her? Had she bought the house from Karen? There was a little gasp...a pause...then slowly Edyth said, "I bought the house from Greg." I could tell by her voice that Karen was gone and that she didn't know whether she should tell me or not.
I said, "Okay. The last time I spoke to Karen I knew that she had cancer. Is she...gone?"
Edyth said, "Yes. Karen died."
Then, she said, "I'm going to give you the telephone number of Karen's best friend. Her name is Marilyn. She would want to talk to you."
Well, I knew Marilyn from Karen's letters! Karen and Marilyn had done many things together and Karen often shared those things with me. In many ways, I felt like I knew Marilyn, too!
So, I called Marilyn's house. Much to my disappointment Marilyn wasn't home, but I had a nice chat with her husband. I explained to him who I was and why I was calling.
"When did Karen pass away?" I asked.
"Karen died in October of 1991," he said.
"What?" I was shocked! Had Karen really died so soon after the last time I had spoken to her? How could that be?
I was reeling. I knew that it was old news for them...it had been 13 years since Karen's passing...but, for me, it was brand new...fresh...like it had just happened. I could barely speak.
Marilyn's husband asked me again for my name. He said that Marilyn would be sorry that she missed my call, and that he was sure that Marilyn would be calling me as soon as she got home. When I told Marilyn's husband my last name, he said, "Knox? K-N-O-X?"
"Yes," I said.
"Wow! That was my mother's maiden name!"
We laughed and I said, "Yes. My husband's name is John Knox."
He laughed and said, "My great-grandfather is John Knox."
"Is your family from Scotland originally?"
"Oh, yes! We're probably related!"
"We probably are! How weird is THAT?"
We exchanged information...e-mail addresses and what not, then hung up. I was on edge most of the morning...crying...grieving. Now I knew. Finally knowing that Karen was dead...that she had died 13 YEARS AGO...hurt! But knowing was better than not knowing. That was for sure!
At that point, I got back on the internet and opened the link to Thornton Country Gardens B&B. When it came up...there was Karen's house! Her beautiful "house of dreams." Just like the picture that she had shared with me so long ago. As I took the tour through the rooms I knew that everything on the inside was much different than it was when Karen lived there. I had the wallpaper samples to prove it! But when I got to, what was referred to as the "King Room" I stopped.
"John," I said. "That was Karen and Greg's bedroom!"
"How do you know," he asked. (It was obvious that I had never been there.)
I pulled out the wallpaper samples. On the back of each one Karen had written a little note telling me which room each sample belonged to. On the ones from her and Greg's bedroom (there were four of them) she had written, "Our bedroom is the renovated attic. It is very big with all sorts of angles and little nooks and corners. It has all these wallpapers. It sounds awful, but it works and makes it cozy."
The description of the "King Room" included the fact that it was "on the top floor" and there were several photographs of the room, each featuring "all sorts of angles and little nooks and corners." It was...I don't know...kind of neat to see it after all this time...even if it was decorated differently than Karen had decorated it.
Later in the afternoon, Marilyn did call me back. We had a nice long visit. She was as glad to speak to me as I was to her. I shared with Marilyn some of the things that Karen had shared with me through her letters...many of them being things that they had done together. Marilyn shared with me all of the things that happened after I had lost contact with Karen...including the circumstances of her death.
It seems that Karen had stomach cancer. After she finished the chemo, she had a short time of quality time with her family and friends, but not long. Marilyn said that it wasn't pretty what Karen went through, but that she had been a fighter. She said that Karen did everything she could possibly think of to try to live...right up to and including the very minute that she drew her final breath. She said that when Karen died Greg was there, she was there, and one other friend of Karen's was there.
During the course of our conversation, Marilyn and I laughed together...and we cried. Marilyn (who also owns a B&B) invited me to come visit her in Canada and stay with her. She asked if she could share my address with Karen's two daughters, Sarah and Melissa. She filled me in on family news...Sarah has a little girl, Payton, 1-year-old, Melissa is expecting her first baby in September (Marilyn is sure that it's a boy.), and Greg is remarried to a very lovely woman. Marilyn said that the girls would be very excited to speak with anyone who knew anything at all about their mother.
Did I tell you? Karen was only 47 when she died.
Our conversation was difficult. You see, Marilyn is going through with her sister, Shirley, NOW, what she went through with Karen 13 years ago. Shirley has cancer.
In all of this...I don't understand what God's plan is. I do know that I have made a new friend or two. It seems that Edyth wants me to come spend a night at her B&B, too. In Karen's very own "house of dreams." I think, if the Lord makes a way, that I would like to do that someday. Perhaps, I'll stay in the "King Room." (But to me it will always be "Karen's Room." :)
It's just so funny how things turn out, though...isn't it? What's the purpose in all of this? And why am I telling YOU all of this? I have no idea. I just felt very compelled to share this story with you. What sweet memories Karen left for me!
I wonder, when I'm gone...what kind of memories will I leave behind? Will they be sweet...like Karen's? Lord, I hope so!
Make me sweet, Lord. Help me to be the kind of person that leaves sweet traces of Your love wherever I go...whether in person, by mail, or however You open up the possibilities, Father. In Jesus' name, I pray.
I feel so bad that I lost contact with Karen when I did...that fear kept me from continuing on at that point...at the worst time of her life. Did she KNOW how special she was to me? I hope so. Did she go to heaven when she died? I don't know. Will I ever see her again? Only God knows the answer to that.
Whatever the case...this letter is two-fold:
#1-It is my own little memorial service of sorts for Karen...the beautiful, wonderful friend that I never had the pleasure of meeting face-to-face.
Karen, if you were here now...among this circle of dear friends...I would tell you right now how special you are to me...and what an honor it is to be blessed by your friendship. You were a good friend, Karen, and I loved you dearly.
#2-It is a tribute to friendship in general. Look at how people can touch and change other people's lives...FOREVER! Remember how special your friends are. Make new ones...but keep the old ones. Treasure them. Nurture them. Encourage them. Overlook their faults. And, whatever you do, don't neglect them...especially out of fear of what may or may not happen to you.