Meeting Kara ~ Guest Post by Jill Buteyn

Everyone has been writing these lovely posts about how they met Kara and their relationship with Kara. When Blythe sent out a message saying she was ready for more, I snarkily (if that’s not a word it should be) replied that everyone should set a deadline. That I would never hand any writing in without a deadline. And then someone brought up the fact that I hadn't written a blog about this yet... ha! Love that my friends can handle my sarcasm and throw it back at me.

When they mentioned that I hadn’t written about meeting Kara, I thought… Well, I touched on that in Just Show Up and I don't want to be redundant. But now that I've thought about it, I actually don't delve into a lot of detail about that in the book. And so I think I'm due. Or overdue. :)

My first memory of the Tippetts family actually revolves around our girls. The Tippetts moved to Colorado in the middle of a school year—January 2012. In our small school, anyone new is front page news. My daughter's birthday is in January, and if you don't know this about me yet, I am unfortunately highly disorganized. Another mom from school and I combine to make one functioning mother. (And sometimes even that’s a push for us.) So I usually hurriedly throw together a birthday party for my daughter as we're coming off of Christmas break. That year, I was on it. We had planned a whole class party at the roller skating rink. That way we weren’t leaving anyone out. I think I even had the evites sent out before school was back in session (will wonders never cease) and we were all set to go.

School started and my daughter came home. Mom, the new girl asked if she could come to my birthday party and I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know if we had room.

Small panic ensued on my part. Of course we have room! Of course she can come, I reassured my daughter.

I found the Tippetts’ email and invited “the new girl” and she did end up coming to the party. I think that's when my husband met Jason, whom he instantly approved of. I believe his words were something like, This guy is funny.

After that, I met Kara in passing at a school function, and then we would see each other at the playground. Many of us stay after school to let the kids play on the playground and then the moms get to chat. It was at one of these instances that I remember making a crack to Kara about the number of children she had. Teasing that she had a lot. Of course, I know four isn't an astronomical number of children; please don't send me hate mail. I remember Kara looking at me after my comment. One eyebrow raised. Then she smiled. Laughed. And that's when I knew... She gets my sarcastic side. I think we're good to go.

Summer came, and with it, Kara’s cancer diagnosis. Kara and I were friends, but we weren’t instant best friends. That’s part of why figuring out where I fit into Kara’s story was hard. We didn’t have years between us that made my part or role in her life clear. I just knew I liked her and that I was “in” for continuing our friendship, even though the whole cancer business sounded a bit scary.

Kara began to blog, and I read every one of them. I loved her writing, the way she put her heart on the page. I understood the need to write, write, write. In fact, there were times I would process her cancer and suffering in my own writing. I tucked those written words away, never knowing that one day they'd end up in a book called Just Show Up.

That fall, we had conversations where Kara would pull information out of me that went far beyond surface. She was quick to dive into deep stuff, and she was easy to talk to. Kara had a way of imparting wisdom into a situation that was both insightful and non-judgmental. Many things I learned from her I still think about today.

Her daughter’s birthday came. Friends did the brunt of the work, and Kara pulled herself out of a chemo haze to be present. She puttered around the kitchen, doing what she could. I told her that I like to have a job, that I wanted to help. And wonder of all wonders, she let me. There's something you need to understand about us introverts—we like a job at a party. Then we can mingle as much as we want, but we still have a purpose. Something to return to. I think Kara had me climbing on her kitchen counter for a bowl from the top of the cupboard or something. But I just remember that she accepted me as I was. She didn't refuse my offer to help, even then. Even in something so simple. I asked her if she would grow her hair long again after chemo and cancer. She looked at me funny. I assumed that she would finish treatment and then life would go on. But I think she felt the gravity of it even then.

That year, the plan was to get through it. Do the chemo. Do the radiation. Then life would return to normal. Being Kara, she invited whomever to come watch her ring the bell after her last radiation treatment. I watched from the sidelines with tears in my eyes. That summer, the Tippetts seized life. We all went back to normal. We were done. It was all done.

Except it wasn’t. When we went back to school after that summer, Kara showed up at the door to my car. The doctor says my cancer’s back.

Dread seized me. I knew instantly this news couldn’t be good. I kept thinking, we were supposed to be done. This wasn’t supposed to be the story.

I can’t imagine the number of prayers that went into that surgery with her—the one that determined whether the new cancer was the same as the breast cancer. And when we got the news that it was the same, there was a sense of despair around school. But I couldn’t accept it for some reason. It’s not a death sentence, I would think. There will be something else. We don’t know what God will do. She’s not going to die.

The opportunity came for Kara to write a book. She jumped on it. I didn’t even have to read it to already know I was her biggest fan. (After reading it, my instincts were confirmed.)

We snuck away to write together. I was writing fiction at the time. We stayed in Denver, and I got so sick I couldn’t leave the hotel room (and by that I mean bathroom. Sorry for the TMI. J There’s a blog about this somewhere in the MF archives.) It ended up being our biggest blessing. We snuggled into our beds and got some major writing done that day while the snow swirled through Denver.

So many memories blur together after this. Good times. Yes, good, even when things were so hard. Birthday parties and a book celebration when The Hardest Peace came out. Coffee with girlfriends, curled up on a couch, talking for hours.

Kara and I would talk about writing a book together. It seemed like such a dream—a far off idea. But then we agreed to work with the publisher of The Hardest Peace and that dream became a reality. Right after that, Kara got very sick and ended up in the hospital. We did a lot of questioning of what we were supposed to do. I told Kara, you don’t have to do this. We don’t have to do this. But she wanted to. She was such a fighter, determined to keep writing. We were open handed with the book, believing if God wanted it to happen, it would happen. Kara came home from the hospital and was moved to hospice care. We waited on his direction, and then it came: write.

And so we did. I often wrote with tears streaming down my face. I was writing about my friend dying while my friend was dying. I would think, I can’t do this. And then I would reach out to girlfriends (I call them Kara’s girls) and they would pray. They would remind me of another thing to talk about in the book, and then the words would flow again. In the same way that Kara’s community wouldn’t exist without all of the people adding to it, Just Show Up is the same. So many friends shared their hearts to fill those pages with wisdom about what works and what doesn’t in showing up for each other.

Those last months, I would leave Kara’s house and think… did we really just talk about Kara dying as though it’s everyday conversation? This can’t be happening. It all feels so surreal.

Seeing Kara in pain those last months was one of the hardest things I’ve ever watched.

My husband, kids and I had planned a trip for spring break, and we had to decide whether to go. We finally decided we should stick with our plans. Just two days into our trip, I sat at the edge of a swimming pool, crying under my sunglasses as I watched my husband play with our children while messages went back and forth. Kara was close to going home. And then she was with Jesus. I cried in relief for her. For her finally not suffering, not being in pain. She was kind until the end. She was Kara until the end. Or, I should say, until her new beginning.

If you see me around town, you’ll often find me with tears brimming. Many days, even weeks I can go without. But then I see a woman walking down the street who looks like Kara, I see one of her babies performing at a school function, or it just hits me out of the blue: she’s not here.

Sometimes it feels like such a blur. Like knowing Kara went so fast it can hardly be real. My husband and I talk about how much we loved this woman we only knew for a few years. How we’d like more time. We mourn a future without Kara and Jason as a couple, yet look forward to a future with Jason and the kids in it.

I talk about this in the book—about how the world doesn’t stop during suffering. Even now it’s true. Just Show Up will be releasing soon, and most days, I don’t really let myself look at photos of Kara floating around the internets. I try not to feel too much or think too much. Because when I really look at her face, I lose it. I’m not sure exactly how to do this book release without Kara. I imagine some days I will shut down my emotions and do the work. And other days, the tears are going to win no matter what.

Okay, maybe the tears will win a lot.

Before Kara passed away, I asked her what I was going to do without her and her wisdom. She said, my words will still be here and my voice will be in your head.

And you know what? She was right. I do think of what she would text me or tell me about the book, about life, and I grin. I smell patchouli and think of her. I give thanks for the friends she gathered around her who comfort my weary heart. And I put one foot in front of the other because that’s what she would do.