I didn’t know what our role in this journey could possibly be. What did we have to offer? She was our first up close and personal face of cancer. We had never done this with someone before. I remember sitting with her in the car one day, our minds spinning one way still trying to grasp reality, and also spinning the other way with to-do lists to make it easier to get through treatment. I told Kara I didn’t know how she needed us, but my family wanted to be there, however we were needed. I’m pretty sure my first offer was that I could make meals and be a safe person to cuss around. We just wanted to be there. So that’s what we did, not knowing what else to do, sometimes not sure if we were helping at all. We did what was very natural to us and we worked to gather our families together whenever and wherever we could. And grace always came, too.
Monday mornings became a time she and I could have tea by the fire and chat away with Mickey when she was in town, while my servant-hearted middle girlie happily went to work cleaning out the fridge. It was one of the last things Kara wanted to spend energy on, but she knew how much Jason appreciated a clean fridge. Other times I could steal some minutes to go by, sit on the bed while she was working on her book, and simply fold some laundry. I just loved the comfort of being together and not feeling the pressure to say anything. My days felt full and satisfying when they included time with Kara.
Family dinners were a favorite for all of us when they could happen, full of PJ’s homebrew, smoked brisket chili, and homemade beer pretzels per Kara’s request. Quiet (okay, not quiet; we have seven kids between us) getaways at a cabin became rejuvenating times for all of us to leave our stressful, busy schedules behind and just be, cook, play, laugh, and dream together. Both our guys are mountain bikers. Jason dreamed of riding the Colorado Trail (a grueling but insanely beautiful 500-mile trek from Denver to Durango that crosses six wilderness areas and eight mountain ranges with an average altitude of 10,000 ft.), so he and PJ started a tradition of riding a section every summer together with another friend. Kara and I loved it for them! We loved the prep and planning that surrounded it, mainly because it meant planning dinners together, but also because we loved having our guys together and the stories we knew would come back with them. We’d kiss them goodbye, I’d drive them to the drop-off point, and then for the next 4 days our phones would be ablaze with texts in the middle of the night, wondering in humorous, outlandish thoughts how and what our guys were doing. Neither one of us could sleep when they were gone, especially knowing the rigors and dangers of the trip. I would then drive hours to the pickup point later in the week and get to bring her thoroughly exhausted but beaming man home to her again. Planning has started for this year’s section, and I miss Kara’s presence horribly in it. It will be a hard week when our men are gone.
Kara’s love was a family love. I cherish that my girls (18, 14, and 10) have been exposed to such strong family love from our community here and abroad. But their love with Kara was extra special. This love that comes from time spent just being and serving, not hiding the suffering, but demonstrating what it looks like to struggle, to seek and find grace for each moment. It speaks volumes into kids’ hearts. Kara and I would often sit over our tea and talk specifically about our girls’ lives and futures, our dreams for them, prayers for them. For my oldest girlie’s 16th birthday, I asked several moms to write her a letter of wisdom and encouragement, drawing from their experiences at that age. Kara loved well in her letter, of course. Those words she wrote especially for my girl hold a very special place. Carrie choreographed and performed her senior solo for her dance studio just a few weeks ago—a contemporary dance to “Ulysses” by Josh Garrels (a Kara favorite). She dedicated it to Kara, and just cried when she got off the stage. I did too, and I secretly hoped Jesus let Kara watch. My girls love her big and deep.
As Kara weakened further, our family time was harder to make happen, but we still tried. I’d be lying if I didn’t say the growing silence wasn’t hard. It was. Terribly hard. I found myself fighting selfish, irrational thoughts of speculation and feelings of doubt in the quiet. But we all knew her time and energy were precious, and in our hearts we wanted them spent with her people at home. We knew it was as it should be, and that there was even more grace in those moments.
A week before she flew away, we had texted each other about one more family dinner. It had been a long while. Our hearts were hungry. As weak as she was, I was thrilled that she still wanted to gather. My family had been battling some sickness, though, and no one wanted to dare give it to her or anyone else in the house, so I ended up going alone. Jason, Kara, Mickey, and I sat around the bed and had PJ’s smoked brisket chili and homemade beer pretzels, per Kara’s request. We laughed, dreamed, and just were. I told her how very proud of her I was, and thanked her for living her life so well, for loving me and my family so well. Our families will keep gathering and being, and we will keep missing Kara’s presence, but we know we are walking each other toward a much greater and more complete gathering yet to come. I can’t wait!