The Celebration Continues (Pt. 2)

This post continues the sharing of Karyn’s Celebration of Life. If you missed the first installment, please read this first.

All caught up? Good. We’ll proceed.

After Chris’s masterful welcome, he continued his MC responsibilities by introducing Karyn’s dad, Jack Kantola. He came to the mic and, as the trained and skilled speaker he is, delivered the following beautiful words:

On Tuesday, March 4, 1969 a blessed little bundle came into our lives. She was blonde, blue eyed and beautiful.

When she was two I decided she needed to learn responsibility so I asked her to pick up her toys. Her immediate response was “No!” My several attempts to negotiate were in vain. In a final desperate attempt to not lose face as a parent, I asked her to pick up one toy and put it on the bed. Her response once again was “No!” It was then I first learned that my sweet daughter had a mind of her own and more than a little Finnish stubbornness. I clearly needed to change my approach.

As she grew that independent spirit served her very well. She finished high school in England and then attended Cal Poly Pomona where she earned her degree in Behavioral Sciences while we continued living in England. She ultimately moved to this area to attend the Pacific School of Psychiatry.

Her way of introducing me to new things was another trait she possessed. I flew through San Jose a lot for my business. I always arranged my trips to allow time for a seafood lunch or dinner with Karyn. Then on one Sunday visit she suggested a nice restaurant in San Francisco for brunch. I knew a change had occurred when I realized we were at a Vegan restaurant.

She was also very clever in introducing me to Todd, the man she would eventually marry. She told me she wanted me to meet the Reggae singing, dreadlock festooned, man she was dating but suggested that they come to the San Jose Airport. Think about it… a public place and a convenient way to make the meeting brief. I have to admit I had some doubts about her choice in men.

Once again her judgment proved to be very good. Todd has been a stellar husband, father and son-in-law. And… he and I both love wine.

Karyn was with us for an all too brief 47 years but she left us with a treasure of good memories as well as a great son-in-law and two wonderful grand children.

Those of you who have followed her blog on everydayleft.com may have noticed that she used Krunch3r as her user name. Kruncher was my pet name for her as a child. As it turns out it was a good choice. She attacked life and her battle with glioblastoma with tenacity and Finnish SISU (intestinal fortitude). She still wore the friendly smile as she had for her entire life.

I know that Karyn is OK and watching over us. A week ago I went for a walk in our neighborhood at around 9:00 PM when most of the neighbors are in for the night. Just a block and a half from the house a lady was in the driveway with a dog that was announcing my presence by barking loudly. This was a neighbor I had never met. I stopped to make friends with the dog and speak to the neighbor but the dog didn’t want anything to do with me. The neighbor suddenly said, “Down Ziggy”. I responded, “What did you say?” She told me her dog’s name was Ziggy. I said, “That is the name of my daughter’s dog.” Then I told her about Karyn’s passing and the neighbor said her name was the same. I said, “Except my daughter’s name is spelled with a “y”. The neighbor said, “So is mine.” Neighbor, Karyn, asked me how my daughter had died and I told her she had brain cancer. Karyn asked me, “What kind?” and I told her it was glioblastoma multiforme. Karyn then told me her father had suffered the same cancer and died at the age of 55. About that time Karyn’s husband pulled into the driveway. I half expected that his name would be Todd, but it was Chris, Todd’s brother’s name. I continued my walk, my head whirling with the idea that daughter Karyn was sending me a message. And… maybe she was.

Mary and I are proud to call Karyn our daughter. We will miss her every day of our lives and will cherish our memory of her for the rest of our lives.

Let the (telling of the) Celebration Begin

I promised to share more about the Celebration of Life we had for Karyn. Thankfully, I didn’t promise when I would do this. Time has gotten away from me, as it is wont to do.

Part of the delay can be attributed to a glorious vacation the kids and I are finishing up. We get home today from a week+ in Mexico. Surfing, stand up paddle boarding, boogie boarding, body surfing, snorkeling… we’re growing gills.

The other part of the delay can be blamed on laziness, distractions and maybe just a little “grief lethargy” (assuming that’s a thing).

Excuses aside, here (finally) is the first installment in a series of posts focused on the Celebration. I initially thought we’d just have a party at our house, but wiser folks suggested doing something slightly more formal where people could actually hear stories shared by loved ones would be good. So, we rented a nearby facility that seated 100. We soon realized we needed more room than that and changed it to an outdoor space that would hold more than double that — way more than enough.

Not quite.

We were over-capacity, with the great staff there finding extra chairs and quickly bringing them under the tent providing shade on a beautiful Northern California afternoon. Once (most) everyone was seated, my brother kicked things off:

I’m Chris Wilder, Brother of Todd Wilder and therefore Brother-in-Law to Karyn Kantola Wilder. Todd asked me if I would take this on today, and though I am not a clergyman, I am sort of a minister* and will be administrating and facilitating this remembrance and celebration of Karyn.

Now, something Karyn was clear about, according to my brother, was that she didn’t necessarily want this sort of fuss. She said she didn’t need some big ceremony, with hundreds of people coming together from all around the country. [note, there are hundreds of people in attendance from all around the country].

Oops.

So what if I start by doing what she wanted, and talking not about Karyn, but instead, talking about all of YOU.

You are here. Some of you drove four miles. Some of you drove 400. Some of you flew four thousand. Many of you love Karyn and Todd and their children Lucia and Beckett and have for decades. Many of you worked with Karyn, or with Todd, or your kids know their kids, or you were moved over the last three-plus years by Karyn’s journey and her strength and her words. A few of you wandered in because you heard there’d be free wine.

And you were right! But whether you have known Karyn for forty years, or Todd for that long, or Jack and Mary, Karyn’s parents, or Beckett and Lucia, or for even a fraction of that time there is something that connects us all very deeply.

You are here because you care. You care. And you can’t even say Karyn without care! [laughter and groans, apologies for bad joke]

So anyway, Karyn is on record as saying to Todd at some point last year, ‘It’s really up to you all what you do if and when the time comes – do what you want, it’s fine with me…I’ll be gone.’

But have you ever heard the word “ubuntu”? It’s an African word, a Zulu word that means “I am, because you are.” All that makes me, is formed by and found in everyone around me.

So when Karyn said “fine with me, I’ll be gone,” well that’s just it. Karyn isn’t gone. She isn’t gone because you are here.

You are here.

Thank you.

 

* – Editor’s Note: See the back of any Rolling Stone magazine for a fuller definition of “minister” used in this regard.

Courage Caught on Camera

There’s so much to share about the Celebration of Life for Karyn. The incredible turnout of friends and family had us scrambling for additional chairs on a beautiful July afternoon. The speeches and music by friends and family had us laughing and wiping away tears, often at the same time. The after party had us knee-deep in Tony’s amazing food and adult beverages poured by expert amateur bar tenders. The live music jam went late enough to annoy neighbors who weren’t already there enjoying the tunes (which meant it didn’t annoy anyone). The morning after had us cleaning and cleaning and cleaning and….

I promise to write more about the day, and soon. But today, I want to share something that few people not in the waiting room of Stanford’s Cancer Center have seen.

Karyn was the quintessential warrior. And, like all great warriors, she knew it was important to inspire those around her to fight alongside her. One of the ways she did that was through this very blog. Another was through her work with the National Brain Tumor Society. And, below is a video she made encouraging other cancer patients to participate in drug trials.

When asked to be interviewed on camera, Karyn immediately said “yes,” ignoring her introverted nature. I remember how nervous she was the night before going to Stanford to record it. Still, she never for a minute considered backing out.

After it was edited and produced it was available to watch on iPads in the oncology waiting room. When Karyn saw someone watching it, she’d always smile a little. Any introverted embarrassment she felt was overtaken by the drive to advocate for new treatments and a cure. If she inspired others to say “yes” to a scary new trial,  or helped them to find hope in their own story, it was worth it.

 

Celebration of Life

We are hosting a Celebration of Karyn’s Life this Saturday, July 9. If you’re reading this you may consider yourself invited.

Karyn is loved and her reach is wide. The connections she made with people touched them deeply, and she felt the same toward so many.

I know some of you who want to come may wonder if you really should. For example, your connection may have been directly with Karyn, meaning you don’t really know the rest of the family. We’d love to have you and get to know you.

Your connection may be through our kids and you’d like to come to show support for them. Please do. Perhaps you want to come celebrate with Karyn’s parents, brother and other “family” members, born or chosen. Grab a glass.

Short and sweet: If you want to be here, we want you here. Really.

Send me an email at twilder(at)me.com* and I’ll get you the details.

Thanks and love,
Todd

* Make sure to use the @ symbol, rather than the (at) in the email address. That’s just to keep away the evil spam robots.

 

All that remains

I picked up Karyn’s ashes today. In arranging for her to be cremated, determining when it would happen and when I could collect her ashes, the word consistently used was “remains.”

How would you like to receive your wife’s remains?
Your wife’s remains will be available at…
Please sign for your wife’s remains here… and here…

The word seems fantastically off the mark. What I just picked up are not her remains. They are not what she left behind.

What Karyn left behind are two kids with brilliant heads on their shoulders and beautiful hearts in their chests. She left family and friends — many of whom are both — who grew because of her, learning things about themselves and each other. She left a husband who, thanks to her, realized just how deeply and fully he could love.

Karyn left in all of us the permission to be courageous, honest and loving, and taught us how to do it through her inspiring example.

Her remains are not in the container I picked up today. They are in everything I see. They surround me and remind me of her in a million different ways.

I am Karyn’s remains. You are Karyn’s remains.

“What else can I do?”

We are surrounded by so many wonderful people who are sending love and light, which is needed more than anything else right now. We’re nearly overwhelmed in the best sense of the word by the generosity of spirit and abundance of care you are providing. Still, many are asking what else they can do.

If you’d like, you can give in Karyn’s honor to the National Brain Tumor Society, and consider joining our team as a fellow fundraiser. We’d love to have you, whether or not you can walk with us this September.

To donate and/or join, please click here.

Thanks and love,

Todd

Karyn

Of everything shared on this site — all the updates and life moments — this is the only post Karyn and I both knew would one day need to be written.

“One day” is today, and I don’t know how to write it.

The Bed Post

They really started with it on day one:

…and we will get you all the equipment you will need: A walker or wheel chair, a shower chair, hospital bed….

“Sounds great, but we won’t need the bed,” I said. “She’d prefer to sleep in our bed.”

A hospital bed would make things much easier on you, and more comfortable for her.

“And would be a nice thing to add to the bill going to insurance,” I cynically thought to myself, as though hospice professionals are paid on commission. “Actually, our bed is pretty great,” I said cheerily, “and she’s up all the time, so I think it’ll be fine.”

Of course, Mr. Wilder. Just know that it’s available whenever you decide.

Isn’t that funny? From the get-go they assumed we’d come around to realizing Karyn would be better off sleeping somewhere other than in our bed.

The next week we met with Karyn’s nurse. “I know you’ve resisted getting a bed brought in,” she started gently. “May I ask why?”

Resisted? Well, that seems loaded. “This is her bed. This is our bed. She’s comfortable. Besides, taking it away sends a message to the kids, to Karyn,” I rationalized. “I’m not saying we can’t get a hospital bed brought in. I just don’t think it’s necessary right now.”

And then it was necessary.

Not too far from 20 years ago, Karyn and I were newly married. We moved from our tiny apartment in a cut-up Victorian near SJSU to a small house in a lovely part of East San Jose. Our bed was our first “major” purchase. We saw it in the store and immediately fell in love with its minimal platform design, natural wood and utilitarian good looks. It cost many hundreds of dollars.

“Man, that’s a lot to spend on a bed,” I said.

“Yeah, but it will last a lifetime,” Karyn assured.

The bed came to that rented house and then to our first home: a smaller house in a less-lovely part of East San Jose. It then moved to the larger house we’ve had the good fortune of calling home for almost 10 years. In three different houses, surrounded by incrementally improving dressers and marginally better art choices, it has been the constant. Perfect: No upgrades needed. So sure, I suppose there was some resistance to taking it apart and pulling it out of our bedroom.

And yet, that’s how I spent an evening last week.

Our son wanted to help take the bed apart (he loves a project), and his enthusiasm kept me from coming apart. Together we carried the different pieces up the stairs to store them away. Our daughter helped navigate the mattress around corners and away from pictures on the walls. Dear neighbors brought over a twin mattress set and helped set it up on a metal frame so it could be right alongside Karyn’s new electric fancy-schmancy bed. There was talk of getting matching sheets so that together they still looked like one bed.

But when we were done, one look into our room made it obvious that it wasn’t one bed. It was her bed and my bed, and the side rails of hers meant we could only push the mattresses so close. The resulting gap felt like the Grand Canyon.

The electric bed is, without a doubt, the best thing for Karyn and all of us caring for her. There is truly no question about that, and it probably should have happened sooner. But I keep going back to what Karyn said. She said our bed would last a lifetime.

I don’t want her to be right.

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

We asked for help at home. We got hospice.

That sounds like we were duped. We weren’t. We just weren’t really prepared for the questions we’d be asked or the answers we’d give.

But here we are: Absolutely the right decision and not the one we wanted to make.

Need that optimism we’re for which we’re so well known? All research shows the earlier people go on hospice the longer they live. The term “hospice” carries an undeniable stigma but the discipline has changed dramatically over the years.

Or, said another way, this ain’t your daddy’s hospice. It’s Karyn’s. And, while it’s turning our house a bit upside down, we plan on living with it for a long time.

 

 

Iron Nan(a)

Many people remark on Karyn’s incredible strength. They talk about how amazing it is and how surprised they are that anyone could be so strong.

You know who isn’t surprised? Anyone who has met Karyn’s mom.

Mary Kantola, AKA WonderMom, AKA SuperNana.

I’d argue she’s from another world, except for the fact that she’s so damn human. Take that, Superman.

If you’re lucky enough to know her, you not only know what I’m talking about, you probably collect the comic books.

Hold onto those comics and keep them in good condition. They, like her, are priceless and only increasing in value.