The Celebration Continues (Pt. 7)

Welp, I guess it’s my turn.

After Ellen’s wonderful words, it was time for me (Karyn’s husband, for those new to this site — ‘welcome’ and you’ve got some catching up to do) to share some thoughts about the woman I love. At this point, now Part. 7 of a seemingly endless Celebration of Life, no explanations or extra details should be required. And yet, because I’ve dragged this telling of the day out so long I do feel compelled to point one thing out: When I spoke of Muhammed Ali, it was still a pretty timely reference.

There, I feel better.

OK, here’s what I said on that beautiful July afternoon:

The first thing I have to say is “thank you.” This amazing crowd, in quantity and quality, is really is overwhelming.

Thank you to family and friends who got into planes and cars to travel significant lengths to be here. And since most of you battled traffic on Hwy 17 today, that’s an inclusive “thanks.” There are people here who recently had weddings and other defining events that I did not attend — even after saying I and the kids would attend — and they are here today. They may be here to collect for the dinners we didn’t eat. I’m sorry, I’m good for that. See me later.

Thank you to everyone who has helped bring this day together. The outpouring of support has been incredible: From securing the location to arranging for the PA to reaching out to so many of you individually… and that’s all just my brother, who also agreed to MC this event. People agreed to speak. People helped with the program. People brought wine for later. Everyone on Montezuma Dr. who will HATE me later for the crowd on its way, know that I am thanking you now. When my family embarrasses themselves in your driveway later, please remember that I thanked you first.

Thank you to the people to whom I didn’t think I could grow closer. You proved me wrong and you know who you are. If I’ve learned anything through this experience it’s that when people talk about a “silver lining” — in the singular — they are minimizing things. As awful as so much of what we’ve gone through has been and is, there is a lot of good, too. And, the deep — like journey to the center of the earth deep — connection you make with those going through it with you, well, that is but one shimmery silver lining.

And thank you to everyone who continues to show so much love and compassion. It really means the world.

But you know, all that compassion also means a lot of people have been asking questions I don’t know how to answer. People ask:

What are you going to say at the celebration of Karyn’s life?

I had it all planned out. I really did. And then Billy Crystal stole all my best material for the Muhammed Ali funeral. Did you see it? Aside from the Howard Cosell impersonation, so much of it was exactly what I wrote.

But, I blame myself. I made it too easy for him. Because everything I said about Karyn absolutely applied to the “Greatest of All Time.”

She was one hell of a fighter. (Yes, kids, that’s a quarter for swearing.) Her fight started immediately. She was in her recovery room after her first surgery. She had spent barely a night in the ICU after a craniotomy and was in bed with myself and her parents in the room when we all first met a man who introduced himself as her neuro-oncologist — a man who is here today. He explained he would be her doctor and why, and briefly but scarily explained the treatment that she would need to undergo. He also explained that she had a choice in the matter and that she didn’t need to go through chemo, and radiation and then more chemo if she didn’t want to.

Karyn’s response was immediate: “Yep, let’s do this.” She then looked at all of us and said, “Failure is not an option.” We had our marching orders.

When a new, experimental treatment option became available — one of those where you become Research Patient No. 859 and sign away your right to sue if you grow a tail — Karyn jumped at the chance to participate. She did it to fight for herself, and for everyone else who might benefit from the drug trial in the future.

In fact, The National Brain Tumor Society Silicon Valley Chapter is naming an award after Karyn. So taken by her courage to share her personal story, her ability to inspire and motivate others to join in the fight, to raise awareness and money for the cause, they will now give an annual Karyn Wilder Champion Award*. … They weren’t allowed to name it the “Karyn Wilder Badassary Award.”

Other questions I keep getting asked, with love and genuine concern:

How are you? are you OK? How are the children? Are the kids OK?

I have no clue how to answer these.

Do I answer it truthfully? — “Um, no, I’m a hot mess.”

Should I paraphrase a former colleague? — “We’re a collective big bag of hurt.”

Or worse, because it rings so false: “We’re fine, thanks. How are you?”

But there are questions I can answer, and they are at the heart of the ones I can’t. They are asked with the same love and concern. And in fact, they’re almost the same questions:

“Will you be OK?” “Will the kids be OK?”

These questions I can answer. “Yes.” Yes, yes, without a doubt in my mind, yes.

I can say that because all of you have and, I’m assured by many, will continue to see that we are OK. You’ve already kept us well fed and wonderfully deep in company.

And from the beginning, Karyn ensured we’d be OK.

As soon as she was done with radiation the first time, she taught the kids how to do their own laundry, and then made them responsible for doing it. She taught them how to cook a few meals, and you definitely want to come to dinner when they’re making it rather than me; though she did make sure I could manage a few meals as well.

Actually, I just learned about just one of the no doubt many things she did to make sure we’d be OK. I was invited to go out with some of the dad’s from the kids’ school. I told Karyn I probably wouldn’t go: I didn’t do much without Karyn, time being precious and all. But she pushed me to go. “You’ve been wanting to see that movie. You’ll have fun. You should go.” I did go and had fun, but recently I learned about a conversation she had with our friend who asked on that evening, “Where’s Todd?” Karyn explained I had gone to a movie and our friend noted that was unusual. Karyn said, “I made him go. He’s going to need these connections. This is the community that’s going to help him when I’m gone.” This wasn’t last month. This was two years ago.

For nearly four years Karyn fought back a disease that takes most people in 12-18 months. She used that time to make sure we’d be OK. And so we will.

And I know there are other questions to come that I won’t know how to answer. One that worries me is surely coming years… months… weeks from now. As new people in our lives get to know us and ultimately ask:

“What was she like?”

In time, I know I’m going to love telling the stories, but how do I condense all that Karyn is into a party conversation? There may one day be grandkids who ask me, “What was Gramma like?” That’s a big, important question coming from an important person. And that’s where I again turn to all of you.

I can and will share all my experiences, memories, thoughts and love with and for Karyn until I bore people out of their minds, but I can only share my perspective. Today, from those who have spoken, you’ve heard unique sides of her and personal experiences with her, and most of you here today have those to share. Please, promise me you will share them.

If someone asks you, “What was she like?” never feel like it’s not your place to answer. It’s exactly your place. It’s for all of us to answer. We all have a unique perspective to share because Karyn had a unique and personal relationship with us all. That was just one of her gifts to us. Our gift to others is to share that by keeping her memory alive and vibrant.

And please, let’s start the reminiscing as we get the party going on Montezuma Drive, shall we? Thank you so, so much for being here today, and we’ll see you at home.

* – This September the kids and I had the honor of presenting the Karyn Wilder Champion Award to a phenomenal woman with an incredible spirit at the walk.

The Celebration Continues (Pt. 6)

I know, I know… I’ve been MIA for a while. I’m sorry to keep you without an update and, worse, still midway through our Celebration of Karyn’s life. (If you’re coming to this late, it all started here.) It’s sometimes a little difficult to sit myself down and write about that day. I’m not sure why. Well, I know why, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense, given the day was filled with one amazing moment after another. It is not a burden or a chore to relive and share those moments. And yet, I keep having long gaps where I post nothing. I’ll work on that. And me.

At the celebration we heard from so many great people who said so many wonderful things, and you may have noticed references to “Montezuma” in there. Montezuma is the street we are fortunate enough to call home, and it’s a suburban unicorn (pink, fluffy, dancing …).

To give a little context, ours is that  rarest of neighborhoods. Not only do we know our neighbors, we love them and count them amongst our best friends family. Rather than a too-common existence sequestered in our own homes, life happens in the front yards, where houses have patio furniture under the eaves and sprawling into the driveways. Kids play on the sidewalks and in the street as parents sit and talk. Good wine is not uncommon.

After Lisa shared her wonderful words at the Celebration, we were treated to a dear member of the Montezuma Crew (or “Mob,” as she prefers), Ellen Lynch: 

(So many wonderful stories and memories….)

I feel so blessed to be a member of the “Montezuma Mob”- a neighborhood my husband, Denis, and I moved into with our kids, Brendan, Maire and Ian, almost eight years ago.  Right away, we knew we were surrounded by some amazing people, but the Wilders – well, they were just obviously a really cool family.

Lucia was just about 5 and adorable, Beckett was a tiny little guy of 1 and very curious, and then, there were Todd & Karyn.  I could see what great parents they were, and, when you could spend time with Todd and Karyn –  well, you know chemistry in a marriage when you see it!

As the kids grew, and we happened to be in the driveway more frequently, we were blessed to get to know Karyn’s mom and dad, Mary and Jack, and the extended collection of family and friends we have met through Karyn and Todd.  She has brought so many of us together.

With that amazing sense of humor, and comedic timing with just the right dose of sarcasm, Karyn could make you laugh at the slightest thing.  In time, as “the beast” developed, we began to see what a gifted writer Karyn was.  Despite the unknown, she incorporated that humor and tremendous perspective into her writing.  She displayed amazing courage when putting her feelings and thoughts together out on the web for all to see.  And it helped all of us.

That courage and determination to fight “the beast” were best exemplified when Karyn would come outside even briefly to let us all know that, “Hey, I am here, I am living this day to the fullest” – even when perhaps that day was not so good.
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One night, maybe back in December, Karyn came over and nursed a glass of wine in our living room.  There was not much conversation but she was comfortable and so present for that short period of time.  Over the past few years, there were many of those nights with our great neighbors where Karyn showed us how to live life on your own terms, by displaying amazing grace and courage, while battling this dreadful disease. She surrounded herself with family and friends, and fought like nobody I know.
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We have all lost this special, special person – a great neighbor, friend, relative, spouse, daughter, and mom in Karyn’s passing, but what she gave us, particularly over these past 3 plus years were memories, laughter, courage, strength, comfort, and love.

To that, I would like to share this simple yet thoughtful passage entitled “Where do they go to?”

Where do they go to, the people who leave?
Are they around, in the cool evening breeze?
Do they still hear us, and watch us each day?
I’d like you to think of them, with us that way.
Where do they go to, when no longer here?
I think that they stay with us, calming our fear
Loving us always, holding our hands
Walking beside us, on grass or on sand.
Where do they go to, well, it’s my belief
They watch us and help us to cope with our grief
They comfort and stay with us, through each of our days
Guiding us always through life’s mortal maze.

As Todd so eloquently shared with us on EverydayLeft, Karyn remains with all of us.  We have been blessed.

Love to you Karyn.

The Celebration Continues (Pt. 5)

Before we get into this installment of the Celebration of life for Karyn (which started way back here, if you need to be caught up), let me say a massive “thank you” and Jamaican “Big up” to everyone who showed up, ponied up and and helped make this year’s fundraiser for the National Brain Tumor Society an uplifting success. From all who traveled to be there, to Alyssa who helped get team shirts made, to everyone who donated, walked, laughed, cried and cheered, it was a wonderful group effort.

Our team was again the top fundraising team (‘cough’ by-a-lot ‘cough’) and had the privilege of honoring Karyn in some pretty wonderful ways (more on that later — promise). Our hearts were full, even when our eyes were wet. Special thanks to Jenifer Prentiss for putting on a great event.

Now, if we may go back a couple months to the Celebration for Karyn, I want to share the speech that my dear cousin Lisa Replogle gave on the day. Lisa and her daughter are a couple of the people who traveled for the Celebration and for the Brain Tumor Society walk (Southwest Airlines loooooves her). Grab a glass of wine and read what she said to an overflowing crowd on that warm July day:

First – I want to say how amazing Karyn’s Parents, Mary and Jack, have been. The support they gave to Karyn, Todd, Lucia and Beckett went beyond the titles of their relationships.

Second – to the Montezuma Drive neighbors. You have proven the true meaning of the phrase “It takes a Village.” From meals, to wine, to whiffle ball games…I didn’t think this type of neighborhood actually existed in the world today. Thank you for your love and support of my family.

Before Karyn’s diagnosis, when I visited, we would stay up late drinking wine and talking of my divorce. In her support of me, Karyn brought another friend, Alyssa, into my life. Karyn was not familiar with what I was going through as the love she and Todd shared was solid. But Karyn knew that Alyssa and I could help and support each other in a way Karyn could not.

After Karyn’s diagnosis we drank a lot of wine when I visited (well…sometimes that was just me…but in true solidarity I drank for her too). Last July we rented a house in McMinnville, Oregon and with Todd, Lucia, Beckett, Ziggy and my daughter Jules, we spent a week wine tasting and just being a family. During visits we frequently talked of my dating escapades (which frequently called for more wine). Even during my visit at the end of May…. I shared with Karyn a picture of my latest “Match” and we grimaced together.

Each of us here knew Karyn in their own unique relationship. After her diagnosis and first surgery I ‘snail mailed’ a card. We started exchanging cards…in today’s world of email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – who doesn’t love a physical card in the mail? Words penned in ink and words unspoken which say, “I like you enough to pick out a card, find a stamp and go to the post office.” I don’t remember that first card; but it started something crazy. A weekly challenge to find a new card…one which I hoped would invoke a smile or even a snicker. One of my favorite cards said “Let’s start a book club…and by book club I mean drink wine.” Come to think of it…many of the cards I sent involved some reference to alcohol.

A year ago, Karyn sent me this card:

lisacard1

On the inside it read:

“I’m still alive. You?”

LisaCard2.jpg

And then Karyn wrote, with her typical sense of humor, “One has to laugh at one’s ridiculous circumstances occasionally. Love you! Karyn”

I wish today that this card still held true. I take comfort that Karyn lived more fully than most of us ever will. She and Todd shared an incredible love for each other and through their love they have two amazing kids. Watching Todd and Karyn support each other through this process gives me hope that ‘true love’ can be found. Karyn may no longer be physically here but she will live on in memories unique to all of us but common in her inspiration, courage, charm, and wit.

I will miss her.

The Celebration Continues (Pt. 4)

If you’re reading the headline and think we’re starting with “Episode 4” because we’re major Star Wars fans: A) You’re right, we are; and B) You’re late to the party, but can easily catch up. Go back, start here and read chronologically up to this point. It’ll make so much more sense and, unlike Star Wars Episodes 1 and 2, it’s necessary for the story.

So many of the speeches, poems, side conversations and “ohmyigodyoushowedup” sightings were “moments” on the day of the Celebration for Karyn. Jon’s speech was definitely a big moment of the day.

After Jo gave her wonderful talk Chris introduced Karyn’s brother Jon. What he shared was both heartbreaking and heart warming:

I’m happy to be here with all of you today to celebrate Karyn’s life, but I have to confess that you probably “knew” her better than I did. While I’m certain that we were close in our younger years, we chose different paths in college. Well, to be fair, mom and dad moved to England for work the year after I started college, and Karyn had no choice but to finish high school overseas. When given the opportunity to study in England, I foolishly elected to remain in Riverside (hindsight’s 20/20, right?). It was obvious when we were both back in California a few short years later that we had become very different people, sequestered into two ends of the state. It’s amazing how a six-hour drive can limit a family relationship to major holidays, twice a year. My own family and I moved to Northern California four years ago, about the same time Karyn’s battle began with the “beast in her brain.” A relatively quick two-hour drive made it easier to connect and in some small way, participate with the Wilders in the fight.

When the battle was lost and the time for this celebration arrived, I explained to Todd that, not only were Karyn and I distant in recent history, my memories from childhood have largely been erased by twenty years of anti-seizure medication. Beyond a five-year horizon of clarity, I’m limited to exponentially fuzzy recollections of major life events; marriage, kids, job changes, broken bones, and the like that I often get wrong. A friend suggested the analogy of Peeta in the final Hunger Games movie, where after conditioning by the Capital he’s left asking if memories were “real or not real.” Since that’s an accurate description, I decided to hijack my dad’s DropBox photos of Karyn, and quiz my parents to find out if what those images trigger was real or not real.

pastedgraphic-1 We were a Scouting family growing up, and Karyn tagged along on so many Troop outings that she earned the nickname “That Girl”, as in…she appeared so often in slideshows the scouts said “hey, there’s that girl again!” Here’s a picture of Karyn on a backpacking trip with the scouts, and from the pained expression on her face I’d have to guess this was not a favorite activity. Real, or not real? (Real, according to Mom. Karyn loved camping in the outdoors, but packing was not her first choice!)

pastedgraphic-2 I found several pictures of Karyn in the snow, including this one taken during Christmas at the family farm in Floodwood Minnesota, and another cross country skiing with cousins. In both, Karyn is obviously bundled warmer than everyone else, with the least amount of exposed skin. I’m going to guess that Karyn was not fond of the cold, and preferred warmer climates. Real, or not real? (Correct again per Mom. If given a choice, Karyn would rather be someplace warm!)

pastedgraphic-3 The nice thing about living in Riverside is both the mountains and the beach are an hour drive away. Unlike the backpacking photo, I noticed that Karyn seemed to be enjoying herself more when at the beach, and would imagine that she preferred walking in the surf over wandering through pine trees. Real, or not real? (Nope, wrong. Mom said Karyn was equally at home and happy in either setting.)

pastedgraphic-4 Having three kids of my own, I know that sibling rivalry between brother and sister is normal, and Karyn and I had our disagreements (Mom nods yes!). But I wonder if this picture of Karyn sitting in my lap next to Grandma Hayes and our parents, proves that little sisters look up to big brothers. Maybe it’s a big brother stereotype I’m longing for now that she’s gone, but I’m guessing this photo means Karyn did look up to me…at least a little. Real, or not real? (Tearful yes from Mom.)

This celebration is proof that you can’t count on a lifetime to reconnect to those you love most. The future is uncertain and memories fade. I’m proud of my sister; the warrior she became, the battle she fought, and the inspiration she gave. But, I’ll always regret that I waited too long and now have to rely on old photos of Karyn with third party stories for a sense of who we were as children…and what was real and not real. Please don’t make the same mistake!

 

The Celebration Continues (Pt. 3)

If you’re wondering why we’re starting at Pt. 3… we’re not. Please go back and read part 1 and part 2 and you’ll be all up to speed.

After Jack’s beautiful words, Chris introduced Jo Enders, who is family even though maybe in the strictest of technical definitions she isn’t. I’ll let her explain in the amazing speech she gave at the Celebration of Life for Karyn:

I’ve been lucky enough to know Karyn and Todd for almost 20 years…which makes my heart warm to think about, but also makes me feel really, really old! Anyway, my husband Steve and I were introduced to Karyn and Todd through my sister Kate and brother-in-law Chris. Shortly after we all met, we quickly became close friends. Our men shared a passion for making and listening to music and us dutiful ladies kept each other entertained through many a long reggae, punk or metal concert in smoke and sweat filled music halls (in truth, we enjoyed some of the music too!). Since meeting, we’ve been bridesmaids, and groomsmen for each other, developed a possibly questionable tolerance for wine, toasted many a vegan s’more around campfires, celebrated each others new homes, new babies and new jobs and generally made awesome memories together. Steve and I refer to Todd and Karyn as our sister and brother-in-law-once-removed and our kids proudly refer to the Wilders their as Aunt, Uncle and cousins.

When Steve and I try to help our three young kids process the loss of Auntie Karyn, we talk about how she may be physically gone, but her spirit remains inside each of us that know and love her. So today I’d like to share how Karyn’s spirit remains in me through the things that I’ll always remember about her.

First, as a Mom now myself, I have to start with what an incredibly good Mom Karyn was. She was the first of us Wilder, Emmett, Enders women to become a Mom. And boy did it come naturally to her! At the time, Steve and I were getting close to considering the idea of having a child at some point, one day, down the road, after we’ve traveled the world a bit more! When beautiful Lucia was born, Karyn showed me how intense and beautiful that Mother/child bond is. I remember evenings hanging out at our tiny first home – a townhouse in Mountain View. Karyn, Todd and baby Lucia arriving, Karyn with Lucia strapped cozily on Karyn in a cool looking baby-hammock type of thing. Karyn cuddled that girl all night…we’d get the occasional baby cuddle (after all, we needed to test out this whole parenting thing!), but Karyn was clearly in her element with her gorgeous baby in her arms.

After equally beautiful baby Beckett arrived, Karyn was back in cuddly mama-bear mode and those around her would find ways to distract her so we could enjoy a bit of baby Beckett cuddling too. As the kids have grown, I’m constantly in awe of what amazing parents Karyn and Todd are. Together, they seemed to me like the dynamic duo of parents – all those great parenting styles like being consistent, setting expectations and giving kids the freedom to demonstrate good choices…all the things I read about in parenting books but struggle to do myself, just came naturally to Karyn and Todd. Karyn was a great teacher for me in how to raise kind, considerate, resilient, confident and independent kids – and Lucia and Beckett are truly a testament to that.

Second, and somewhat tied to the first is that Karyn was always, always prepared (another reason she was a great mom). I could site countless examples, how she was at the ready to lend a hand and keep me calm on my wedding day, to her Sunset magazine worthy preparations for our camping trips and more recently when our son Nathan broke his arm after deciding to take a jump on Beckett’s bike. Karyn ran to her car and emerged with an ice pack from her first aid kit. I remember thinking on the way to the hospital…how is it that after nine years of parenting, I don’t have a first aid kit in the car?? Do all parents except me?? My guess is the answer is no, but it makes total sense that Karyn did – thank you Karyn for always being prepared when I wasn’t!

One of the things I think we all loved about Karyn was her wickedly dry sense of humor. I guess because Karyn was a bit of a self-described introvert, she wasn’t generally one of those super chatty, sharey types. And so this edgy humor was one of those things that I don’t think you knew about unless you were part of Karyn’s inner circle. Even then, I remember times when she’d catch me off guard at some social situation when she would lean in close with that cheeky spark in her eye and mutter some comment or other that would send us into a fit of naughty giggles.

Another delightful surprise about Karyn was that she had so many hidden talents. Karyn’s talent as a writer was clearly revealed after she started her blog – EveryDayLeft. Karyn never really talked to me about her love of writing, but she clearly was gifted in this area. But she also was a skilled closet crafter. Often times, I didn’t learn about her skills in felting, knitting or jewelry making until I’d receive a beautiful hand-made something or other as a gift. She inspired me to try to make more time for my own crafts.

-I’ll close by saying that Karyn also inspired me in another very important way. When Karyn decided to take some time off work to spend more time with the kids. It was during a time when I was getting increasingly burnt out myself with the high-tech work-grind and questioning the stress it put on, and the time it took from our family time. When she told me she was going to quit her job, I thought “Wow, that’s awesome, good for you…hopefully at some point I can do that…”. Too soon after that Karyn was diagnosed with brain cancer and that was the devastating kick in the butt that I needed to re-prioritize what was most important to me – make the most of what time I have here because you truly never know how long it is. So six months later, I said goodbye to my stressful full time job and for almost three years now, I’ve enjoyed more time with our kids and focusing more on what’s truly important. I’ll be eternally grateful to Karyn for giving me that kick in the butt that I so needed.

So with that, I’d like to say thank you Karyn – your spirit lives on in me, and all of us. Let’s all do our best to make the most of every minute of our lives – doing what feeds our souls – whatever that may be.

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.