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.
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!)
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!)
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.)
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!