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.