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Family, Friends, Business Acquaintances,
My wife of 33 years, my hot date for 7 years prior, my friend, my lover, the mother of my children, the manager of our home, . . . left to go to a better place today, Sunday, September 27th at 11:34am. I will need to do my very best to meet up with her . . . as a believer, I am convinced she is in God’s company. An inoperable brain tumor we discovered quite by accident in 2000 finally closed her eyes and pointed her to her ultimate home.
This was written in advance of Karen’s passing (what an odd euphemism) as I’m certain I’m quite the wreck right now. For the readers familiar with our mode of operation, we confess conspiring and preparing these thoughts together prior to my emotional downfall. So here it is:
Who would have guessed that College would yield so wonderful an education? She was sexy and fun, a sense of adventure and . . . well . . . committed. Though her mother had some serious misgivings about me, our first date was November 1st, 1975, we were married in May of ’82 and we have held hands for the last time, September 2015.
We’ve made no arrangements for a funeral. She said she would not attend, funerals are depressing. We don’t want to be depressing. We both get overwhelmed by the rush people reminding us how sad it is, or how much she will be missed. I know this already. I asked my children for their input – they feel it just makes them cry. If you knew her, she’s already touched your life. If you just know me, you saw evidence of her support, heard of her children and her contributions. As a family, we don’t need you to travel to look at an empty chalice and tell us how good she looks. Frankly, she looked tired, she hated it. We choose to remember her differently. I choose to remember my life partner; the picture of the woman I married, the mother who was always there for her children, the friend who always volunteered to help. Your relationship to Karen, me, or my children already defined your support, and we thank you for being part of our lives. You may celebrate her memory, your memories, with us.
When we were considering marriage (people told us both we were nuts) it was suggested that we take a test to help us gain insight on capabilities and revelations on what we didn’t know about each other. The minister thought we had cheated because our answers were too close to perfect – we were genuinely invested in each other. As family, or confidant, you know us, you may attest that you may have referred to us as opposites, but that’s what worked. I was the loud bombastic one, she was the reserved horse sense one. There was balance, giving, loving correction and fun. (Fun is what I always strived for).
We won’t try to tout our marriage as perfect. There were rough patches, but we worked through them. I think people forget that the ‘work’ of marriage is what makes it worthwhile. How sad, that with all the tools and information we have at our disposal we cannot put the same effort in our marriages that we put into our weight control programs, projects for work or our favorite sports and hobbies. No one ever sold a running shoe by stating, ‘Just Quit.’ Or exercise equipment with, ‘No pain, . . . ever.’ What parent hasn’t argued that their offspring would better appreciate those things they have worked for, earned, invested in. Alas I sound preachy . . .
This is how I would characterize Karen, to which, on hearing this list she would react with modesty, be shy and slightly embarrassed (She would, however, agree):
Dedicated mother. Always, her children came first.
Dedicated and patient wife . . . I’m not easy to live with. Sometimes I want to get away from myself.
Dedicated and inquisitive Christian.
Dedicated and involved 4H mom, band mom, vacation mom, cooking mom, cleaning mom, handy with a hammer wife, reliable, dependable employee, good friend and neighbor. . .
Caring and thoughtful sibling. – She loved her brothers and sisters. How fortunate I was to enjoy their company on vacations and family gatherings. What joy to hear my own sister call her, “My dear sister.” We had to remember to ad ‘in-law’ in conversation with friends. We are family.
Animal lover. (Primarily canine and horse) A 4H parent of the year.
Brave and stubborn.
When the social worker at the cancer center asked if she was afraid, Karen nodded an affirmative. My heart sank. I did not want her to be afraid. It was not how I saw her.
“What are you most afraid of?” She asked. “Death?”
“No.” replied Karen. “I’m worried about my children and my husband. I’m afraid no one will take care of them like I would.”
No one will fill those shoes, not as you did. You have only to appreciate your fine handiwork from a greater plane. But we will be OK, we were all raised and mothered well.
I have frequently told my children that a good, loving relationship is when both parties are equally concerned about the wellbeing of the other: When you are ‘doing’ for each other, caring for each other, putting EACH OTHER first. I was sooooooo worried about the end. Not so much about the fear of loss but because I am not a highly empathetic person. I have fretted about my ability to genuinely care for my spouse. I didn’t think I could do it. How silly. Do you not care for your babies when they are born? Do they not make messes? Do they not drive you nuts at night? As time progresses do they not make life ‘challenging’ for you? Yet still you find that extra ounce of patience and perseverance to continue . . . because there is love, there is commitment, there is ‘putting someone you love – first.’
Karen garnered greater fondness than myself in our circles of friends (Don’t deny it, I’m not stupid). She was not combative or braggadocios or threatening . . . she left all that to me. Hmmmmm. She was quiet, loyal, hardworking, sharing, giving. She was the baby in her family, the quiet one in our social group, the hard working mom for her children. I am proud of her. I am proud of the family she cared for and raised. She is proof of the silent hero . . . heroin.
Death is only scary if you think it’s the end.
Death is only scary if you don’t think it’s the beginning.
I believe my wife fought the good fight and kept the faith. I’m am, however, concerned that she and my mom may be getting together – discussing the rest of my life as it unfolds.
Not everyone has faith, but we can still share a lesson that has no boundaries. Don’t ‘waste’ the time you have. This is especially true if you discover you have less time than you thought. Black clouds and pouting are wasted time. Enjoy life while you can. While moving Karen’s dresser downstairs (I didn’t design our home for end of life care . . . sigh) I found a diary given to her to document her cancer journey . . . but there was only one entry . . . in 2001. “I’m going to fight this thing.” She does know how to fight. 15 years, two rounds of radiation, chemo . . . all while keeping two kids and all the animals in line. (I get lumped in with the animals).
Though she was frequently referred to as quiet, the huge silent hole in our lives will be deafening. However, unlike some holes, this one is full of really good memories. It is full of the expectations of her children. It is full of her full life and her life to come. As I sat typing this, I could look around our home, focus on an object or look out the window and see Karen. I can see the pastures, barns and fences . . . dozens of fun, happy memories pop into my head:
Children playing, swimming, tending animals, 14 puppies running around the yard, camping in the backyard, chasing pigs that have escaped their pens or coming home to find a goat or two on top of the cars. (I don’t like goats no matter how funny they are on You Tube). I see tokens from vacations, mementos from her children – another discovery from the move: a grade school gift box with a note from Keegan inside stating: ‘My mom’s the best.’ Each of these reminds me of Karen; teaching, laughing, working, reprimanding, dirty from work or dressed to the 9’s, never afraid to keep fighting that THING.
Many probably never realized the 15 year fight was even happening. That’s good. It wasn’t your fight, your support was in living life with us like it should be – without consideration of black clouds. What a miserable 15 years it would have been if she had lived any other way.
Our determination to fight that thing and always present a positive outlook did generate one regrettable side effect. In addition to getting the most out of each day, we continued to plan and talk about the future. I will mourn those incomplete plans. Together watching our children marry and raise their own families. Enjoying a retirement together; travel. The projects we had yet to start or those we had yet to complete. Of these things there are no memories to fall back on, they will always seem unfulfilled.
There is so much more to say . . . not for justification or closure or to clear regrets, but because there was so much good stuff going on in our family. But I must close:
There was no pain for her at the end. She was with family. When the tumor began shutting her down, it made its final moves quickly, again she fought. I sat by her side, and, as I imagine happens often, the radio station played a familiar song, this one performed by Styxx. Over the years the tune had reminded us of our time dating; ‘Come Sail Away’ . . . we would sing it whenever it came on the radio, as long as no one else was within ear shot. Look it up. Listen to it. Strangely fitting how now it ties so nicely – the beginning of our relationship to the end. I will miss her.
May God Bless our friends as he has us.
For those wishing to offer a contribution I would direct them to either:
Hospice of Michigan or Hope Lodge in Grand Rapids
Both have assisted us greatly in our journey.
Lastly, continue to invest in your own families, love them, be diligent with your relationships, so that when the time comes, you may feel the same sense of peace Karen and I share, having confidence in your marriage, and the rewards of lives well lived as partners, as friends, as family.
Karen Susan Brewster (Remley), age 58, of Newaygo, formerly of Monroe is survived by her husband of 33 years, Mark Brewster; and two children, Rayna and Keegan; two sisters, Catherine (Richard) Shanaway of Shawnee, OK. and Sandra (Alexander) Bazydlo of Naples, FL.; along with two brothers, Floyd (Debra) Remley of Newport, MI. and Robert Remley of Wyandotte, MI. Karen was preceded in death by her parents Floyd Leo and Elnora Lola Remley. Honoring her wishes, cremation will take place arrangements made by, Michigan Cremation & Funeral Care, Grand Rapids.
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