I first got to know Karin as a customer of her food stall at the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market. From the time Oliver was a year old, every Saturday morning, after having our smoked salmon bagel, we would have our second course from Karin’s ever-changing selection of healthy food. And she made a mean iced tea to boot – also every-changing, and unsweetened the way I like it. Karin was unfailingly kind to both of us, especially to Oliver: she was always tucking a Hallowe’en fridge magnet, or some such thing, into his pocket. Visiting her stall was one of the highlights of our week.
Gradually, Saturday by Saturday, I got to know Karin a little more. After learning of my trips to southern Sweden, she would lend me Wallander-series books, knowing that I knew the terrain. She would always tell us tales of her travels, or of her family, during those few minutes while we were waiting for something to cook or warm or cool.
After she received a diagnosis of terminal cancer in 2008, Karin asked me if I could help set her up with a blog so that she could write about her experiences, and the result was Mastering the Art of Living while Dying. There are only 34 posts there, covering the period from the spring of 2010 to the summer of 2012. But in those posts you’ll learn a lot about Karin, and a lot about her take on, well, living while dying. Two years ago she wrote Would She Just Die Already?, one of my favourite of her posts because it captures the humour and joy that Karin brought to everything she did:
It has been more than 3 years since the doctors have told me that there is no story. No cure, no treatment, Nothing, Nada!. That was pretty harsh news. So my friends and I gathered around and comforted one another and decided we should all live our days like they are our last days. So here I am three years later, doing just that. I’m living my life like it is my last days. Now my friends are like…o.k. it’s been three years, would she just die already. I’m no longer on their “pitiful friends” list.
This Karin person is having way too much fun living her last days. I’m a pain in the butt! Sure we need to live our lives like it our last but you can only do that so long. Especially if you have a family to raise and bills to pay. But here is Karin, having lots of fun, going on trips while my friends are trying to pay the mortgage and raise their children. Most of my friends have forgotten that I have cancer. They have moved on to their sicker and needier friends.
But seriously, I am so blessed to still be here after 3 years of getting a terrible diagnosis and I am enjoying my life. Every day of it. If I die tomorrow, I would be high-fiving someone and thanking them for giving me these wonderful and precious days. And… just for the record, it’s kind of cool that my friends and I have forgotten I’m dying. Better run and pack my suitcase for my next adventure! Blessings!
Somehow, amidst treatment and recovery and despite myriad challenges of world-travel-health-insurance – the kind of thing you never think about until you need it – Karin and her intrepid partner Mike saw a lot of the world in the last few years. She published a cook book. She met a grandson. She did live while she was dying. She would probably say that she didn’t master it; but she sure gave it a good chance.
Karin died this weekend. I hadn’t seen her in a few months, and she had been not dying for so long that it came right out of the blue for me. She was a good person, someone who we were all the better for knowing, and she will be missed.