“She’s a real piece of work”, Debbie said as she was describing her cousin. “But she lives in Sarasota and knows the area. You should meet her.” That was was my first introduction to Karen, a daunting first impression. Little did I know what this relationship would teach me.
I didn’t know anyone in the area when I first moved to Sarasota so I didcall Karen. She met me at a quaint restaurant for lunch. It was filled with Seniors taking their time, visiting and eating. Karen was not like the other seniors. She was filled with energy and seemed to have a huge sense of purpose. She told me tales of her times with the DC three-letter agencies and her escapades in business. She was one of the only women in a man’s world in the 1960s. Karen is very opinionated and when she started talking about politics; there was not a doubt that she is a democrat. Karen asked me about my business and gave advice. She seemed energized by my business challenges and had more than enough to say to help me. She also told very interesting stories. It seemed that I was not with the same person that Debbie had described. I looked forward to our next meeting.
She invited me to her house for our next visit. The first thing that I noticed was her book collection. OK, that is an understatement. I love books and have a modest library full of business/education and spiritual books. Karen has at least 6 bookcases full of murder mystery novels in every room in her house (except the kitchen). When I told her that I love to read murder mysteries for fun she gave me the grand tour. We went into each room and she showed me how her collection was organized. I knew some of the authors and had read all of their books, however, there were authors that I had never read. She gave me the first books of five authors that she thought I might enjoy. We spent about an hour chatting about our children and our lives over iced tea. Before I left she “checked me out”. I had no idea that she has each book catalogued on her computer.
I visited a few more times that year, mostly in the late afternoon. We drank wine from her crystal glasses that I had admired. I told her that I collect crystal and she told me the story of how she bought the glasses on a trip to Ireland years and years ago. She said she didn’t use them much but why not now? We talked about politics. Actually, she talked about politics and I listened. I used to joke that I practiced my listening skills because once she started talking politics she got passionate. I checked my books into her library then checked more out. We talked about different authors and plots. I did not like the French author, I loved the books about LA murders. She gave me books in a plastic bag and sent me on my way.
The last time I visited Karen at her house, we drank wine, told stories, and discussed mystery books. She had a cough, but everyone in Florida has some type of allergies. I thought nothing of it. Her pool cage had been damaged in the hurricane and the workmen were fixing it. It was a busy day for her. She said that she was getting older and did not like to drive at night but she drove her friend to a doctor appointment. She told me about her son’s father in-law who wrote a book and gave it to me to read along with six other mysteries. I check out my books and went to my 6:30pm toastmasters meeting. I hugged her and rushed out because I was running late, and one cannot be late for Toastmasters.
Thanksgiving for me means going to Debbie’s house in Virginia. I had brought some of Karen’s books to read while I was there and the conversation turned to my visits with Karen. Debbie didn’t think we knew the same person. Debbie told me the Karen story. Karen never wanted to be a mom but had two sons to appease her family in the 1960s. She left her family to pursue a career in business with the government in Washington, D.C. The Karen that Debbie knew was stubborn, selfish, and opinionated beyond belief. She was a loner and didn’t visit her family. The Karen I knew was generous, giving, and funny. Debbie and I shared stories then went about our Thanksgiving festivities in Virginia.
When I got back to Florida it was holiday season. I was so busy planning for the holidays and surprising everyone by getting married. January was full of work. I poured myself back into my business and didn’t take a breath. I did think about Karen, I had not read all of the books and it had been almost three months. I was surprised that she had not called me so I called her and left a message. I got busy and forgot returning my books to Karen’s library. I still had not read all of them. I always thought about her each time I read another one of the books.
It was almost Valentine’s day when, Debbie called me and said that Karen was in the hospital. I was surprised but busy. I had huge deadlines that week and said to myself that I would go see her on the weekend. I had a training Saturday morning and had forgotten about Karen being in the hospital. In the middle of the training I saw my phone flash a picture of Debbie, so I stepped out and took the call. “Karen is not doing very well; she is in some hospital in Sarasota”. I decided to go see Karen right after the training and not wait until I got home. I called the closest hospital to her house and got her room number. She was in Re-hab. That sounded good – Debbie seemed to think she was not doing well at all. Her son’s were with her. One traveled from Baltimore, the other from New York. I decided to visit and cheer her up.
When I got to the hospital room about 2pm her sons were sitting in a chair and Karen was asleep in the bed in a sitting position. Her sons were about my age and I knew they did not have a great relationship with their mother. I remember Karen had told me about what each of them did for a living when we talked about our families. The men told me that they were going to make some calls and would be back in about an hour. Nurses were coming in two hours to take Karen to hospice. HOSPICE!
When the sons left it suddenly was too quiet. Karen’s breathing seemed loud and rough. Her eyes were closed and every once in a while she would twitch and turn her head and swing her arms. She did not look comfortable leaning back against the pillow in her elevated hospital bed. It seemed to me that she absolutely did not want to be there and was confused at why she just could not go home, read her books, and watch the news. I was not sure what to do or say, so I held her hand. Not one for being quiet, I talked to her as I always did – about my reactions to the books and the authors. It seemed strange that she didn’t talk back to me – so I could practice listening. Suddenly, she got very agitated and started thrashing. The nurse came in to check on her. She gave Karen more drip. I kept holding her hand and talking about what was going on with my life. I told her about my business and asked her unanswered questions. She never woke up.
I stayed with her until her sons came back. They thanked me for visiting and gave me their phone numbers. I left after the hospice transport team came in to take her to the building a mile away. I walked out the door and down the quiet, stark halls of the hospital. I felt sad. Karen had so much life in her. She had hobbies, friends, and interests. She had her own little library. I hoped that she would miraculously get better.
One month later I was sitting in Karen’s favorite restaurant in Sarasota with Debbie, Karen’s sons, and two older ladies. We were sharing stories about Karen and our times with her. We raised our glasses and toasted to her life. Karen had died hours after I had seen her. She passed quietly in her sleep that night.
Karen’s sons gave me some of her books and each time I pass the mystery section of my library I think about her. I contemplate about the disconnect between her relationship with me and the one with Debbie. Family dynamics are usually so different than other relationship dynamics. If Karen had not been in Debbie’s family, I doubt they would have been friends. Karen and I had our passion of murder mysteries and the love of books in common. I don’t know why I went to see her at the hospital that day and I am so glad that I did. I learned to follow my intuition and value my unique relationships.
Do you have friends or relatives that are different with you than they are with others in their lives? Do you follow your intuition? Feel free to share your insights and similar stories with me.
#relationships #friendship #family #books #intuition