There aren’t many things harder to write than this post. The fact that I knew I would one day write it makes the writing no easier. I lost a dear friend this week; a coach, a colleague, an inspiration. I have known Karen Keb Will for only six years, but I owe her a debt that can never be repaid. She has given so many beautiful memories to so many people, and mere words, plain black marks on a screen, can never do them, or her, justice.
Karen was a strong woman, a fighter who never gave up. The last two and a half years of her life, she fought a desperate war with cancer, in several forms. She never surrendered, never flagged. On July 25th, she made her final stand.
I never actually met Karen, but she was one of my greatest friends nonetheless. We first connected on a professional basis when she took on the role of managing editor for the magazine where I cut my teeth as a freelance writer. I made no end of newbie mistakes, and Karen graciously took them in stride. Under her guidance, I learned the importance of a good story pitch and the value of making the pitch BEFORE writing the story.
She gave me my first writing assignment, a story on Thomas Jefferson and his gardens, and then waited patiently for me to surface from way too much research. I think I took half a year at least to write the thing, or at least that’s how I remember it. Along the way, she offered tips and critiques at just the right times, gently, without bruising a new writer’s delicate sensibilities. I’m still a Jefferson junkie, thanks to her assignment.
Soon, we connected on Facebook, where she introduced me to her husband, Hank Will, among other friends in the industry. Hank and Karen shared stories and photos of Kansas ranch life, and I returned the favor with Pennsylvania Dutch life. Through their photos I met the dogs, George and Molly, and the cattle, sheep and donkeys, and learned that Hank has a definite affinity for VWs and road tractors. I’m glad I was able to share an album of storm clouds with Karen a few weeks ago, and I hope that share brightened her day a little bit.
Karen used Facebook as a way to share her final journey with her friends, and I’m honored to be among them. We shared good days and bad, tears and laughter, encouraged and supported each other in a great network of friendship. If there is anything about our friendship that I regret, it’s that we never actually met face to face.
That will have to wait until my end of days. I refuse to say ‘goodbye.’ Goodbye is too final. I’ll see you later, Karen. Until then, your memory lives on in the hearts of all you have touched. We may cry because you’ve gone, but we can cheer because you’re Home.
Please, if you knew Karen, feel free to share your own memories of her in the comments below.
Karen and her fur babies, George and Molly.