My friend, Kathie, died this morning. She died the way she had always lived, gently and gracefully. My heart is very sad tonight and I thought that I would tell you a little bit about this wonderful woman and some of the things she taught me.
Bill and Kathie presented on our Marriage Encounter weekend 18 years ago. This means that they shared their story with us in an effort to help us have a better marriage. They poured their love out all over John and me and taught us to make decisions to love each other every day. Of course, we loved them from the start – from the moment we entered the conference room and they came over to chat with us and help us feel at ease to the end of the weekend when they asked us to join them as a presenting team couple. Our paths have converged with theirs over and over again since that weekend – Bill and John were in the same diaconate class and we spent many, many hours with Bill and Kathie in preparation for ordination.
Kathie once described herself as a “steel magnolia” and I always thought that was a good description. She was all soft and flowery and gentleness on the outside, but on the inside she had a core that was as strong and unbreakable as steel. Kathie often balanced opposites in this way – she had a sweet innocence but could tell a good bawdy joke, she was gentle and kind but minced no words when speaking her mind, she loved her privacy but also shone when the spotlight was on her or her family.
Kathie loved. She loved and loved and loved – her husband, her children, her grandchildren, her family, her friends, her church, her community. She made every place feel like home because she filled it with her presence. She taught me that love is not a feeling, it is a decision. And then she showed me how to live that out in everyday life. She made that decision over and over again – choosing the way of love over any other path. She was a pilgrim on a journey – heaven was her destiny and, for her, heaven was being in the presence of love.
Kathie laughed all the time. She always had a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her lips. She enjoyed life so much. You could say that she lived life with gusto. There was nothing halfway about her – she gave herself fully to everything she did and everyone she loved. And she laughed. And she made me laugh.
Kathie was diagnosed very recently with a particularly aggressive cancer. The prognosis never offered any hope. She accepted this with such faith and grace. She did not whine or complain, she just made plans to get the most out of the time she had left. She took up birdwatching, installing feeders and keeping a guide book handy to look up her feathered visitors. She spent time with those who loved her, putting everyone at ease with her humor and strength. Her face, the last time I saw her, shone with an inner light – a radiance.
Kathie taught me so much in the years that I have known her. She taught me to be a better wife. She taught me to be a better friend. She taught me about bringing beauty to each place I visit. She taught me to accept (and embrace) the fact that my husband would be ordained but I would not. She taught me not to be afraid. She taught me that illness is not the end of the world. And now, she has taught me that there can be dignity and grace in death. She had great faith and great love. She will live on in the hearts of everyone who knew and loved her. She was a very special woman. She was my friend.