On laughing with Karen
It's been observed that funerals are for the living. Life, or rather how a life was lived, is recounted. The relevance of that life is assessed. Their virtues extolled. Tears are shed. Goodbyes finalized. The doors inevitably open, and the mourners trek out. And on.
I recently attended the funeral for Karen Plunkett, a friend and colleague who died of cancer at age 57. While listening to the speakers recount what Karen's life met to them (to us), I was reminded of a Norman Cousins quote: "Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live."
I thought it ironic at the time to have such a thought cross my mind, just as Karen's life was being eulogized. But it briefly occurred to me that of all the people I know, Karen had had the Sword of Damocles over her head virtually her entire adult life. She battled cancer since she was 25. Yet she lived life with such a joy, such a joie de vivre that is rare even among the lifelong healthy. Karen Plunkett showed us how to live. Every day.
Karen had to two qualities that exemplified who she was and how she approached life. We worked together in an office for 18 months, but I had known her since 1986. There was an "Aw, shucks" quality to her demeanor. My slant on life and work is to approach it from the perspective of laughter. Life is all about serious, we intuitively understand that, but with Karen, I found a collaborator in foolishness, in humor, in irony, in just plain silliness for the sake of silliness. We'd sit in her office and yuck it up about people and events. And eventually the work would get done. It always does.
But it is the sound of Karen's laughter that is irreplaceable. I gravitate to people who do not take themselves or events seriously (or at least not too seriously) and Karen was that in spades. She had a laugh that started as a giggle and then, if continued, could become a full-throated guffaw. We could get started and she would roll with laughter.
Laughter, humility and intelligence. It is said that eyes are the gateways to the soul. Little illuminators that shine and reveal the inner person. I look in a person's eyes to see who's home and if the lights are on. Karen's eyes radiated intelligence. They sparkled with life, and when she laughed, her eyes laughed, too. Karen had that wonderful quality of being in the moment; her personal circumstances were no doubt an influence. Her demeanor was accepting and generous. She was a gracious woman. And, boy, could that gal laugh!
My heart goes out to her husband, Stephen, and to her parents, too. There is no bigger sorrow in life than attending your child's funeral. But Karen is never gone so long as her laughter resounds in our souls, in our minds. And it does. A gift, Karen's gift.