Thursday, May 9, 2024

My friend and classmate Karen, our school marriage, aging and the realities of everything

This is my friend Karen Huffman, one of her senior class photos from high school.  She gave it to me along with a handwritten note that I somehow managed to hold on to after all these years.

We didn’t date in high school but were very close, and some in our class assumed we were a thing as did a couple of our teachers.  In our senior year we signed up for a class about marriage titled “On Our Own” where we took part in a mock wedding ceremony and were husband and wife for the year.

Karen has a quick, raspy voice and bossed me to no end—but I never minded, she was so funny and kind hearted.  One time Bob Stockdale (a classmate) said “If I was Doug I’d be filing for divorce” and everyone laughed, and when I said Karen’s words were music to my ears, our teacher Mrs. Kline told Karen “This is the man you want to marry!” 

By the way, if you’re wondering how I can recall something from 45 years ago, Karen wrote this was one of her favorite senior memories in my high school scrapbook.

Here’s Karen & myself in the center of our mock wedding ceremony, between the flags overhead.  Our friend Diana is 2 to the right of us, and that’s Mrs. Kline on the far leftBesides being good friends (and wedding partners), Karen & I were also selected by our senior class as “Most Likely to Succeed” for the Senior Personalities in our yearbook.  That’s us at the bottom on the first pageWe fell out of touch after graduating in 1979, but I got updates through the years.  She went on to college and become an elementary teacher, got married and had a son, moved to Virginia. 

We didn’t speak again for 30 years, until 2009 when Facebook came along.  Then we picked up where we left off like no time had passed at all.

In 2015 when I announced on Facebook I was sick of the rat race and taking an early retirement, Karen wrote me and said “Douglas you inspired me!  I’m sick of the race and retiring early too!” 

(For as long as I’ve known Karen, since the age of 12-13, she only called me Douglas.)  Anyway, true to her word she DID retire shortly after I did.

In 2017, when I wrote Karen and said I left Pittsburgh to move back to our hometown and was regretting my decision, she told me that every year she drove up to Pa to spend the holidays with her mom—but this year she was coming a couple days earlier to spend time with me.  We met up the first day for a 4 hour lunch, and the day after I went with Karen to visit her mom and see some old sights. 

She was just as funny, bossy and raspy in person as I remembered from all those years ago.  I am so glad we were able to get together again.

A recent photo of Karen (left) with our mutual friend and classmate Diana

I’m sharing all of this now, because last April Karen complained she was having trouble remembering things, and a couple months later pretty much went silent.  Diana reached out for answers, but only heard from Karen’s pastor that she was not well. 

And then a few days ago, Karen’s son posted this on Facebook:

Sorry to keep everyone uninformed for so long, but we did not have enough information on what was happening with my mother until recently.  She has been diagnosed with Coritcobasal Degeneration, a rare and aggressive form of dementia that resembles Parkinsons disease.  She has limited mobility using a walker at this time and is unable to care for herself in any way.  She is unable to comprehend what is happening and no longer uses her cell phone or social media accounts.  I have moved back in to help care for her until we can get some assistance with a long term plan.  We do appreciate all of the concern and support her friends have given in this time and I will try to update when I am able.

There is no treatment or cure, and life expectancy is short.  She is 62, same as me. 

I remember when we got together a few years ago, I asked Karen how she kept in such terrific shape.  She said “From doing the things I love, Douglas!  I swim at the Y nearly everyday and I have my friends & church family, they keep me very busy!”

Karen, you are and shall remain in my most heartfelt prayers.