Be joyful even though you have considered all the facts...practice resurrection. -Wendell Berry

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"e" for Erin

My history with Mary and Dave and their family goes way back to when we were young parents. When we first became neighbors they had two children, we had two. We each added two more children to our families. Mary and I were pregnant together for our last babies.  Their Erin and our Gretta, born just a few months apart, were very good buddies as little girls. Our families had picnics together, suppers, ate donuts, walked around the block together, went to the zoo, had big wheel parades, picked pumpkins in the fall, sat on our porches together, shared hard times and such fun, fun times. We all grew up together. When we moved east in 1996, we promised to stay in touch, and for the most part, we did. Sometimes better than others.

But three years ago, when Erin was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, we were all stunned. We reconnected in a new way, and I wanted to be neighbors again, so, so badly. Now, years after we had moved away, I felt the awful vulnerability that this sort of diagnosis brings. I wanted to bring dinner over, I wanted to run errands, I wanted to make things better. So, cards and e-mails, prayers and a shawl had to substitute.

Last winter, Gretta and I went to visit with Erin and her family, on our way to look at colleges in the midwest. It was a quick, but joyful visit.

Erin's amazingly courageous fight with cancer ended this past December 18th, she was buried just two days before Christmas. Unable to get out to her funeral, I wanted to come visit as soon as I could. After my board meetings in Indiana, I flew to Chicago and spent these past four days with Mary, Dave, their sweet dog, Keenan and the memory of beloved Erin.

How much can you pack into a few days? So many conversations, punctuated with tears, laughter, and memories. A walk at night in the snowfall, a visit to Erin's beautiful, peaceful grave site (under the boughs of a pine tree), a walk in the woods on a bright, sunny day, a visit with Chris, (Erin's sweet oldest brother), word games, dinners by candlelight, sharing favorite movies, reading articles about Erin's volleyball career and the inspiration she brought to others when she was no longer able to play,  and looking at cards sent by friends and family. I got to know Erin better...her courage, her steadfast faith, her determination to  be just a normal teen, and the way she inspired so, so many people with her uncomplaining ways.

And on Tuesday night, Mary, Dave and I did something together that we will remember forever, and I'm guessing, somehow, Erin knew what we were up to. Dave had Erin's volleyball  number "8" tattooed on his wrist and Mary and I had a lower case "e" for Erin tattooed on our wrists.  The whole experience at the tattoo parlor was amazing...both hysterical (three white, middle aged, suburban folk getting tattooes together???) and spiritual, and the four of us are now connected in a new and very special way. On the way home on the plane, I had an epiphany that the "e" is also a reminder to me that "every day is a blessing". (Thank you, Erin).
I am so deeply grateful for this visit. It has helped me to grieve, to reconnect with dear friends and to be changed by the life of one extraordinary young woman. Thank you, Mary and Dave, for sharing your sweet Erin with me, even now.

Rest in peace, dearest Erin, rest in peace.


  1. A wonderful way to remember her.

  2. Karen, what a sad and yet uplifting story. Thinking of your friends and your own family tonight.

  3. Oh, my dear sweet friend - ever in my heart.

  4. oh gosh, tears. beautiful. so so sorry.
    love the tatoos. sweet and holy.

  5. I love you all and am thankful for a such a great friend and now inspiration. Sometimes it's hard to deal with the injustice of it all.

  6. I am so sorry Karen. I had created a small "altar" for Erin, with her photo, and a few sacred, special objects. I would infuse it with loving energy from time to time.
    The number 8 - sideways is infinity.
    Love, Linda

  7. Last week I learned that Gypsy's had a saying: "You're not dead until the last person that knew you has died." Erin will live for a long time yet in all of you who knew & loved her. So glad you and your friends had that chance to process your grief. Love the tatoo!

  8. Very powerful; thank you for sharing.

  9. I'm so sorry. Erin has left a big hole in all of your lives. What a beautiful way to continue to remember her.


  10. Hi Karen. Thanks for visiting my blog. You have a lovely place here. This post is well said. So sorry for your loss. The "e" tattoo is so subtle yet powerful. Best Regards to you. Maribeth

  11. Your mom had told me about your visit with Erin's family, Karen. Such a moving story and what a connection you all have now, as you did before, but a your "e" keeps this dear girl even closer.
    I'm so sorry for her family and yours.

  12. This is such a beautiful story. I really had to smile at the fact of you three getting tattoos together too! I'm sure Erin's smiling up above!!

  13. Mrs. Reed,

    I taught myself a lesson today. Don't read two blogs about Erin in a span of 5 mins....Wowza! After I returned from the bathroom at work (that's were I go to vent/cry if a conference room isn't empty), I read your blog again, and again, and again. I am so glad that you had a few days to visit and I wish I could have been there to see you. Our last visit with you and Gretta was so fun! It is friends like you that help my Mom not only land, but stay on 2 feet everyday. I am extremely thankful for your friendship with my Mom and the support you have given her and my Dad throughout these past 3 yrs even though there are a few states between you. It's the phone calls, conversations and emails that help keep us going everyday. I am continuously amazed by the support our family is getting. I love the tattoos! I get great comments about mine too! I hope to see you sometime soon!

    Thanks again :)

    Sarah Potts

  14. How sweet, and sad, and i did have to laugh through my tears at the image of the three of you in the tattoo parlor together.

  15. As you age & veins become more prominent, your "e" can also be the center letter of Yes - Yes to life
    - Yes to truth
    - Yes to love

    “Just as Long as I Have Breath”

    Words by Alicia S. Carpenter (1930- )
    Music by Johann G. Ebeling (1637-1676)

    Just as long as I have breath, I must answer, “Yes,” to life;
    though with pain I made my way, still with hope I meet each day.
    If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, “Yes,” to life.

    Just as long as vision lasts, I must answer, “Yes,” to truth;
    in my dream and in my dark, always: that elusive spark.
    If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, “Yes,” to truth.

    Just as long as my heart beats, I must answer, “Yes,” to love;
    disappointment pierced me through, still I kept on loving you.
    If they ask what I did best, tell them I said, “Yes,” to love.

  16. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post on True Friendship, True Love and True Life...
    Sending Blessings,