Some of you may remember Karen Hauge from her birthday, and maybe some of you were fortunate enough to have her in your lives. We were the lucky ones. In what I can only hope is the last of awful things in a very hard year, Karen passed away on October 11th. While this was not unexpected, I don’t think that knowing something is going to happen makes the actual occurrence any easier.

I last saw Karen in late September of this year. Hilda and I met up in Laurel, enjoyed a lovely autumn drive over to Big Timber, and then had a fantastic BLT at the Timber Bar. Hilda remembered that as the last place she’d eaten lunch with Karen earlier that year, and I regaled Hilda with stories of Karen and I driving from Montana to Illinois in a 1972 Ford pickup and a two-horse trailer. As we drove up Deer Creek to their house, we drank in the beauty of autumn, the vast blue of the sky and the swirl of the clouds over the Crazy Mountains, and wished that we had enough time to take the day to go hiking. Autumn in Montana is a sporadic event at best.

For a last afternoon together, I don’t think it was extraordinary. We caught up on family lore (better known as gossip) and looked through old photo albums. We came across this gem, which has 1974 written all over it. Jeff Hauge, Karen’s son, holds her beloved Sundance, and I’m aboard all cheeks and black eye. A year or two after this, I developed quite the crush on Jeff, apparently, which was likely due to his willingness to tow me around. When I think of Jeff now, however, I generally remember him juggling eggs (and then my brother, Matt, dropping said eggs on the way back to the refrigerator), for the way he clenched his tongue between his teeth when playing basketball, and how he and David Wegner would play catch on the street in front of their house. They would stand so far apart from one another, throw, and then you would wait an eternity to hear the thwack of the caught ball landing deep in the palm of their glove. And even though this photo doesn’t have Karen in it, she’s still there. She’s just behind the camera.

Sundance

I was wrong. Any time you spend with people you love is extraordinary, even if it is mistaken for mundane.

I wrote Karen’s obituary a couple of days ago, thinking even as I did that we’d never need it so quickly. Now I’m glad that I did. It’s funny how many memories come flooding back, She was a model of putting the needs of others before her own, of caring for those who could not care for themselves. She used to stop in and check on Mrs. Jones every day before work. She delivered and picked up an elderly neighbor’s dog daily because she couldn’t keep him overnight in the nursing home. She took care of more children than I can count.

Funerals aren’t for the dead, they’re for the living, but I must confess that I so wish Karen could see how many people loved her. The hardest part of all is that I never said thank you.

It’s not hard for me to see Karen looking down on us all, checking in from time to time. She’ll want to make certain that her grandchildren are doing their homework, but also that they’re reading books and riding bikes and learning to watch the skies for what shapes they can see in clouds. Karen always did see the big picture, so she’ll be there, making certain that we’ve never lost sight. She’d also remind us of this quote by John Rogers: “Anticipate joy at every moment. And always maintain a sense of gratefulness for all of your blessings.”

Thank you, Karen, for the privilege of knowing you. The honor was truly mine.