Do It Myself Blog – Glenda Watson Hyatt

Motivational Speaker

A Day for Remembering Karen

Filed under: Living with a disability — by at 12:37 pm on Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Saturday, while working on my next presentation, I began tearing up. I felt the strong presence of my childhood friend Karen Greening. She had passed away years ago the Tuesday morning after the May long weekend. Doing the math, I realized it is twenty-five years ago today. Twenty-five years? How is that possible?

Karen was a few years older than me. She had severe cerebral palsy – she didn’t have any purposeful movement in her limbs, which were in constant motion, and she had no verbal communication. But she had beautiful blue eyes and a big smile.
We met when Mom began teaching Karen’s special ed class. Mom taught these non-verbal kids to communicate using Bliss symbols. Using a headstick, Karen was able to communicate, in a limited way, by pointing to the grid of Bliss symbols fastened to her wheelchair tray. She was also able to type, in the same manner, on a Smith Corona typewriter. It was painfully slow, but it was one of the few things she could do on her own.

Before the homework began piling on for me, I frequently took the school bus home with her on Friday afternoons to spend the weekend with Karen. It was the only time I had chocolate milk – such a treat! Mrs. Greening became my second mom.

Communicating was interesting; the two of us didn’t have lengthy, nonsensical chats. I couldn’t easily decipher a head shake from a head nod, so I had her roll her eyes for no, which she was great at doing. Like she understood Glenda-ish any better! Simply being together and watching television was often enough.

At some point, Mr. Greening built an in-ground pool in their large backyard. Strapped to an inner tube, the pool was the one place that Karen could experience independent mobility. She loved splashing about.

On summer days, Mom drove me and my three brothers over to the Greenings to spend the day in their pool. Karen loved watching the antics of the three boys. They kept her entertained. Spending the day with her was a good way to break up the boredom and loneliness that we both experienced during the summers.

Once I began high school, I rarely had a weekend free from homework. Time spent with Karen was limited to a get-together at Christmas and pool days during the summer. I felt like I was living two lives: my able-bodied life at a regular high school and my disabled life with Karen and horseback riding for the disabled, and the two lives hardly ever intersected.

In my first year of Grade 12, Karen, in her early twenties, was experiencing complications due to her scoliosis. Because of her back curvature, her food wasn’t digesting properly. Every night when Mrs. Greening put her to bed, she vomited. This lasted for months. Karen was scheduled for surgery to have a Harrington rod inserted to straighten her spine – a complicated yet standard procedure for people with limited mobility.

I vaguely recall both families getting together at Christmastime, 1983. Then Mom heard from Mrs. G a couple of times, saying Karen’s surgery date had been postponed yet again. Karen still wasn’t keeping much food down.

The next call came the Tuesday morning after the Victoria Day long weekend, while we were getting ready for school. That was highly unusual because our phone never rang that early. I immediately knew something was wrong. Mom told us the news once she hung up the phone.

Karen had had the surgery and had pulled through okay. She had even sat up a bit in the hospital bed. But, then, that morning she went into cardiac arrest. She didn’t pull through. She died

Understandably, I was quite upset with just losing friend. But, for some unknown reason, my family didn’t stop for death. Off to school I went, in shock and dazed. I told one friend about Karen’s death. With my Grad Banquet and Dance that Friday, the week was one hell of an emotional rollercoaster ride for me.

After that Tuesday morning, Karen wasn’t spoken of much again. Her parents, my second mom, were never heard from again, and there was no mention of a funeral or a memorial service. But I didn’t forget her. I know she is one of my guardian angels.

Over time I tried rationalizing that Karen became tired with needing everything done for her and she moved on to a place where she could experience complete freedom.

Then, while learning about anorexia in my psychology courses at university, I wondered if her nightly vomiting had the same effect on her body as an eating disorder would have had. Her heart wasn’t strong enough to withstand the surgical assault on her weakened body.

Now, I am thinking perhaps the reason why she died is a bit of both – or something else I yet to understand.

Whatever the reason for her death, Karen is never too far my thoughts, as is Chris – a family friend killed by a drunk driver, but that is another story. Today is Karen’s day to be remembered.

I have often wondered how Karen would have benefitted with all of this current technology. With head switches, onscreen keyboards, scanning software and so much more, what would she be capable of? Would there be a means to release all of her thoughts, opinions and ideas trapped within her beautiful head? Isn’t it ironic yet amazing how personal capability is dependent upon the current state of technology?

Karen, thank you for being one of my guardian angels. I remember you and feel your presence often.

Karen Greening, I speak your name. 

If you enjoyed this post, consider buying me a chai tea latte. Thanks kindly.

Related Posts



Comment by Kimm

May 19, 2009 @ 1:07 pm

I’m sure she is looking over you and is your guardian angel.

That’s surprising that there was no way to say farewell.

Comment by Kelly Bouchard

May 19, 2009 @ 1:10 pm


Thank you for sharing such a beautiful, memorable tribute and introducing us to Karen Greening, your Guardian Angel.

Sending Love and Hugs to you,

Comment by Dorian aka coffeesister |_|)

May 20, 2009 @ 12:34 am

I too love Karen for you shared her well.. & so it is that 25 years later you’ve said farewell. The time doesn’t matter, nor do the answers, for what’s timeless & true is her impact on you. Thank God she was there to help you transition from one world to the other.

Karen Greening, we’re glad you visited this plane & thank you for continuing to watch over our friend & inspiration, Glenda.

“To live in hearts we leave behind
Is not to die.” ~ Thomas Campbell, Hallowed Ground

Comment by Eileen Foster

May 20, 2009 @ 3:23 am


Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about your friend, Karen.


Comment by Joanna Young

May 20, 2009 @ 4:35 am

Glenda, what a beautiful piece about your friend. I love the quote that Dorian shared… that’s how it made me feel too, on reading this piece.


Comment by Karen Greening Smith

October 10, 2009 @ 6:40 am

What a surprise, when i googled my name and found my facebook, etc and then, found another Karen Greening! What a beautiful person. The irony, is, my mother named me karen because of a book she read while pregnant with me, called ‘Karen”. about a girl with cp. I read it when I was 13, and she was also another wonderful Karen with such as strong spirit. I have tried to be like her. I’m 56 years old and married a wonderful man named Tim Smith. When I married, I took my maiden name as my middle namee as I wanted my old friends to be able to find me, so I’ve always been karen Greening Smith. Thanks for sharing about her.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>