To know her is to love her


No, this isn't a story about Charlotte, though she really wanted to tell it. She's still trying to work up a good argument. But the truth is that I was there and so I really need to tell it. The characters are all friends who once worked together. And as you'll see, this is a story about love . . . 

Chapter 1 - Renie Rae is dying

It hurts like crazy, and I'm having a hard time with it. I can't imagine that anyone who knows Renie isn't. To know her is to love her. To know her is to be loved by her. She's quite remarkable that way. She quite remarkable in many ways.

Among her gifts is this: She writes the way an angel sings. Lyrical, effortless, buoyant. She once lived in a cabin by a lake. I got over my fear of still water there, sitting in an big black inner tube, my feet and bottom skimming the surface of the cool water, my head resting on the inflated ring, just soaking in the summer sky and whispering trees. Reading Renie's prose feels like that. It carries you, mesmerizes you.

Renie has written a novel, a picaresque novel. Others who have written in this tradition are Cervantes with Don Quixote and Twain with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I don't say this lightly: Renie's work is a classic. One day you'll have the opportunity to read it. I hope you seize it.

Chapter 2 - Jacqueline gets an idea

Jacqueline came to see me as soon as she learned about Renie's diagnosis, a rare cancer that invaded her liver and grew lumps there, an inoperable cancer with limited treatment options. Cure was not one of them.

We sat in my yard, speechless.

Then Jacqueline asked me what I'd do if I found out I had terminal cancer. I can't remember what I said, but I do recall that she looked at me like I was nuts and said: "Wouldn't you want to publish your book?"

I have a speculative fiction novel in the works and Jacqueline is completing an amazing memoir. I'm stalled out. Jacqueline is on fire. I could see an idea germinating, and when Jacqueline gets an idea, something big is about to happen. 

It did.

Chapter 3 - Hospice

The past few weeks have not been good ones for Renie. She hasn't been able eat or drink much, and her body has grown weaker and weaker. The time came for her to make a decision about whether to go for intense medical intervention, which would essentially make her radioactive and untouchable. Or not. Renie chose not.

Hospice care began last week. I had the good sense to answer the phone last Thursday, when Renie's beau, Ben, called. He asked if I could sit with her that afternoon, which I did. I hadn't seen her since she told her story at Common Ground Meditation Center one chilly evening earlier this year. You'd never have known how sick she was then. As always, she glowed.

She was still glowing last week -- in spite of the weight loss, the exhaustion, the pain, the waiting. She drifted in and out of sleep. And when she spoke, her voice was tired and fading. There was no mistaking it: Our beloved friend was dying.

I called Jacqueline.

Chapter 4 - Jacqueline, Nancy, and Eileen pull an allnighter

Jacqueline had seen our friend a month earlier, when the two brainstormed about how to get Renie's novel published. My name came up as someone who might be part of a team whose combined energies could take up where Renie's was slipping away.

Now, slippage was happening faster than we expected. And Jacqueline's idea was born.

Jacqueline started making calls. I tracked down contact information for Nancy and Eileen, two graphic artists who had also been part of the crew that once worked together years and years ago. Jacqueline called and Nancy instantly agreed to design the cover. Eileen, hundreds of miles away, took the inside pages, some 300 of them. Kinko's did the printing and binding. Nancy and Jacqueline checked a "press" proof at 4:30 am at Kinko's. And by 10 am, 16 "limited editions" of Renie's book were printed. 

Renie didn't know yet.

Chapter 5 - The author gives her blessing

Via e-mail, text, and phone calls, Jacqueline "convened" the team of 13 people who were committed to seeing Renie's book published. It occurred to me that we should seek Renie's blessing on this endeavor. So I made a little scroll with words to that effect and listed the names of "Team Renie, The Book Edition."

Ben, a mighty protector who has faithfully guarded Renie's need for rest and quiet, arranged for Jacqueline and me to bring the books and our request to her. Jacqueline carried into Renie's room a tower of soft-bound books, while I followed with the scroll, a book of poetry, and a candle. 

The look on Renie's face when she saw her manuscript in true book form simply defies description. I can say the room seemed to expand with light. At first, I don't think Renie realized her novel was actually inside the covers.

And then she opened it.

Ben was trying his best to hook up her hydration IV when Renie's tears came. She, with her wry sense of humor, pointed out the irony. And we laughed. Jacqueline noted that the novel had the most beautiful love-making scene she'd ever read. And we laughed so more.

When the guffawing slowed, I brought out the scroll, we lit the candle, and I choked my way through the reading of the official request for Renie's blessing to allow us get pursue publishing her book. She looked stunned. I suggested she might like to respond.

"Abso (expletive deleted) lutely," she said.

She didn't have the strength to sign the copies, so we asked if she'd touch each team member's book and bless it. I read a name, Jacqueline handed her a book, and Renie lovingly pressed each limited edition to her heart and spoke her blessing. Margie, her friend from college, wrote down the words and placed them in each book she was handed.

We all needed hydration by the time Renie blessed the last book -- for her son, Noah.

Chapter 6 - What will come

Team Renie, The Book Edition, will meet as a book group in January. We will discuss the novel of our beloved author and divvy up assignments.

In the meantime, we will continue our love vigil for a beautiful woman whose luminous spirit has filled and broken our hearts for good.

Blessed be.

Chapter 1 & 2 image by Kathleen Kimball-Baker
Chapter 3 Image by notsogoodphotography
Chapter 4 Image by elyunque
Chapter 5 Image by nancysmets
Chapter 6 image by Oliver Beattie


Derrick said…
Hi Kathleen,

What a beautiful thing you have all done for your friend. I can imagine how much love you were all passing to and fro and how much Renie will apreciate your efforts. You have a special book from a special lady.
Sandi McBride said…
How lucky you all are to have known a beautiful spirit like lucky she is to have such a bon voyage party as you are throwing her...the words "semper fi" couldn't fit more beautifully if they tried.
I hope we will all be able to read Renie's book
Gail said…
You are honoring a wonderful person. What a beautiful idea.
Alix said…
Oh sweet Kathleen,

Thank you for this post and for letting us know more of the story of Renie. I hope there will be many more chapters, but it appears not.

You are a wonderful friend. Renie is surrounded by wonderful friends. I love how you love each other and I would be proud to be among you.

Your post really touched my heart. Made it weep and sing at the same time.
Oh my God, Kathleen. I am awed by your strength...all of you. I am so honored to know and have known you and several of these women. Thank you for bringing them, even briefly, into my life before and now again with your words. Wow.
Rudee said…
What a beautiful act of love, Kathleen. It's so much better when we honor those we love before they've left this earth.
Joycee said…
Your post today broke my heart but lifted me up. You have been so lucky to have the very best of friends in your life, and she was so very blessed to know you.
ellen abbott said…
What an incredible last gift to a beloved friend, an incredible act of love. What an incredible woman Renie must be to inspire that kind of love and devotion from her friends.
Janie said…
That was a wonderful tribute to an inspirational woman. The gift of her work in book form obviously meant a lot to her, and to all of you. I'm so glad you and your friends were able to make it happen.
Joanna said…
It is indeed about love. What an act of love and true friendship the creation of this book was. It is such a wonderful way to honor your friend's life and expression.
♥ Boomer ♥ said…
So touching. Just so touching. Angels around you.
Kathleen said…
Sweet, sweet friends,

Thank you for reading my story. I am so honored that you did -- and that you left such compassionate comments. I can't begin to tell you what gift Renie has given us by turning over her life's work. And that after years and years of being such a paragon of love and humor and humanity. I hope to write a personal response to each of you this coming weekend.


Gaston Studio said…
What a heartbreaking yet uplifting and beautiful commitment you and the others have made to Renie. Sending prayers her way.
So sorry for your loss, yet so happy that you both shared a beautiful friendship. That's a true gift. Much love to you and yours.
Grace Albaugh said…
Oh Kathleen, how excruciatingly beautiful. I lift all of you up. Know you are supported and loved even by those you have never met.
All of you.
Hilary said…
What a beautiful gift of love and friendship you and your friends have given to your dear Renie. I'm so sorry for the circumstances but so heartened to read such a beautiful, touching story. You're a wonderful friend.
Lydia said…
This is such a moving post about a transcendent experience. Epic.....yet simple tale of friendship, love, and loss.
gaelikaa said…
A remarkable post. Congrats on POTW mention...
Gaston Studio said…
Congrats on POTW from Hilary!
Sandi McBride said…
Congrats on Post of the Week mention...happy happy for your honor!
smiles4u said…
I am sorry about your loss. How beautiful what you all did with and for Renie. This is a wonderful post...very much worthy of POTW.
Kathleen said…
Thank you, Hillary, for sending new friends my way with the POTW shout out. To all here for the first time, welcome! I hope you'll find time to linger a bit. If you've left a comment and have an email account listed your profile, I'll be responding to your kind comments directly. For those who prefer anonymity, my most sincere thank you for taking time to read this post. It's still such a tender time . . .and I have so much more to say about my dear friend.
Brian Miller said…
smiles. i love how you love each other. really a beautiful post and congrats on the POTW!
Dianne said…
I had to sit quietly with this for a spell, it is so full of all the love I wish for the world

beautiful beyond my ability to express
J said…
I can't believe I missed this post the first time round. You are doing an awesome thing for your friend, and a memorial of her that will continue to spread her name and legacy.

Thank you as well for nominating me.
Julie B. said…
Wow, what a truly touching post and a wonderful story of friendship.
blunoz said…
Beautifully written post, and a moving tribute to Renie. Well deserved POTW recognition.
Finding Pam said…
You and your friends have expressed the truest form of love in your kind acts for your friend.
Jill said…
Oh this is so beautiful and full of love. My heart hurts for you that you must say goodbye to such a dear one.

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