Yesterday, Tim Queeney wrote about an unspoken connection with his father and the ties that brought them together. Today, Janelle Jensen talks about a very special long-distance connection that turned into a deep and loving friendship. One with a certain Orange Warrior. Have a box of kleenex handy. Oh, and before your eyes get too watery, remember that the deadline for the short story anthology submission is coming up on December 15th! Submission guidelines are here for you to read. But first, a post from the lovely Janelle Jensen.
Oh, one more thing, our good friend Troy Aaron Ratliff, writer, photographer and artist extraordinaire has created a few “Orange” products with proceeds going to Orange Karen and her medical costs. The amazingness that is his Zazzle site can be found here. The coasters, water bottle and laptop sleeve would all make fantastic Christmas presents!
P.S. Happy birthday, Janelle!!
The Family We Make for Ourselves
Oftentimes on our birthdays (Yes, it’s mine today. Be kind.), we look back at all the year has brought us. These things may be good, bad, or simply change from what used to be. I am thankful for many things that this year has brought me, but one thing stands out above the rest. Friends.
I have met many wonderful people on Twitter and Facebook, most of whom are part of the writing groups that I belong to. It’s an amazing community of people for which I am most grateful.
I was lucky enough to be able to meet some of those people in person this year. After many conversations through online chatting, texts, and phone calls, I was able to finally meet the stunning Karen DeLabar in person at the end of May. Okay, so maybe I stalked her first and invited myself over to go see a concert together, but that’s semantics.
That weekend brought good music, great laughter, and bound our friendship even closer. I mean c’mon, if I took your dog out in the morning you’d love me too! Jennifer Gracen also came out that weekend to spend time with us, so I had the pleasure of meeting her for the first time in person, as well.
I couldn’t have been happier. We were already making plans to return at the end of June to celebrate Karen’s 30th birthday, in grand New York City style. I drove home from Pennsylvania that weekend with a heart full of joy.
This photo was taken at the Flogging Molly concert with Karen and her husband, Eric on May 24th. I never could have guessed what would happen next.
Ten days later, on June 4th, Karen started feeling ill with a high fever and severe body pain. She texted me saying that she couldn’t stay to watch her daughter dance because she was so sick. She went to the ER the next day, where they treated her symptoms and sent her home. When she started feeling worse instead of better, Eric took her back to the ER to figure out what was going on and get her feeling better.
By June 6th, Karen had been admitted to the hospital. Overnight they put her on a ventilator and a dozen lines as her body and system began to shut down. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Our own bright, vivacious redhead who went to the gym nearly every day, who was so full of spirit, who I had just spent a fabulous weekend with, was now lying in a medically induced coma on a hospital bed in the ICU fighting for her life.
I was devastated. I cried, I screamed, I swore, I prayed. It is never easy when something like this happens to someone, whether you know them personally or not. When it happens to someone that you truly love and is a soulful and kindred sister of the heart, it destroys you.
As the team of doctors fought to save Karen’s life, her friends rallied around her. We sent out call to arms for positivity and prayers to be sent to her. People who didn’t even know Karen started praying for her. Her room was flooded by get well cards that we were able to fill out and send to her via the hospital’s network. Which I still believe is beyond amazing – hear me, hospitals? You need to ALL do this!
Eric quickly stepped up and became our lifeline. I will forever be thankful to this man, this incredible man who let us know throughout the day how Karen was doing and what was going on. Eric was there for Karen every day, every hour, every minute, showing us all what a real man is made of. He has earned a special place in my heart. Forever.
It would get scarier before it got better, but our girl is a fighter. We don’t call her the Orange Warrior for nothing. Think Cheetos, not hair color. Anyone that tries to punch a nurse for not taking out the ventilator is most definitely a fighter. Finally, on June 14th our girl came back to us. They took her off the vent, reduced her pain meds, and allowed her to wake up.
When I got her short text message on June 16, I completely lost it. Broke down and bawled on the couch before I jumped up and shouted for joy. My friend was BACK!
Our plans to celebrate Karen’s birthday may have been changed, but there was nothing in the world that could have stopped me from seeing her that weekend. If I had to crawl on my hands and knees all the way to PA, I was going to be there. I would have had to leave earlier, but I would have made it. Amy Thompson Weaver and I traveled from our homes to the home of Jennifer Gracen, where we all hugged each other, cried, and rejoiced that Karen had fought her way out of darkness. There may have been wine involved, as well.
We all piled in the car, made a few lost turns, and eventually made it to Karen’s bedside where we all broke down and cried on her. I don’t think the fact that we couldn’t stop touching her to make sure she was sitting there in front of us put her off. Too much.
The road to recovery has not been an easy one for her. In fact, it is now the beginning of December, six months later, and she still battles it every day. She went through sixty hyperbaric chamber treatments to restore tissue and blood flow back to her extremities, she goes to therapy to restore function and movement to her hands and feet, and now she is finally back in the gym that she loves trying to gain back the physical strength that she lost.
Luckily, she only lost a pinky toe. And really, who needs a pinky toe? More room for stiletto shoes! And she is right now in the process of undergoing several surgeries to replace and reconstruct the damaged, dead tissue on her thumb. Otherwise, she made it back to her adoring husband and two precious girls, the family she fought so hard to get back to, her driving force to return to life.
Her passion for life continues every day. Of course, she’s human just like the rest of us. She has good days and bad days. There are days when the physical pain is overwhelming from her body still trying to recover. But her positive attitude always triumphs.
On Thanksgiving, I told her the one thing I was most thankful of was that I was able to tell her Happy Thanksgiving. That she was there, on the other end of the line. That she was in my life, and in her family’s life.
As I mentioned before, the thing I am most thankful for, that this year has brought me, is friendship. I started talking with Karen on Twitter in the spring of 2011. I finally met her in person in May of 2012. This may not seem like a long time to some, when sometimes we carry our friends with us from childhood into our adult life.
However, when I met Karen, I knew. I knew right away. We were kindred spirits. I call her my sister of my heart. She is one of my best friends. I’ve known her only a few short years, and I feel like I have known her my entire life. I know that I will treasure our friendship until I’m old and wrinkled. Probably surrounded by thirty cats and twelve dogs.
But above all else, there is light. Especially now, when her Christmas decorations rival the Griswold’s (Eric’s nickname of Sparky should give you a hint) and her two adorable girls’ eyes glow at the mention of Santa, the internal light that shines out of Karen brings me to tears of joy.
Now Karen battles something else besides her health. Her medical bills. Insurance handles some of the cost, but as we all know far too well, it is not nearly enough. Especially when you spend a month laid up in the hospital and in a rehabilitation center. So now, I put forth another call to arms. A call to my fellow writers who are reading this asking what else they can do to help. I put to you a challenge, to stir up your creativity and to help a fellow writer in need at the same time.
We are collaborating on an anthology of stories by talented writers, with every single penny of the proceeds going directly to Karen and her family to aid in paying her medical bills. Where do you come in? We need writers! That’s write! Yes, that pun was intended. Remember, it’s my birthday? Be kind.
We need your fantastic minds to contribute to make this anthology a success. We need writers of all genres, no story is too great or small. Okay, yes there are guidelines. I’ll get to that. Let your story be inspired by one word – ORANGE! – and you’re set!
The writing community never fails to amaze me with their ability to band together and help a fellow friend in need. Please help us as we gather together to help one now.
Your time, your friendship, your love . . . it means the world to me. And I know it means everything to Karen DeLabar.
Find out more about our mission and the anthology!
Orange Karen: A Tribute to a Warrior
Interested in submitting for the cause? Find out how you can help!
After taking years off of writing, Janelle Jensen’s self imposed hiatus has now ended. She has fun writing flash fiction pieces, which can be found at janellejensen.com, and is hard at work writing her novel. She finds inspiration in the imagery of words, as well as through the camera she often has stuck to her face. When she is not playing with words she can often be found volunteering at a wolf research and education park, where she works with her real-life muses.