We’ve had about two weeks worth of stories, testimonials and tributes to our dear friend Karen DeLabar. But we’re not done yet. There are two more sleeps until the submission deadline to have your short stories considered for the Orange Karen Anthology. As we near Day 15, we hear from a long-time friend of Karen’s, Susi Nonnemacher. She speaks of Karen’s resilience and her ability to see the glass half-full and live life through laughing. Enjoy, friends.
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When my brother was a sophomore in high school, he was the head Winkie in our high school’s production of “the Wizard of Oz”. This was perfect for my brother, who is great a doing the straight-faced, monotone, creepy voice the role required without cracking so much as a smile.
I was 22 at the time, moved home from Florida in the midst of the preparations for the show. I remember picking my brother up from rehearsal one day when he told me that his goal was to make one of the characters playing opposite him laugh on stage during a performance. He went on to tell me that this young woman was awesome, a natural actor who could just roll with the punches, no matter what happened–until he came on stage.
Toward the end of the show, after Dorothy throws the water on the witch, my brother’s character had the line, “She’s dead. You killed her.” There was something about the way he said it that made this young actress burst out laughing. The more she laughed, the more serious his tone became–it became a game to him.
Fast forward several years, and I was out with some friends from my community theatre. Karen is sitting across from me, and asks how my brother is doing. I didn’t realize they knew each other (my brother is a couple of years younger than her), so she proceeded to tell me about how he made her laugh on stage every time they rehearsed that scene.
I love this story not only because Karen and my brother are two of my favorite people, but also because it focuses on Karen’s awesome laugh. When she laughs her whole face lights up. She doesn’t hold back, and you can always tell it is genuine. As my husband put it, her laugh is contagious–it makes you want to join in, even if you didn’t hear the joke. (For those who haven’t had a chance to see this first-hand, check out this video from her blog, posted last Christmas).
When I think of Karen, I think of someone who is happy, someone who embraces life, and someone who loves to laugh. I had a lot of pictures to choose from for this post, and I can honestly say that she is laughing in the majority of them. 🙂
I am lucky to only live a mile and a half from Karen. We went to the same high school, and did our first play together in 1996, when I was a high school senior and she was in eighth grade. I had the privilege of calling her my friend prior to us jumping into the writing world, and am thrilled to continue that friendship in the years since.
Living so close meant that I was able to go to the hospital the day after she came out of ICU. I have to admit, I was nervous walking into the hospital. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew her body had been through hell, and I was prepared for the worst.
As I was walking toward her room, I heard her laugh dancing through the halls as I was still several rooms away. I stopped, right there in the hall, and cried. The friend who had come with me looked at me and asked what was wrong. My response? “She’s going to be OK.”
Until that point, I knew she was doing better. I had heard the stories of her fighting off nurses while in a coma; I knew she wasn’t giving up any time soon. But, there was something about hearing her laugh that just made it all click… she was going to get through this. That’s not to say that it has been easy, or that it has been all laughter. It certainly hasn’t ,as anyone who knows her has seen. But, in spite of everything that happened, just days after waking from ten days in a coma, she was laughing.
In the months since, I have seen Karen struggle at times, but her spirit was never totally broken. Within minutes of a pain attack, she was back to cracking jokes and joining in on the laughter. She is an amazing friend who, in spite of all that has gone on, is always there for others, ready to give a hug or draw out a smile.
I am so excited that Karen and I will both be returning to the stage this year in “Annie,” along with some awesome friends. I continue to be amazed at her recovery, and her excitement at jumping headfirst into her life. As I look to the coming year, I look forward to Karen and I sharing many more girls’ nights, long rehearsals with entertaining friends, support and encouragement as we keep working toward our writing goals, and, most of all, a whole lot of laughter.
Susi M. Nonnemacher is devoted wife who finds time to write between community theater and church choir rehearsals, minor league baseball games, baking batches of cookies, trying out new Pinterest-inspired crafts, and juggling more loads of laundry than any two people should be able to produce. You can find more about her at http://smnonnemacher.com or follow @smnonnemacher on Twitter.