I hope this is appropriate. It’s not exactly the type of thing you call a grieving family to discuss. But because she’s one of my biggest fans, this is the only way I can say goodbye.
Karen Marie Rolstad died at 11:11 am on Sunday. She was originally diagnosed with endometrial cancer in April and due to other complications that diminished her health, she chose to die under the Death with Dignity Law in Washington state at the age of 74. She was surrounded by family and friends and is survived by her partner Jan of 38 years and their retired show dogs Mario and Tomas.
Karen is the reason I advise young journalists to respond to their readers.
Nearly a decade ago Karen wrote me the simplest email asking to meet. She didn’t want much, just to talk to me about the Storm and my writing. Karen thought I was a fine writer, probably to the annoyance of my former editor Cathy Henkel and current sports editor Don Shelton — the recipients of emails wanting more flattering pictures of the players and better space for stories of the only modern-day champion in Seattle. She’s a ferocious reader, so I was constantly flattered at my inclusion in her notes.
Karen loved the Storm and its example of strong female role models playing a sport Jan, the athletic one of the two, could never dream of doing because of the era they lived. The three of us met at places like Cafe Flora, Coastal Kitchen and B&O Espresso to talk. The favorite spot was Racha Noodle & Thai Cuisine in Queen Anne. Karen always carried lists of questions and sometimes books for me to read on little strips of paper. This was in addition to the email exchanges we had about life and the team. And infrequent chats at games. Until recently, Karen and Jan owned Storm season-tickets diagonally from press row. She was easy to spot because of her pouf of white hair and old school BluBlockers to protect from the KeyArena lighting.
It’s odd that in gutting my home of clutter this fall the one list I kept was Karen’s suggestion to read the book “On Death and Dying” by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross M.D. I did, only it was way before Karen’s diagnosis. On that list, she also wanted to know about the 2004 Storm championship celebration and rings, my fascination with Miss America and Miss World beauty pageants (an apparent lesbian contradiction), my book (which she rivaled my mother for most copies purchased) and why Phoenix was not better with Diana Taurasi among other things.
We’d never make it through Karen’s entire list, so we’d follow up later only to still get caught up in laughing and other stories. I loved her and our Ladies Lunches. I loved hearing about the history of the region, her talent playing the piano and mostly that she and Jan were such a wonderful example of the type of long-lasting, pure love I knew up close in the lesbian community.
Perhaps that’s why I can’t stop crying when I think of Karen’s death. Our state passed Referendum 74 last week to legalize same-sex marriages. I’ve talked to other “fans” about how they plan to marry after 23, 30 years. I’ll make mine legal, too, in December. But I’m so sorry Karen and Jan can’t do the same.
Yes, my parents have been married for 43 years and are a beautiful example of love. But Karen and I joked that she was truly my fairy Godmother, helping me through the final stages of coming out. I knew it in my heart, yet Karen and Jan’s love for each other was an additional example that even lesbians can love, care and be together until death.
I’m so happy Karen and Jan met my then-intended Kim over a Thai lunch. Karen adoring the term we chose for each other and talking about Mustangs with Kim. Karen once owned a red 1965 version that resembled one parked outside the window where we sat.
Karen and Jan RSVP’d to attend our ceremony in September 2011, but couldn’t make it to Chelan. Of course they sent us a book, “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson, as our wedding gift.
Bigger than that, though, is that even through chemo and other aliments that doctors continued to find, Karen still read. Her last email to me was Sept. 30, timestamped at 7:42 pm from the iPad everyone contributed $10 apiece to buy for Karen’s 74th birthday in June. The email was titled “GO STORM” with four exclamation marks. Seattle defeated Minnesota in Game 2 in the opening-round of the WNBA playoffs that night. Karen, Jan and surely the boys watched on television.
“Hi Jayda, We are watching the game on tv and were pleased to see you at work. Hope your life is going smoothly. Just wanted to say hi to you and Kim. Hugs. Peace and Love, Karen”
Those visions warmed my heart as well as ones of the couple reading my stories aloud over breakfast when Karen was healthy. And the fact that Kim and I did have the chance to sit with Karen over dinner in June while she was at a nursing center. It was my last time seeing her. Hugging her. Hearing her laugh. Spotting The Seattle Times sports page with a Storm story on the cover laying on the bed.
I miss our lunches and I already miss Karen so much. I wish her well wherever she is now and hope she continues to read.
Thank you so much for reading.