Monday, May 30, 2016

Remembering Kathryn

On Saturday, a large crowd gathered at our church to remember our dear friend Dr. Kathryn Nelson Magarian. We were heartened (but not surprised) to see how many came, many from far away, to celebrate the life of a much beloved soul. Kathryn was one of those rare people who literally radiated joy and positivity. She beamed, often, with a room-lighting smile and a voice near song that made you feel like the most special person in the world, and she had the gift of making everyone feel special. When she met you, she would say that she was so glad to meet you, or so glad to see you, and she said it in a way that was so genuine and so not an automatic pleasantry that the words would strike you fresh, like you'd never heard them that way before, and you'd think "wow, she really is glad to see me!" At the end of church services, a crowd would always gather around her regular pew in the front-left, and her caregiver would have to wait patiently, as everyone wanted to spend a little time with Kathryn.

George and I first got to know her in 2008, when some mutual friends asked if we could give her a ride to their wedding in Redlands. Kathryn suffered from a degeneration of the cerebellum that gave her tremors and had made her unable to drive herself any longer. We were happy to oblige, and of course a long car ride can be a great way to get to know someone. She had lived a very full life and was full of great stories. She was recently retired from a 37-year career as a pediatrician at the White Memorial Hospital, having started as a legal secretary and then putting herself through med school in her thirties. She had traveled the world and been on great adventures, including hunting wild game in Africa (for the sake of spending quality time with her father, though she had the game trophies in her home to prove it). But as much as she had done and seen, she was also a great listener and eager to know all about us. At the end of that day, we knew we had made a great new friend.

There's an adage that one way to judge someone on a date is to see how they treat the waiter. Kathryn's contagious joy in people extended to everyone, and that was very clear if you ever took her to a restaurant that she had frequented before. All the staff would light up to see her, because they would all remember her, and she remembered them, often by name, knew their stories, asked about their families. Everyone was special to her, and made to feel special. In recent years, when she was spending more time in the hospital, it was the same story there. It was clear that all the nurses and staff had a special affection for Dr. Kathryn. At her memorial, Dr. Beth Zachary, the CEO of Adventist Health Southern California Region, spoke about how it was difficult just to move Kathryn around in the hospital, because they couldn't get very far down any hallway before they'd run into someone she had cared for as a doctor, and they'd light up to see her, and she'd light up to see them, remembering their names, their stories, their families, like they were the most special person in the world. As this remembrance was shared, hundreds of us smiled and nodded knowingly, having seen it ourselves.

Her radiant joy was a miracle in itself, but it was all the more amazing when I think about the great hardships she faced in her life. I'd mentioned the debilitating cerebellar degeneration. Recurrent cancers were piled on top of that. And she endured other brutal non-medical hardships I won't detail. She had more cause than most anyone to complain or to question her faith, and yet she did not do either. She remained unceasingly faithful in God, and unfailingly joyful in life. This loving woman, who probably would have loved to have had children of her own, was not given that. Yet when asked if she had children, she would reply with no sorrow and a genuine bright smile, "I was a pediatrician for 37 years, I have hundreds of children." And she adopted more as she went. We felt like she adopted us. That was just her nature to see the positive in everything, to find some cause for joy in each day, and to share it. Our world is a bit dimmer now without her light in it. She was an inspiration, and I hope I can honor her memory by striving to find joy in everything and share it with those around me.