Today I’m digressing from my current series on Big Questions to talk about something much more personal – the loss of a friend and longtime supporter, Karen Morss of Emerald Hills, California.
Life, love, and longevity are much on my mind this week, as I was up in Yorkshire to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday (happy birthday, Mum!). Mum has lived a sensible life of moderation, and despite two hip replacements she is still in good health and quite capable of walking five or even seven miles at a time. I trust she will be with us, fit and active, for many years to come.
Her good fortune was brought into sharp relief by some sad news from the US. Karen Morss had been a friend of mine since 2008, when we were both featured in the same issue of the Bucks restaurant menu, a Silicon Valley institution, and were connected by our mutual friend Jamis MacNiven. Karen had planted an organic lemon orchard in her backyard, and was supplying various local businesses, including Bucks.
I was about to set out on my second attempt on the Pacific. Karen had come up with the lovely idea of naming each of her forty trees after a woman who inspired her, and honoured me with an invitation to be one of her Lemon Ladies. I spent an enjoyable afternoon at her home, painting a terracotta tile which would become the name tag for “my” tree. Over the years after that, Karen would always find a way to get some lemon marmalade and plum jam to me before each voyage, no matter where in the world I was, to augment my onboard supplies. I found many creative and delicious uses for the preserves, and it always gave me a glow to eat a bit of California sunshine and think of the kindness behind the gift.
She would also often send me a link to a news story from her iPad, and had an uncanny knack for knowing what I would find interesting.
I last saw Karen Morss at a brunch hosted by my wonderful friends, Angela Hey and John Mashey, at their home in Portola Valley, back in late October. She seemed as lively and energetic as ever, but said she hadn’t been feeling too great, so she left early.
The following day she emailed me: “It was so nice to see you both yesterday. You are both looking well. Life is agreeing with you! I’m sorry for the quick departure. I’m off to the chiropractor this morning. My back was really hurting yesterday but I really wanted to see you.”
On 9th December I pinged her an email to see how she was doing, and a couple of hours later received this reply: “I have some bad news. I’ll know more by end of the week. More tests this week. Looks like cancer has spread throughout everything.” We exchanged a few more emails, mine expressing sympathy and support, hers affectionate and positive, accompanied by emojis of hearts and lemons.
While I was up in Yorkshire last week, I realised I hadn’t heard from her in a while, so I dropped her an email. A few hours later I received this reply from Karen’s husband:
“This is Dave responding. Karen passed away December 30. Her ashes are now in the lemon orchard with the ashes of Lucy, Sophie and Tosha (their dogs)”.
It was such a shock. I had to read the message several times before I could believe it. How could somebody so alive be gone? And so swiftly?
So this blog post is my tribute to Karen Morss. All those years ago, when I wrote two versions of my own obituary – an exercise that changed my life – Karen is exactly the sort of person I would have turned to for inspiration. She lived several lifetimes in one – tech entrepreneur, pilot, flight school owner, author, lemon lady. Everything she did, she did with gusto and high standards. She did me the honour of writing an article for the very first edition of our Sisters magazine, When Lemons Give You Life, which I very much encourage you to read to get a sense of the essence of Karen.
My thoughts are especially with Dave, and with all who knew and loved Karen.
I take this sad loss as a reminder to live life to the fullest, because it is a privilege to be alive. Life should be cherished, because we never know how long we have.