Thursday, January 9, 2014

Karen Speerstra - A "Labyrinth Friend"

I met Karen Speerstra in June 2012, a serendipitous meeting.  Serendipity, one of my favorite words.  A happenstance, something you don't plan on - always good - that has the power to change your life.

I was looking for a labyrinth, and its creator, to visit in Vermont.  I checked the Worldwide Labyrinth Locator and found one in the right location, built outdoors, with a woman's name as the contact -- Heather Leavitt.  I wrote and asked if I could walk the labyrinth and hear her story about how and why she created it. She replied:

"I would love to have you come visit the labyrinth; however, it is not ready yet for visitors. I would recommend visiting later in the summer or even in the fall. I find it is beautiful in the fall.  
I will forward your email to my friend Karen, who also has an outdoor labyrinth.  She is retired, and would most likely be happy to show/ talk to you. She is an author, and has some interesting books on spirituality."

I received an email from Karen within the day, welcoming me and my friend, Marian, to "come for a chat."  "Park anywhere," she wrote. "Call if you get lost. You wouldn't be the first."

And we did, get lost, that is. Karen guided us, by phone, off the main road, up, around and over until the gravel road led us to an opening - a driveway ahead, an 11-circuit Chartres labyrinth to the left.

As Karen opened her front door, I noticed first her warm smile, then her purple hat, with no hair extending beyond its brim. "Cancer?" I wondered, having seen too many women of similar appearance, but hoped I was mistaken.

Sipping lemonade at an umbrellaed table in the front yard, Karen and son, Joel, shared her labyrinth story.

"I dreamed of having my own labyrinth," she said. "Building it in 2000 for my 60th birthday was such a life-marker for me.  When I walked it for the first time, I kept asking what this decade would bring, what was I 'supposed' to do now that I was retired from the very hectic world of publishing? And the answer was, 'You have plenty of time/thyme.'" (She planted thyme plants in the center of her labyrinth.)

Plenty of time.

Three years later she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Chemotherapy infusions became her companion for the next ten years, until December 2012, when she chose to stop them and enter hospice care at home. Karen died on November 13, 2013.

I am deeply saddened by her death. Although we never talked after my visit, we emailed regularly. Karen was a few steps ahead of me on a path of discovery as a writer, as a woman on a spiritual and personal journey, of which the labyrinth had become a meaningful - if not necessary - presence. She offered encouragement and advice about the book I'm writing to document my 50-state labyrinth journey.  Just a week before she died, she emailed, "I continue to hold your book."

Curiously, a pine cone has come to symbolize my friendship with Karen.

A year after meeting her, I was walking Lisa Kalloch's Middle Earth Labyrinth in Citronelle, Alabama. The large, 11-circuit labyrinth is set among a grove of pine trees, quiet, peaceful. As I walked along the outer ring, Karen's face suddenly came to mind. I stopped, with tears in my eyes, looked down and saw a pine cone lying on the ground in front of me. I picked it up, held it gently in my hand, and knew without hesitation that it needed to be with Karen. I didn't question why. I mailed it to her.

Shortly after, she emailed, "Twylla, your beautiful pine cone arrived on my 73rd birthday.  Joel had just tidied up the labyrinth, so my plan was to walk it later in the afternoon, which I did.  I thought I would carry the pine cone to the center and leave it there and then decided, no.  I want it close to my computer to remind me of your thoughtfulness, your writing project and your great passion for all that is important in this life. So it's here. Thanks! Many blessings."

In her dying, she spoke of my thoughtfulness, my writing, my passion. The gift of a simple pine cone returned blessings to the giver.


In the last year of her life, Karen wrote The Divine Art of Dying, scheduled for July publication.  

Her words and her blessings will continue to speak to me, and to all who read this or another of her books. 

 Much gratitude for your life, Karen, and for that ancient path that brought our lives together.

Most recent publications by Karen Speerstra (others listed on Amazon):



  1. Thank you for this post Twylla. What a beautiful lady she was by your description. It is so sad that she is away from all who love her, but imagine her glory now!

  2. Thanks, Jeannie. Her memory and words will continue to touch the lives of many.

  3. Thank you for sharing! She sounds amazing & a wonderful connection you made.
    Kathe Thompson

  4. She was. . .as are all the women I'm meeting on this journey -- like you. :-)


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