Note from Al, Sept 2017: I have completed the book on Karens' life and death. It's called, The Good Bits. If you are interested, I will send it to you as an ebook. I'm planning on publishing it this fall.
"The Good Bits is the story of my late wife, Karen, and her struggle to surmount a diagnosis of terminal cancer. Much like Paul Kalanithi's When Breathe Becomes Air and Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, it looks at the nature of end-of-life issues, but differs in that it includes her experiences with traditional Western medicine, Eastern medicine and fake cures.
From the backrooms of Mexican "stem cell" clinics, to the offices of practitioners in the Pacific Northwest peddling dubious cures and “miracle machines", The Good Bits is a journey through the underworld of impossible cancer cures, pseudo-science healers, and fraudulent medical devices. A highly educated and successful career woman, Karen suspended reason, seeking any possible cure, after receiving a devastating diagnosis.
The story also interweaves the “good bits” of Karen's remarkable life. A outdoorswoman of the Pacific Northwest, her accomplishments included being captain of a university ski team; traveling solo in Europe, the Middle East and Afghanistan in the 1970s; and building effective programs for disadvantaged urban youth during the 1980s and ‘90s.
The Good Bits is told from the caretaker's point of view. I was with Karen in those back rooms, offices and at home every step of the way. This book, then, should be of interest to anyone who is supporting a loved one with a progressively debilitating illness. The story illuminates the crushing stress a terminal illness imposes on both the patient and the healthy partner, along with the growing and sometimes ugly tensions caused by extended family and friends in their attempts to help.
While Karen does not survive her cancer, this true story ends with hope. One fraudulent device was removed from sales in the United States and Canada after her story was highlighted in the Seattle Times and on Canada’s version of 60 Minutes.
A potter friend, who had lost her sister and parents to cancer and age, told me of watching her father's cremation. Deep in the night, alongside the kiln, the funeral home attendant told her that Laotian women look in the hot ashes of their beloved ones, seeking the small green stones they call “the good bits,” which represent the deceased’s good deeds. The mourning women fish out these good bits and save them for good luck."
From The Good Bits - All Rights Reserved - Copyright 2016. This work cannot be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author.
Note from Al, 5 Sept 2011: Karen is still in our thoughts.
Note from Al, 5 Sept 2010: Five years on...
"...It was so right, it was so wrong, almost at the same time, the pain and ache,a heart can take, no one really knows. When the memories cling and keep you there, till you no longer care, and you can let go now....
but I was tossed high by love, almost never came down, only to land here...where I'm no longer bound...and I can let go now."
Luciana Souza - "I can let go now"
Note from Al, 2 Sept 2009 : It's now been four years since Karen has left us. There's never a day that she is not in my mind, in some way or another. I have remarried, and some of Karen's friends and family have dropped away from me. However, I would hope that these people, and others that happen to visit this site will remember, that losing a loved one and taking on another one is not substituting one for another. It's more like the notion of having more than one child. You don't stop loving one when you have another. Your heart expands to love them both, equally, in different ways. There will never be a replacement for Karen. There only will be more to share.
This memorial website was created in the memory of our loved one, Karen Leedy McBeth who was born in Seattle, WA on April 17, 1946 and passed away on September 03, 2005 at the age of 59, after a long battle with squamous cell carcinoma which had progressed into bone cancer.
Karen lived a remarkable life. Born in Seattle, delivered by John Bastyr of alternative medicine fame, right across the street from what many of you know of as "the original Ravenna Food Co-op" on the 6500 block of 20th NE. Raised in Winthrop and Wenatchee, she grew up an athlete and scholar. Her family helped start many of the ski areas in the Cascades, and Karen was on the ski teams for cross country and downhill in high school, as well as the captain of the WSU women's Ski Team from 1964-67. She was a spectacular skier all her life. She loved the outdoors, sleeping under the stars, hiking, horse packing (learned from her grandmother), climbing, sailing, water skiing, and in general, pushing hers and others limits.
Karen graduated from WSU in 68. She earned her teaching credentials at California State College in '71, having spent time serving the poor for Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco during the "summer of love". She also received secondary credentials in English and Math. Her MA was done at Antioch West in Seattle in 1980 with a degree in organizational Psychology and Management. She put it to good use. After starting with the State in 1975 as a Laundry Worker 1, and her promotion to a Group Life Counselor at Green Hill School for Delinquent Boys, she moved to Seattle and supervised at the Learning Center, helping lead the team that created ground breaking programs to help youth that were one step away from prison. She spent 25 years there. She loved the early years in particular, when she was working alongside legendary teachers and program managers such as Lynn Baer, Gail Dootson, Keith Hanson, Donald Felder, Sharon Webb, Al DeJean, Lois Nichols and many others. She was instrumental in helping form the Substance Abuse Program, Cohorts work program, Mentor Program, Youth Development Fund, Juvenile Justice Mentoring Board, Summer Work Program, and the Learning Life Program. These programs were recognized by Janet Reno, in a visit in the late 90's to the Learning Center. Karen could have moved up and into more far reaching positions, but chose to stay close to the kids, and help them achieve. She always seemed to be looking for what to give, not what she could take. Her greatest strength, according to her manager of many years, was her ability to build effective teams to help at-risk minority youth.
In joining the Youth Development Fund Board in 1978, she helped lead that program from then until now. The Fund helped homeless youth get money for short term room and board, in addition to getting their lives together. She was the sponsor of the Close-Up Programs in 82/83, which lead to 14 Learning Center youth studying law and justice and taking a trip to Washington DC to see government "up close".
She was named the DSHS Region Wide Outstanding Employee, and Statewide Outstanding Employee. Her work for the Mentor Program was given the State's Vision Award which honors the top State employee of the year for promoting cultural awareness. It is a very coveted honor, and one of her most treasured. She was proud that her youth work was validated by research as having made a significant improvement in helping lower recidivism in youth.
Karen was married to Dale McBeth 1968-73. She then left for Europe, traveling by motorcycle through Italy. Proceeding on to Greece, she lived in caves in Greece for a time, then to Israel, where she worked on Sasa Kibbutz, as a farm hand. After six months, she headed up to Istanbul, where she met a couple of people transporting old metro buses from Paris to Kabul, Afghanistan. She went along for the ride. Karen is one of the few people who have spent a night in a sleeping bag under a full moon on the Khyber Pass. She was the cook for an American restaurant in Kabul, until she fell ill with Hepatitis A. Thinking she was pregnant, she hitch hiked back across Iran, Iraq and Turkey, continuing on to the Dutch border, where the border guards recognized her illness and promptly confined her in hospital, for 27 days.
She lived in Holland for some time, on a boat on a canal with an artist. When her sister Suzanne married, Karen returned to the States. She married me Al Bergstein in 1984, and our son Isaac was born, at home in a bathtub with no midwife or doctor present, early in the morning of January 25th, 1985. Karen reached down into the warm water and delivered Isaac herself, while I was downstairs getting water to boil for the scalpel to cut the umbilical cord. She had skied the Friday before Isaac was born, using a garbage bag as a jacket. She was a most devoted and loving mother.
Karen, Isaac and I sailed, skied, fly fished, camped and traveled extensively for the next 21 years. She had the knack of being able to create a great time no matter where she was, money or not. Her natural mechanical ability was a source of inspiration to many of her friends. She leaves Isaac and I, sisters Suzanne and Lori, her mother, Pauline and father Clayton, stepson Michael Hentschel (whom she took into her home without question or concern when he was reunited with Al) , and hundreds of friends all over the world. She was a person who always had a positive attitude and surrounded herself with wonderful people. Her smile came through not only on her photos, but in her life.
Karen was a devoted Dao-ist, having spent two summers meditating at Shaolin monastery in China. She loved people and cooking, something that she passed onto her son, who is a cook. She also was a fighter, determined to beat her disease, while understanding that the odds of success were very small. One of the last thoughts she shared with me was that, after hearing that Michael and I were out to dinner, that she "was looking forward to when I can do that again." She never gave up. After spending two years in great pain, confined to lying on her stomach 24 hours a day (except when she was moving around in her van), she has lost the battle. The good news is that her pain is over, her need for morphine (which drained her ability to talk to people) is over and she was able to die at home in her beloved house in Port Townsend, Washington. The bad news is that we all lost a "good one".
May she rest in peace, and return to help our world again.