Cook: Katharine Osborne shared her gifts
What makes some people bitter and withdrawn while others are so full of hope and adventure that they make you feel that way, too?
I don’t know, but Katharine Osborne definitely lived on the side of hope.
Katharine died last week at the age of 81 after suffering a string of medical problems over recent weeks.
Her husband, Robert, died more than two decades earlier, a crushing blow. A lifetime of companionship as wife and mother seemed to be over ó husband gone, children grown and moved away. When, she once mused, can a housewife say she is retired?
Katharine kept blossoming, exploring her own artistic abilities, traveling to see more of nature and the world and getting deeply involved in organizations she knew could make life better for others ó Waterworks Visual Arts Center, Catawba College, Livingstone College and many others. She helped start a group that focused on building better relations between the races, Bridge Builders.
But education was her great love. She’d been on the Catawba Board of Trustees since 1992.
“She has always been filled with wonder,” daughter Jeanne Wurster says. She enjoyed learning, and “she wanted that for others.”
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Among Katharine’s many gifts were her positive outlook on life and her way with the written word.
She combined them in columns published in the Post, often writing about her experiences with aging. She did not complain that things weren’t what they used to be. She did not make light of the ravages of age. She just coped and spoke honestly.
My hands, twisted with arthritis, pose many problems. One solution for me: I defeat jar tops with a v-shaped jar opener mounted under an upper cabinet.The range of her subjects was broad, as evidenced in the collection she put together for a book, “A Heap of Sun and Shadows.” Her subjects could be as worldly as war, as personal as grieving for a spouse. The columns that were always a bright spot in the Post carry an even greater message when pulled together: Life is good.
Katharine said people asked her if she was really as upbeat as her columns, and she confessed there was some discrepancy ó as there is for nearly every writer. Katharine worked at her attitude:
I commented to a friend that I hated seeing all the wrinkles and sagging flesh in the mirror. Her advice to me was, “Stop looking in the mirror.” …
I feel sad when I think of the activities I used to do and no longer can. But the gratitude that I feel for being alive and doing the things I am able to do far surpasses the sadness.
I think aging must have stages similar to the stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger and acceptance, with acceptance being the key element.
Acceptance doesn’t mean approval; it just means I can look in the mirror and be glad I’m there.
The prospect of growing old terrifies me ó eyes growing dim, parts wearing out. But Katharine’s words give me hope that additional years do not have to translate into a narrower, less joyful life.- – –
Katharine’s deepest emotions surfaced in her poems. Hers was not the sing-song poetry of amateurs, but the spare, brightly burnished verse of one who paints images and emotions with precise words.
And, oh, what honesty.
In “Simple Wishes,” she recalls the things she hoped for as a budding young woman, later as a mother, and finally as one who lives alone. Make no mistake, Katharine had a full life. She breakfasted daily with friends, attended concerts and plays, grew in her faith and stayed active and involved. But she was willing to admit to a void:
Now, wishing for a lover,
a companion, a hand to hold,
there is a deep under-the-skin
longing, a hunger
that grinds away at the soul,
burrowing into a bruised center,
chronic as field mice
tunneling for food.
Katharine’s honesty was her greatest art.
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“She has continued to have a love affair with the West,” daughter Jeanne says, recalling family trips of long ago. Katharing was hoping for another trip to the Grand Canyon, but her doctor advised against it.
She loved its vast openness and the shades of color that can be altered by a change in the sun’s position, Jeanne says.
There may be a trip to the Grand Canyon yet. As I said, Katharine was most honest in her poetry, and that included this one that I’ll close with, called “Funeral Directions.” It soars with Katharine’s spirit.
Take my ashes to the Canyon,
that grand and glorious temple,
stand at the great high altar
near Angel’s Window
and fling me out
among the pinnacles
and deep gorges
where I can soar
and spin with ravens,
circle past plateaus,
curl around blood-red buttes,
blend with breezes and finally
ride streaks of sunset.
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Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.
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