February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAAIM). Each Friday this month, we will cast a spotlight on an individual who embodies the values of JDAAIM. This is a project of LiNK Jewish Buffalo’s Belonging Initiative and today we are delighted to feature Karen Merrick, whose spotlight is written by Belonging volunteer Vickie Rubin.
I want to introduce you to my friend Karen.
Karen and I discovered that we have a lot in common. She loves pretty watches and bracelets, and so do I. We both crave coffee and ice cream. Karen has a deep love for her family; she has two brothers, whereas I have one. We both sadly lost our moms within the past few years.
Karen’s friends adore the way she lights up when she sees them. I am not talking about a grin and a greet; I am talking full-body enthusiasm! You see, Karen speaks only a few words, so she communicates her joy with a full-on smile and raised arms. You KNOW when Karen is happy to see you.
I asked some people to give me their stories about Karen. Toni relayed how Karen can cheer her up when she is having a bad day. “Karen will give her beautiful grin and say “Hi” and then point to me. I walk over and she grabs my hand, and she giggles, she makes me giggle and I start to feel better. Then I tell her I needed that, and she nods her head as she knew all along.”
Another friend, Cathy, recently shared a story about when she first met Karen. Cathy reminisced, “At first, Karen wanted to wear my watch whenever I visited. Then I started sharing my watch only when I would visit for a while, so Karen knew I was staying longer than a few moments. Now, our game has evolved, whereas Karen trades one of her fancy silver bracelets for my watch. When the visit is over, we each take back our belongings, and Karen acknowledges with a hearty, “Go Home!”
My grandchildren, before Covid, were recipients of Karen’s warmth. She loves babies and will reach out to give a hug or just hold their hand. When it comes to music, nobody matches Shania Twain in her mind. And don’t get me started on Sister Act, 1 and 2!
My friend Karen has cerebral palsy and cannot walk, speak more than a few words, or take care of her daily needs. But this is not what you think about when you know and love Karen.
Born in 1966, when there were limited to no supports in the community for families or individuals with disabilities, Karen’s dedicated family did all they could to give Karen the best quality of life available at the time. Her late mother, Rena, was a strong and loving advocate along with her Dad, Joe, and two brothers.
When I think of Karen, I think of how much I admire everything she has overcome and learned. I think of a woman born last century who did not have the opportunity of Early Intervention and inclusive schooling yet has learned how to communicate using her language/picture board, gestures, and some verbal language. I think of my daughter’s Jessica’s housemate, who knows that Jessica loves to play tug of war with a pink terrycloth towel and gets a kick out of making my daughter laugh.
One day, when Covid is contained, I hope you get to meet Karen and see the delightful woman, who is my friend.
Vickie Rubin is the author of Raising Jessica: A Story of Hope. Her writing can be found at Vickie’s Views.
LiNK’s Belonging vision is for all Jews, their friends and Life partners of other faiths, and people exploring Judaism to feel welcome to participate in Jewish living and learning experiences to the extent of their abilities and interest, and to find a space of belonging in Jewish Buffalo regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ability. For more information on Belonging, please email Mike Steklof here.
Pictured Left to Right: Rena, Karen and Joe Merrick