The Life and Death of a Teacher/Librarian

Today, on December 13, 2015, 1 p.m. at the Second Congregational Meeting House Society, I attended the memorial service for Karen Grace Kinder Borchert. She was born December 14, 1937 and died November 12, 2015.

Here is a poem/narrative constructed of things her family and those who knew her said today. Somethings that were said are included in quotes but not attributed. Others are left without quotes because they are paraphrased.


The Life and Death of a Teacher/Librarian

“She dedicated her life to kids and books. She loved us deeply and we never doubted that,” said her son Little Carl (Carl Kinder Borchert) towering above the microphone.

When her other children, her students, graduated from high school, she sent them cards. She taught kindergarten.

She was often quiet in public, even had low self-confidence at times, but fearless. She raised her son mucking the chicken houses. She was staunchly anti-nuclear. Her son grew up writing letters to prisoners of conscience and knowing the name Jacques Cousteau. After all, they lived on an island.

They put conservation restrictions on their properties. She made sure that they included the knoll with milkweed, for the continuation of the monarchs.

Her son joined 40 million other caretakers around the country when he moved in with her, right before she was diagnosed with Alzheimers.

“How did I get Alzheimers,” she asked simply, without complaint.

“Mom, mentor, friend, champion, sounding board…”

[I] promise to be present for my life, to remember you.


The microphone was passed around. The Unitarian Meeting House was packed.

“You’d think Star Wars was showing.”

“Or the Heart of the Sea.”


Karen loved her chickens, too, keeping them long after they had any economic value, long after they stopped laying. One day, she made some muffins, but used cayenne by accident instead of nutmeg. Realizing her mistake, she brought them on a tray to her family and friends at the table, watching their faces closely as they took a bite. Afterwards, they fed the muffins to the chickens. And those chickens, they started laying eggs again.


“I miss her sweet spirit.”

She never traveled without squares of dark chocolate. She always warmed the milk before adding it to her coffee. Her counter was filled with things drying.

“This is what makes up our lives.”


She traveled by ferry with a friend — before the internet, before the high speed ferry — to the mainland to take a class. So Karen and her friend spent a lot of time together, traveling. At the class, there was an ice-breaker, a round, everyone clapping and snapping.

“Hello everybody. Hello everybody. My name is… Cynthia!”

“Hello everybody. Hello everybody. My name is… Sarah!”

And when her time came, Karen said,

“Hello everybody. Hello everybody. My name is… Madonna!”


Someone who loved her, in preparation for the memorial service, cast about for something to read. He flipped open a book, to a fitting poem, as often happens when we are in need and searching. Fitting, as her partner’s favorite flower was an Iris.

“The Wild Iris” by Louise Gluck


“May we leave today more alive, confident, and loving, knowing that everyone we meet is a part of our extended family.”

“At Blackwater Pond,” by Mary Oliver, selected by Reverend Linda Simmons, the three lessons for living:

1. To love what is mortal.

2. To hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it.

3. When the time comes, let it go.