“Time won’t change the meaning of one love — ageless and ever, evergreen.”
Darrell Brown clearly recalls the Barbra Streisand classic, “Evergreen,” as a featured song on the day he and his wife, Karen, got married. He also has the date cemented in his memory — June 13, 1981.
More than 25 years later, “Evergreen” was played at Groton’s St. Anthony Church on Nov. 12 — and this time the lyrics really hit home for the couple, both 47.
That song, along with “Anniversary Waltz,” were featured in a 25th-anniversary gathering for the Browns. Five months had passed since the actual anniversary, but there was good reason for the delay: awaiting Karen’s gradual recovery from a life-threatening stroke.
The party was arranged by Pat Fairbank, a St. Anthony parishioner. According to Father Scott Kubinski, pastor, the coffee hour — held regularly in McNamara Hall after 8:30 a.m. Mass — “tripled or more from its normal attendance.” He added that for the few moments he stopped in, “I don’t think Karen stopped crying all the time I was there, so moved was she by the community’s caring love.”
“The whole ordeal they’ve been through, I think the whole place was in tears,” remarked Pam Senter, church secretary and Karen’s close friend.
The difficult journey began last March 23. As Darrell recalled, his wife was stricken while at St. Anthony, where she had served for four years as pastoral minister. She was rushed by ambulance to Cortland Hospital and then transported to University Hospital in Syracuse. Within the next few days she incurred what doctors believe to have been a second stroke, and this one left her clinging to life.
But Karen pulled through and was subsequently moved to a rehabilitation center in Schenectady, before being transferred to her present residence at St. Camillus Health and Rehabilitation Center in Syracuse. Darrell has recently begun bringing Karen home on weekends as she continues a remarkable recovery.
“She’s doing very well, coming right along,” Darrell said. “Her speech and language skills have accelerated, and she’s starting to move her limbs and things like that.”
Karen gets around by wheelchair and also can walk with assistance. She hopes to return in some capacity to St. Anthony — a place where her presence is sorely missed.
“My hope is that Karen will be able to once again involve herself in the busy parish life which she so enjoyed here,” Senter said, adding that Karen is well-known for her ability to “get people involved, push for all the social get-togethers. There were a lot of things Karen did — special Mass set up for Christmas, Easter. I don’t think people realized how much she did.”
“Things at the parish do not function as well without her, even though people have been stepping up to help,” Father Kubinski added. “I could count on Karen doing many behind-the-scenes things of which few people are even aware. The Browns know so many people in the community that invariably whatever the concern, Karen would say, ‘Let me call so-and so’ — most of the time it was someone I never even heard of. And things got done. Things proceed more slowly without her.”
Father Kubinski observed that Darrell — though not Catholic — has been a longtime fixture at Mass and assisted his wife with many church projects, and is considered a part of the parish community.
The Browns’ strong ties to St. Anthony have been reflected in the avalanche of positive sentiment that has spilled forth. For example, reminders to pray for, visit and send cards to Karen have appeared weekly in the St. Anthony bulletin since Karen fell ill.
“Not only the church family, but just the community in general has been very supportive of us,” Darrell said. “It touches you deeply when they’re this intent.”
It appears that the prayers have worked, based on Karen’s strides since an early prognosis that Senter described as “terrible. She was on the edge.”
“She’s come a long way. I don’t think she’d be where she is today if she didn’t have our prayers behind her,” Senter added. “She knows we’ve been praying for her, and I think that’s helped her. She believes that the power of prayer has helped her.”
Last spring, when Karen could barely speak or move, Darrell had celebrated a quiet 25th anniversary with her in Schenectady.
“I brought her flowers and a card, and we just spent time together,” Darrell recalled.
That night marked one of many long trips Darrell had made to be with his ailing wife. He added that the Browns’ children, 20-year-old Mathew and 23-year-old Bryanna, have pitched in considerably as well.
Describing the past several months, Darrell said, “I don’t know if I can put it in words. The biggest thing is, I’m tired all the time. There’ll be better years, I keep trying to tell Karen.” Yet he downplayed his own sacrifices, saying, “Karen is the real star. She’s been doing the hard work.”
The current goal is to get Karen back to Groton full time by Christmas.
“We’re shooting for that,” Darrell said. “She wants to get home in the worst way.”
When asked about the prospect of being home for the holidays, Karen had a quick reply.
“I just think it’ll be wonderful,” she said.
Wherever she is on Christmas, she can count on her community and her family — and the ageless, evergreen love of her husband.
“I always tell everybody I married her and I take my vows very seriously, and I love her very much,” Darrell said. “The love has changed and it is different, but it is there and will always be there.”