Trial and Tributes: Professor Karen Saupe

Photo courtesy Karen Saupe
Photo courtesy Karen Saupe

“We borrowed my family’s van. We were going to come back Saturday to have dinner, but we were running late,” English Professor Karen Saupe said.

She was returning to her parent’s house with friends after a weekend trip, and when she drove up, she saw lights on, well past the time her parents should be in bed. That’s when she heard the news: her father had just passed away.

“Laughing, [I said] there must have been a party that got out of hand,” she said. After getting out of the car, Saupe was met by her mother and her father’s friend, and they told her the shocking news about her father.

“I thought he had a heart attack,” Saupe said about her initial reaction, “but they said, ‘He’s gone.’” Her father had died from an enlarged heart.

She was 28 years old, and her father was only 54.

“[My mother] made us get up Sunday morning and go to church, otherwise we would have had a hard time going again,” Saupe said. She talked about about her initial response to her father’s death.

“I wasn’t even angry… [I was] bewildered,” Saupe said. “I was numb for awhile. There is something [that] keeps you going [so] that you can smile and talk with people at the viewing. It didn’t always feel real.”

But soon Saupe’s numbness turned into asking God some hard questions.

“Why would you take someone who you needed here anyway?” Saupe remembers asking. She reflected on her father’s important role as a pastor in his church.

“[He] strengthened others’ faith not by prophesying, but by listening,” she said. “I felt like I lost a leg, part of who I am was missing.”

She found those around her questioning God for the same reason as herself, specifically a former pastor of her family.

“The first thing he said to me was, ‘When I get to heaven [God’s] got some explaining to do,’” Saupe said about her conversation with the pastor.

However, in the midst of grief and doubt of God’s good character, Saupe found herself still turning to him, even if it this was mixed with some anger.

“I never questioned whether God exists, but if he loves us,” she said. “I was pretty baffled. … When you’re angry with God, you can’t stop talking with him. You need to communicate. … The only prayer I could do for months was, ‘Do whatever you’re going to do, God.’ … You always think it can be undone or fixed somehow, and that’s always hard.”

Yet throughout her struggles with grief, Saupe came to realize that God remains God no matter the situation.

“Working through the grief was a matter of thinking about the bright side,” she said. “[It was] not easy putting trust in God. I wasn’t going to get what I wanted. God was still going to be God and I had to deal with it.”

Yet even with the trauma and the strife in her life, Saupe felt she was never left completely alone.

“God put people in my life right then that I really, really needed,” Saupe said. “I was really sad I didn’t get to say goodbye, but we didn’t have unfinished business.”

Though the initial numbness is gone and some of her questions have been resolved, Saupe’s grief journey continues today.

“The weird thing is months or years later you can be hit with a wave of grief out of the blue and you’re not expecting it,” she said. Even long after the death, she has found the need for support. “Before, they knew you were fragile, but you are supposed to be over it by now.”

“The hurt doesn’t go away completely,” she said, “but it gets easier to manage.”

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