A mother parts with lasting words

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By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / September 6, 2010

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Stretched out on a sofa, Karyn Slomski was inches from an end table that held her favorite photo of her children. The faces of Brendan and Maggie, 7 and 4, were framed as they lay on their backs looking at the camera, ear to ear and smile to smile.

Nearly four years had passed since Karyn was diagnosed with cancer, and she had learned several days earlier that the final treatment wasn’t working. What she did not know was that she had just 10 days left to live.

“We really didn’t even think we’d ever get this far. We’re lucky,’’ Karyn said.

“Our hope was that we could get to where they were both in school,’’ said her husband, Jeff, sitting a few feet away.

“I have been a regular mom for four years,’’ said Karyn. “It would have been nice to have had 20 years. Maggie was 9 months old when I was diagnosed. She’s 4 1/2 now, nearly 5. She’s a person — there’s a definite little girl there.’’

Two weeks before this conversation, Karyn gathered her family in the living room of their Auburn house to be recorded in a video so that years from now, Brendan and Maggie will be able to see her smile, listen to her sing, and hear her words of love.

The video, she told her giggling children, was just a memento of the moment.

“They don’t know the next part,’’ Karyn, who was 38, told the Globe that day.

The next part began early yesterday, when Karyn died at home.

“I think you approach life differently when you realize it’s a gift and it’s not a right,’’ Jeff said in another video, posted on, that the Globe recorded Aug. 13 while the Slomskis welcomed into their home a videographer from the nonprofit group LifeChronicles. “Up until Karyn was diagnosed, you know, we had great lives and you just assume, you just think that it’s always going to be like that, and everything you imagine is going to happen. And you can’t. Life is short.’’

Karyn Slomski faced the unimaginable when back pain sent her to the doctor four years ago and tests revealed tumors.

As she outdistanced the initial prognosis of a year or two to live, she became acutely aware of each rich moment as she watched her children grow and she reawakened old interests, such as participating in dance classes.

On Aug. 26, she sat in her living room for one more interview, a chance to offer last thoughts.

“This experience has helped me to try new things, join new things, remember the things that I love to do, like sing and dance,’’ she said. “Those things have fulfilled me unbelievably. Without these experiences, I would have been happy, but I wouldn’t have known happiness on a whole different level. That was the gift this gave to me.’’

Karyn LeBlanc Slomski was born in Southbridge, where she and her twin sister were the youngest of four children.

“From the very beginning, Karyn had this sense of fun and playfulness about her,’’ said her twin sister, Kristyn Dyer of Southbridge. “She was the captain of the cheerleaders her senior year, and she was a cheerleader in life for everyone.’’

Graduating from Southbridge High School in 1990, Karyn briefly attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst until deciding it wasn’t for her.

At Framingham State College, she introduced herself to Donna Woods, a singer-songwriter whose voice she liked.

They formed Bundle of His, an acoustic duo, and for three years they played on campus and in coffeehouses.

“It was a very magical time,’’ she recalled. “It’s that little feeling, this chapter that says things about you.’’

Afterward, she worked in a financial services office in Worcester, and was looking for a new place to live when Jeff was advertising to fill a couple of rooms in the house he was renting in Framingham.

“I liked her right off the bat and knew she would be an awesome roommate,’’ he said.

Soon, they were talking every spare moment, even hanging out as they brushed their teeth.

They married on July 8, 2000, and the next year Jeff took a leave of absence from teaching fourth grade so they could travel the country and live in Portland, Ore.

Returning to Massachusetts in 2002, they bought a ranch house in Auburn and Brendan was born the next year.

“For me, watching her when she got married and had her kids, that’s when she really blossomed,’’ her sister said. “Having these children and having this home and this husband, this is really where her heart was, building this family and raising two children and teaching them about kindness. Her big gift to these children, I think, is kindness.’’

In the interview, Karyn noted that Brendan seemed to have inherited her tendency to want to make everyone happy, and she hoped he would reach for more.

“He’s just super smart,’’ she said. “I don’t want him to hide behind the silliness.’’

As for Maggie, “I want her to be strong enough to make her own choices, to know the choices she makes will shape her the rest of her life, not just in that moment.’’

She paused, then added: “I want my children to be kind. I want them to be giving, but I want them to stand up for themselves.’’

In addition to her husband, children, and twin sister, Karyn Slomski leaves her parents, Donald and Domenica (Lombardi) LeBlanc of Southbridge; another sister, Melissa Rush of Louisville, Colo.; and a brother, Donald LeBlanc Jr. of Westborough.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Friday in St. Mary’s Church in Southbridge. Burial will be in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Southbridge.

Someday, perhaps when Brendan and Maggie are teenagers, Jeff said, he will show them the video that shows their mother brushing away tears as she sings “Que Sera Sera,’’ then grinning as the children’s giggles bring her back into the moment and away from the reminder in the lyrics that “the future’s not ours to see.’’

“I will miss just being a mom, that feeling of, they know you’re there, they know you’re going to be there after school, they know there will be a snack,’’ Karyn said in that final interview. “I wanted to be there for that routine until they didn’t need me.’’

Bryan Marquard can be reached at