Karma Imogen Smith-Grindell passed peacefully in the early morning hours of Nov. 13, 2019, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Karma was born Nov. 28, 1940, in Columbus, Ohio, at 1:14 p.m. When first measured days after birth, she weighed 3 lbs. 10.5 oz. Her estimated birth weight was 3 lbs. 13 oz. She was born about 6 weeks early, and her twin brother who preceded her in birth died shortly after her arrival. She was not expected to survive, but defied the odds and returned to the home of her mother and father, Margaret Hayes Smith and Laban Conrad Smith, on Dec. 31, 1940. Her name was a testament to her birth story: Karma (Sanskrit — “Destiny”) Imogen (Greek — “Beloved child”) and (Gaelic — “Maiden”).
Karma’s younger brother, Hartman, was born in 1944. Karma’s father was a Navy officer, and the family relocated numerous times during her childhood for his postings. Her homes included Auburn, Ala., Galveston, Texas and the Canal Zone, Panama. She remembered with particular fondness the years in Panama. The family eventually settled in Terre Haute, Ind., where her father was a professor of English at Indiana State University. They enjoyed summers at family farms in Wisconsin, and had a litany of pets, including several dogs, ducks and chickens.
After graduating from Wiley High School in 1957, Karma spent a summer in France as a camp counselor. She then attended the University of Michigan where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English. She entered Harvard graduate school in 1962, where she was re-acquainted with her high school debate partner, Michael LR Donnelly, who would become her first husband.
They were married in 1964, and had two children: Anna Callysta was born in Boston in 1966, and Maxwell Conor was born in Madison, Wis., in 1969. The family would move to Manhattan, Kan., in 1972. Karma worked at Kansas State University as director of the English as a Second Language program, and was a doting and attentive mother. After the dissolution of her first marriage in 1981, Karma stayed in Manhattan for several years, then lived in Concordia, Kan., where she became an ecumenical member of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. Although not Catholic herself, Karma remained a committed and active participant in the CSJ Associates for decades thereafter. She also lived briefly in Pendle Hill, Penn., at a Quaker community.
After leaving academia in 1983, Karma became a Licensed Practical Nurse, providing hospice and home care to elderly residents in the farm country surrounding Manhattan, Kan. She later added skills in massage and energy work (shiatzu and jin shin jyutsu) which she applied generously to any who suffered the slings and arrows of physical or emotional injury. Fascinated by human psychology and the puzzles of our inner beings, Karma was for many years a learned practitioner of the Enneagram personality system, and an active participant in the vibrant international community of Enneagram students.
Karma married the love of her life, Rob Grindell, on July 8, 1989. For more than a decade, Rob and Karma traveled the world and reveled in the joys of each others’ company. Destinations included many of our United States by small plane (Rob piloting, Karma navigating), Greece, Mexico, Canada, Belize, Hawaii and Europe. Karma also made a memorable solo trip to Leh, Ladakh, as a participant in an international Buddhist women’s conference. Karma spent much of her adult life pursuing spiritual growth, and considered herself a Quaker catholic Zen Buddhist (lowercase “c” intentional).
After a long battle with cancer, Rob passed away on Dec. 19, 2000. Karma remained in Manhattan until 2006, where she was a beloved member of multiple spiritual communities. In 2006, she packed house and home and moved to Colorado Springs, where her brother Hartman and his wife Nancy lived. She continued to travel extensively, including many trips to California to visit her daughter Anna and grandchildren Maya and Dante. Her son Max’s family — wife Kelly and daughters Claire and Caroline — were blessed to have her nearby, and she was a frequent short-term guest in their household in Littleton, Colo., where the resident dogs would celebrate her arrival with wags and kisses.
Throughout her life, Karma was beloved by her community and friends as an individual who personified kindness. Alzheimer’s never robbed her of her inherently sweet and loving disposition, and to the end her caregivers adored her.
She is survived by her brothers Hartman and Nancy Smith of Jacksonville, Fla., and brother Forrest and Shiela Smith of Terre Haute, Ind.; her children Maxwell and Kelden Donnelly of Littleton, Colo., Anna and Burman Deshautelle of Agoura Hills, Calif., and Michael Grindell and Jennifer Grindell of Atlanta, Ga.; and grandchildren Claire, Caroline, Dante, Maya, Maclean, Samantha and Grace (all over the place).
A service in Karma’s memory will be held in the spring in Manhattan, Kan.
In lieu of flowers, please direct donations in Karma’s memory to Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, P.O Box 279, Concordia, KS 66901.
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