Kari Lynn Dell, 57, passed away on Aug. 14, 2020, while in hospice care in Great Falls, Mont. Many of her friends and associates were not aware that she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer six years ago.
Cancer was merely an inconvenience in Kari’s busy schedule. She did not let cancer control her life–a life she lived with no regrets.
In her short life, she won many break-away roping championships, helped her husband run the ranch, and was a mom to an amazing son.
She was also a best-selling author and a columnist for this newspaper. Kari gave her family instructions on several things upon her passing, including providing her final “Montana Musings” to fans of her column. It is published on page 13 of this week’s issue.
Kari Dell’s Final Montana Musings
As a novelist, the very last thing added to every book was a list of the people who helped me along the way to The End, so it only seems fitting that I do the same thing here. There’s no way to recognize every single person who’s been important in my life, but I’ll do the best I can to make you all feel included.
First off, of course, is Greg, possibly the only husband in the world who would sympathy fast every time I had one of those tests where they don’t let you eat or drink. That pretty much says everything you need to know about the man and the soul mate I married. It probably would have been better for our finances if he’d said no more often to my crazy ideas, but then we never would’ve taken surfing lessons.
This is where some people would list their greatest accomplishments, so here’s mine: I have somehow managed to raise (with a great deal of help) a kind, funny, and uniquely inquisitive child. Logan, you are so special and you have a way of seeing the world that has made me have to stop and think so many times. Maybe I didn’t always do a great job of showing it, but you are my perfect child. I couldn’t wish for you to be different in any way, and I hope you keep using that amazing mind of yours to do wonderful things.
I do proudly take full credit for your love of real rock and roll music. It wasn’t easy to wear you down, but I have now created a true convert.
I have been blessed with a family that most people could only dream of—from parents to siblings to nieces, nephews, cousins by blood and cousins of the heart. Even when we weren’t getting along at our best, there has never been a time in my life when I didn’t know that if worst came to worst, someone would be there to bail me out. Sometimes literally. I wish everyone in the world could have just a fraction of that security.
Likewise to the Dell family. It has been such an honor to be accepted as one of you. No one could wish for better in-laws, and knowing Greg has you at his back makes all of this so much easier.
To whatever creator made this stunning place I’ve had the privilege of living so much of my life. Texas was okay, South Dakota has wonderful people, and we loved our years in Oregon, but no place else other than here in Del Bonita was ever truly home—even when the wind and snow were blowing me sideways.
Horses and rodeo have broken my heart too many times to count, and also given me some of the most thrilling moments of my life—as any true passion should. It has taken me from Birch Creek, Montana to the lumberjack Olympics in Sweet Home, Oregon to lounging on the grass at Pendleton, to places I never would’ve thought to visit if they hadn’t been having a rodeo. It’s the reason our tenth anniversary cruise was on a ferry around the San Juan Islands—definitely one of the better ways we celebrated when we remembered to at all.
And the horses. Beginning with Pancho and ending with Hank and Dot, I have had the privilege and the curse to know so many. Every one of them taught me something—patience, to interpret the unspoken and respond to what each individual needed. Also a lot of cunning; that Greg would never be able to catch Scotty and his ol’ brown would always be too much horse for me; to be very light on my feet anywhere near Betsy; and don’t stand too close to that buckskin’s mare’s head or Roo’s hind feet when cinching them up.
But hands down, it is the people who are the greatest prize in rodeo. We’re not all the true blue, noble heroes the movies and such would have you believe, but we are a community like no other. It’s impossible to put into words why competing both with and against your friends somehow makes it even better, and knowing that woman who just high-fived you for a winning run even though you beat her is worth the cheers of an entire grandstand. Yes, we can be petty, and we can throw some truly impressive tantrums on the really bad days, but hey, by definition a cowboy or girl is human. And some of us may have slightly more hair trigger tempers than others (whistles innocently). Here’s to all of you, being the best of yourselves you can be and enjoying each other every chance you get.
Then we come to the books. I doubt I could ever explain why I became a writer. What started as boredom and a random thought that maybe people who actually ranched and rodeoed should be the ones telling those stories, I cannot imagine what possessed me to think I could sit down and pull entire worlds and fully formed humans out of my head. I just sort of did it. And Greg liked it. And so did the next person I dared show it to, and next thing, there I was, hooked.
In retrospect, it sort of makes sense. Leave it to me to pick another profession where you spend hours and hours working at something that has no promise of paying off, just like roping. Then you take your baby out into the world and it really is pretty damn good, and you still fail for reasons beyond your control, like a screaming fast calf or “sorry, this book is great but it’s too much like that other one that just hit the New York Times list.”
Somehow this clueless newbie wandered into what is known as one of the most cutthroat industries in the world and managed, time and again, to stumble over the best people it has to offer. The veteran writers in the very first online forums I ventured into, who greeted my ignorance with humor and grace, and some of whom I’m still friends with today. The other wannabes, who propped each other up and talked our laptops down off the ledge. My first agent, who has become a legend for mentoring new and struggling writers, with the perfect mixture of unmatched integrity and brutal honesty. The editor of my first book was a gem, and for the other six Mary Altman could have been the other half of my brain (you can guess who got the brighter half). The entire Sourcebooks company has treated me with so much respect and dignity and given me all the possible leeway they could when I was unable to deliver due to extenuating circumstances. I can’t imagine having taken this journey with anyone else.
I am so, so proud of the Texas Rodeo series we made together.
In many ways, these past years have been a sort of blessing. It’s amazing how much of the trivial crap you can just let go when you are intensely aware that it’s a waste of a limited amount of time and energy. How it frees you up to tackle things you might never have otherwise. To dig deeper into yourself and not be afraid to let what you find there show. To go ahead and experience the good stuff now. To consider life from angles you might never have seen before.
And last but certainly not least, to walk right past all the sensible SUVs on the parking lot and buy the cherry red Charger with the rally stripes, even though no one in their right mind would own that car when they live on this driveway.
I have no regrets.