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Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral

Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral

3.3 63
by Kris Radish

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For Katherine Givens and the four women about to become her best friends, the adventure begins with a UPS package. Inside is a pair of red sneakers filled with ashes and a note that will forever change their lives. Katherine’s oldest and dearest friend, the irrepressible Annie Freeman, left one final request–a traveling funeral–and she wants the


For Katherine Givens and the four women about to become her best friends, the adventure begins with a UPS package. Inside is a pair of red sneakers filled with ashes and a note that will forever change their lives. Katherine’s oldest and dearest friend, the irrepressible Annie Freeman, left one final request–a traveling funeral–and she wants the most important women in her life as “pallbearers.”

From Sonoma to Manhattan, Katherine, Laura, Rebecca, Jill, and Marie will carry Annie’s ashes to the special places in her life. At every stop there’s a surprise encounter and a small miracle waiting, and as they whoop it up across the country, attracting interest wherever they go, they share their deepest secrets–tales of broken hearts and second chances, missed opportunities and new beginnings. And as they grieve over what they’ve lost, they discover how much is still possible if only they can unravel the secret Annie left them....

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Radish’s characters help readers realize they are not alone in the world and their struggles have been or will be experienced by other women.” –Albuquerque Journal

“Radish sings the praises of sisterhood by creating an enticing world of women helping women to become the empowered individuals they were meant to be.” —Booklist

Before Annie Freeman died of cancer at age 56, she planned a traveling funeral for herself, a cross-country junket on which her five closest friends would accompany her ashes from California to New York. The quintet she chose for the trek are disparate and, in some cases, dysfunctional, but something about their mission bring these unlikely urn bearers into a loose harmony.
Publishers Weekly
Radish's latest overwrought book (after Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn) tracks five strangers- turned-soul mates over the course of the titular funeral, posthumously organized by their friend Annie, who died from ovarian cancer at age 56. A package arrives at Katherine Givens's front door and in it are the ashes of her free-spirited, altruistic childhood friend, along with instructions for a procession that will take Annie's closest friends on a cross country trip from Sonoma, Calif., to Manhattan, sprinkling her remains as they go. Just nine days later, Annie's former university colleague Jill, women's crisis savior Laura, cantankerous neighbor Rebecca and her hospice aide Marie join Katherine on the journey during which they learn their eccentric friend's deepest secrets and share many of their own. Most importantly, these unorthodox urnbearers understand the greatness Annie saw in them and attain the courage to act on it. Windswept melodrama marks Radish's prose (e.g. "these moments were the ones Marie needed to keep the tears and gashes in her own soul from washing her out to sea"), but that will not deter readers who relish the idea of women forming bonds when their mettle is tested and finding power and self-actualization in grief, sharing and love. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Five women honor their friend's last request with a cross-country adventure. Hypertasker attorney Katherine Givin's life changes forever when she receives a brown paper-wrapped package containing a familiar pair of red high-top sneakers. Into these shoes are packed the ashes of her oldest friend-the remarkable Annie Freeman. Before dying from ovarian cancer, Annie planned her own "traveling funeral" with designated stops for the scattering of her remains. She leaves it to Katherine to assemble her closest friends to act as pallbearers for her last hurrah. Knowing that funerals are for the living, Annie intends for Katherine, Jill, Laura, Rebecca and her saintly hospice nurse Marie (who barely know each other) to take a break from their responsibilities to celebrate life and get to know each other. The trip takes the ladies to the places that mattered most to Annie: the Florida Keys, rural New Mexico, New York City. The book is also something of a metaphysical detective story, as the women learn more about Annie in each location, including the long-held secret identity of the man who fathered her two grown sons. Along the way, the fast friends talk, drink, dance, skinny dip in an icy lake and talk a lot more. They also face their own tragedies and realize that it is never too late to dramatically transform their lives for the better. These women warriors are a funny and engaging bunch, but so similarly wise and articulate that it is sometimes difficult to differentiate them. Filled with uplifting messages of the healing power of both laughter and grief, Radish's novel (Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn, 2004, etc.) ultimately sags from too much proselytizing at the expense of the story. Alife-affirming depiction of female bonding that's often overblown and tiresome.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

There is a hole the size of a golf ball in the right side of Katherine Givins’s black Bali bra.

This is the one article of clothing that has made her feel sexy for the past 3.6 years in a row, and even though the straps lie at half-mast on her fine shoulders, the elastic exploded last summer and the hooks have been pulled so many times she has actually used a needle-nose pliers on them, Katherine cannot bear to throw the bra away.

“Shit,” she says, turning into the mirror and then leaning so her nose practically touches the glass to make certain there really is a hole. It’s there, and getting wider every second, as she puts her finger in the middle and realizes that one wrong move could explode all of the seams and send her breasts into orbit.

Just as she grabs them and begins laughing hysterically at the long-held notion that the bra, like her lost marriage and her fabulous mother and the man she thought she loved two men ago or even the one she loves now, would last forever, the doorbell rings and makes her scream herself back into reality.

Her scream, the kind you might make when something normal—like a doorbell—flushes you from a very far-away place—reaches the UPS woman on the front step who is glad as hell that someone is home so she doesn’t have to leave a note and come back the next day. In the UPS world, screams, especially those coming from anywhere in front of the brown trucks and not under the rear wheels, are very good signs. So the UPS woman waits.

Katherine does not care who is at the door immediately because she is already in mourning about the loss of her bra. The bra that held her up and saw her through when her daughter announced that she had her first kiss (3.1 years ago) and then snapped the back of her mother’s Bali bra instead of performing the regulation high-five; when she found out her ex-husband Michael was about to be married (2.8 years ago) as she was sorting wash and the bra moved from her fingers and into the black depths of a dark load; when finally a man emboldened by vodka martinis put his hand down her strategically placed low-cut sweater and ran his fingers very slowly past the elastic top and curved his hand around her left breast; when her father came to her one night (2.1 years ago) and said that he could no longer care for his wife, her mother, and could Katherine “please, please, please” help him find the right place, and then leaned into her, clutched her shoulder, his sad and tired arm thumping against the metal hook; when she let Alex finally make love to her (1.8 years ago) and he turned her around, lifted her blouse and took his sweet, sexy and fabulous time unhooking the Bali and then replaced it with hands that spoke seventeen languages; when she leaned over her mother’s coffin (.8 years ago), the metal from the underwire tapping against the edge of the coffin as she ran her hands through her mother’s hair one last time and then wept so long and hard that the funeral started almost an hour late, and just now the hole emerging like an omen of age and change slapping her upside the head and making her wonder, “What next? What in the hell is going to happen next in this life of mine?”

The doorbell.

Katherine, angry at the unseen intruder who had startled her, miffed about the meaning behind her disintegrating bra, and half-naked, lunges for the door as the terrified blonde woman drenched in brown is reaching for the doorbell for the third time.

“Jesus!” she shouts as Katherine falls into her arms the very moment the door opens.

Katherine, still angry about the intrusion, has managed to grab a kitchen towel on her run from the bedroom. It is a small towel but a towel it is and when she falls into the arms of the UPS woman the towel drops and they both watch it descend to the floor as if it may break and shatter the instant it touches earth.

Anyone lucky enough to be watching would be breathless. What next? Who will move first? Will the UPS woman find this incident funny or humiliating? Will Katherine begin screaming again? And the package . . . what in the hell is in the package?

The UPS woman, who just happens to be a kind and gentle soul who lives alone and keeps notes on all of her customers, has her arms wrapped around Katherine to steady herself. Katherine has a brief moment of clarity when she feels the warm fingers of the woman on her shoulders and this resurrects a historic moment in her mind.

She remembers that her friend Reva took her shopping the day she bought the bra. Reva stood in the center of an old-fashioned department store, hands on hips, moving from foot to foot, and said that her mother had sold bras door-to-door in rural Nevada and it was a simple gift that a woman could give to herself—the proper fitting of a bra. This was said to Katherine P. Givins, attorney at law, who had purchased every undergarment in her entire life on the fly, cups too small, elastic tight against her back, tiny dents under her rib cage from wires that should never have been put into women’s clothing in the first place.

And then, the moment the saleswoman fitted her—the measuring tape sliding to the floor, her aging fingers gently lifting her breasts into this bra—this very exceptional bra—and the look on the older woman’s face, a look of kind satisfaction, as she watched Katherine move and realize that “Yes, damn it, a good bra can change everything.”

Their eyes meet then. The UPS woman asking with her soft green eyes what she should do next, and Katherine, not moving away, holding her there, for one, two, three seconds while she lets go—just lets go.

“It’s the bra,” she tells Ms. UPS. “Have you ever had a bra that has taken you through so much and held you in place like nothing else?”

The UPS woman, who was a woman way before she was UPS, does not flinch. More than once in her twenty-six-year career, a man has answered the door naked. She has walked in on clowns dancing on tables, a wife throwing meatballs at her husband’s favorite television show, and so many drunk people she cannot even begin to remember them all. Katherine in her favorite bra, holding her in her bra on the porch, is nothing.

“I love jogging bras,” the UPS woman begins. “In my business there is quite a lot of bouncing and jumping and although I am far from voluptuous, I need a good, solid foundation for the kind of work I do.”

Katherine falls right into the conversation, wearing her favorite undergarment, a pair of faded green cotton shorts that have another story to tell, and absolutely nothing else. The UPS woman, with more than a hint of subtle and gracious poise, motions for Katherine to step back inside of the house, but the women do not stop talking. They dance backwards and Katherine, hands flailing idly as they always do when she is excited, continues to talk about the demise of her Bali.

“Well, how about just getting a new one?” Ms. UPS asks.

“I’ve written and called and stopped at every department store in the United States and in three foreign countries. They do not make this bra anymore.”

“How sad is that.”

Katherine, who is usually gracious and poised herself, has this ridiculous urge to invite the UPS woman into the kitchen for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee so they can talk about undergarments all day, but she’s also a practical and usually wise woman. She knows there’s a good chance Ms. UPS has to finish working but she can’t quite stop herself. Undergarments, she thinks to herself, surely do strange things to one’s inhibitions.

Later, when days and weeks have passed and she has time to backtrack to this very moment, she will remember it as one that she should have paid more attention to when she was asking herself about why the hole in the bra was spreading now and why she was standing in her underwear in front of a stranger and why none of it seemed out of the ordinary.

“That thing,” she will eventually say to herself, “that inner voice that was tapping against my heart and asking me to pause—Damn, I should have listened. I should have paid attention because that’s when everything changed.”

Everything changed.

But first a wave of laughter rising from the two women who visually embrace each other as women do who can talk at the ring of a doorbell about underwear, and breasts and menstrual cycles and the way women connect and can fall into each other’s lives and arms so quickly.

“This must seem ridiculous,” Katherine says as the two women tip their heads and the sound of their laughter mixes and rises to the edge of high windows in Katherine’s very old but lovely home.

“Well, as you can imagine, I’ve seen everything. I’d much rather be greeted by a woman in a black bra who has a great story than a man in black underwear who has no story at all.”

Then Ms. UPS reaches inside of her brown pants pocket and she pulls out a small, soft stone that has been worn smooth and shiny by one ride after another inside the cotton pants pocket.

“You have a lucky bra, something that I imagine has carried you through some challenging and tough nights and days, and I have this rock.”

She lets Katherine take the rock into her hand and feel how just holding it, like wearing a fabulous bra, can be a comfort. They don’t talk about it because they are women and they know. They know about comfort and the loss of it and they know about sacrifice and change and that the ring of a doorbell, a wild call at midnight, the scent of something new, the touch of a baby or a lover’s fresh face, can change everything.

They know.

“I see,” Katherine says and then she gently hands back the stone, understanding its importance, but also not able to stop herself from saying, “You’ll understand if I don’t hand over the bra.”

They laugh, which is the perfect thing to do, and then Ms. UPS says, “The package!” and goes back to the front door where she set down her clipboard and the box, wrapped in the requisite brown paper with one single and simple label.

“This is for you if you are indeed Katherine P. Givins.”

“I am.”

“Expecting this?”

“I have no clue.”

“Well, this is your surprise and you were mine then,” Ms. UPS says, smiling as she dips to pick up her sign-off sheet.

Katherine signs the metal-backed ledger and then Ms. UPS bends to pick up the box. The transfer is swift and easy and the package passes from woman to woman in a ceremony that is completed only when Katherine, who has always been way to the other side of spontaneous, bends to hug Ms. UPS one last time.

“You are a sweetheart,” she tells her new blonde friend.

“Well, that’s nice but it’s all part of the job. I never know what is going to happen or what I might see when I ring someone’s doorbell.”

“I imagine you’ve seen more action than a pile of undergarments,” Katherine says and then pauses for a second. “There’s something new and exciting behind every unopened door.”

“Sounds like a book title,” Ms. UPS responds just before she turns back toward her waiting van. “Time to go see what’s behind the next door.”

There is a quick wave and then Katherine finds herself alone in the foyer of the home she has spent twelve years restoring. The home she bought with the proceeds from her first fairly huge lawsuit, which netted her $69,283 and allowed her to move from a two-bedroom apartment with her daughter Sonya following her divorce from a man whom she had once loved a great deal but had come to realize she should have never married for a variety of reasons including the not-so-obvious fact that he had never gotten over the love of his life—a woman he still saw three times a week at places like hotels, nice restaurants, and the back seat of her husband’s car.

The package.

Ms. UPS is stepping into the brown van when Katherine looks for just a second at the package that is wedged against her own chest, just where the Bali touches the top of her last rib, and wonders if the shape of the box does not hint that there may be a pair of shoes inside. Her mind stops there as Ms. UPS turns, shouts, “Bye now,” smiles as if she knows a wild secret and then disappears behind a sliding door that sounds like a smooth and even gunshot.

The door closes as Katherine turns to tap it with her heel, because ever since she has owned the home that is what she does to make certain that it really is closed, and when she turns she can see her reflection in the oak mirror by the door. She sees the bra hole—which is now wider than a golf ball, maybe even a tennis ball—widen to the shape of an almost ripe grapefruit.

“Damn it,” she says, even though she is not prone to swearing and loathes the societal turn of events that makes a word like “fuck” commonplace. “Just damn it.”

The package is wedged under her bra and Katherine does not realize that it is the package that is now holding the bra in place. She does not see that there is a dwindling span of threads the size of three toothpicks that is holding together the left side of her bra and that the minute she sits or moves too fast the bra will fly open and be lost to her forever. She doesn’t see this but she is thinking about it. She is thinking about the miles of highway that the bra has seen her over and the heartaches and the laughs and then, because she harbors a secret, a very old and almost forgotten desire to write children’s books, she wonders if anyone has ever written a story about a girl’s first bra. She is also thinking about the mysterious box and the who, what, when, where and why of its existence.

Katherine settles into the rocking chair just beyond the edge of the front hall, the box pushed tight against her chest, and rocks for one, two, three minutes wondering if Ms. UPS will race home and call someone to tell the story of the wild woman with the ancient bra who answered the door just past noon.

“No,” she answers herself the same way we all speak when we are alone or working and need to just hear a word so we can validate our own precious thought. “This probably happens all of the time.”

She imagines then just for a few moments what it would be like if she had the UPS woman’s life or anyone else’s life but her own. She wonders about delivering packages with unknown contents instead of drafting law briefs; she wonders about changing an entire career just like that, like the snap of a bra, for something new and maybe not so ferocious and seemingly arbitrary like distributing little pieces of the law. She wonders about skipping a beat, about missing an appointment, about maybe running down the road naked or doing something impractical like not even wear- ing a bra anymore. Something. Anything. She wonders and as she wonders she is astonished to realize she is tired. Physically tired and mentally tired. Tired of routines and all the expectations of her own life that she has so carefully designed and now scrambles daily to keep in place like one of those ridiculous plate-balancing acts at the circus.

Then it is time for the package.

Wrapped in a brown paper bag that has been cut with scissors and then taped so the edges touch perfectly. A package that comes to Katherine’s house on a Wednesday when she is rarely, if ever, home, but because of a scheduling mix-up and a sick clerk and the desire to breathe in some rare quiet for just a few hours, Katherine, who considers herself beyond predictable and north of reliable, slips from her assistant district attorney’s job and into her favorite nasty clothes, in which she expects to read a pile of old magazines until her daughter comes home for dinner from her third year of high school, track practice and a Spanish IV study session.

Her hands on the brown paper feel nothing but the smooth skin of old trees. The heart of a seedling turned into a cover sheet, she thinks, that is now wrapped around a mysterious package in the arms of a semi-naked woman in Northern California who is about to push aside its opening embrace and see what has certainly become part of a very interesting stolen afternoon.

No return address.

Printing neat and slanted, the hand of a woman, Katherine thinks, because there is something familiar and feminine in the way the letters turn and slant. She has seen this writing before. Someone she knows sent the package—but who?

When she moves to open the package, spreading apart the sealed edges, this is when the bra finally and forever snaps open and when everything changes.

Katherine does not feel the bra give way because from the moment she sees the note, from the moment she smells the rushing scent of sage that has been sprinkled across the top of the box and sees the two red tennis shoes inside, nothing else, not even the glorious bra, matters.

The note, folded in half once and written, Katherine thinks, by the same woman who addressed the outside of the box, tells half of the story before she even begins to read, and she gasps in astonishment because what she is holding is something spectacular, unforeseen and frightening.


It had to be you because you see the rough edges of life and death every day and because you were always in charge and because you touched my heart all those years ago when I needed it so badly with your fine friendship and a love that saw me through days no woman should have to know.

Packed in these red shoes, the ones I loved to wear without socks and through every season, are my ashes. You know that I am dead. You know how I suffered to get to that spot and you know my heart just as well as the women whose names rest under these fine red shoes.

So here, baby, are my bones and the pieces of my life that remain here while the rest of me has sailed on to a place I longed so to touch when I was so very, very ill. The whole idea of being dead pisses me off but as we always said, “It is what it is”—and I just happen to be dead.

Katherine, I never asked much of you after those first months when you held me up so that I would not fall away into a dark space unlike even this death, but this, this last wish, is not just for me, but also for you and for every woman on this list.

Do it. Just fucking (I know you hate that word!) do it. And in the doing, you will find that in my death, that in letting go of the others who have died and who are dying, and seeing this period of your lives for the rich, deep time that it is, you will feel the remains of my love for you all.

The instructions are under the shoes.

Be ready. I am asking a lot but then again, I always gave you, and them, the same.

I love you now as I always did and will. You are the sister I never had and you know that I loved you in a way I never loved anyone else.

Do this for me and in the end it will be the greatest gift you ever gave yourself.

Annie G. Freeman

Katherine does not cry or move. She sits for five, ten, and another five minutes after that. Then she moves both hands across the tips of the red shoes and bends over to kiss them and that simple, lovely, beautiful movement snaps the bra in half.

Chapter Two

It takes 6.2 hours and one fairly expensive bottle of Shiraz for Katherine to open the shoebox again and read the instructions that have been whispering in her ear since the moment the box arrived and her bra exploded. She has been unable to eat, told her office to hold her calls, has not returned even one personal phone call and has stared at the shoes so long she can now describe in detail every scuff mark, the way the laces fold the wrong way, how three eyes are loose and the edges of the top frayed with miles of wear and tear.

There is absolutely no reason for Katherine not to open the instructions that were placed under the red shoes after Annie’s death, by whom? A son? Her last lover? Another best friend? Or, as impossible as it might seem, by Annie herself. No reason except the idea that she may be asked to do something hard. Hard but remarkable, Katherine assumes, because she knows Annie, she knew Annie, she’ll always know Annie.

“Damn it,” she finally says to herself, tapping the shoes as if she were slapping someone she loved. “Just damn it.”

It is now beyond late on a Wednesday night and Katherine has begged off a dinner date with Alex, agreed to allow her daughter to sleep overnight at her friend’s house on a school night, and handled every other possible distraction, including a messy kitchen, wash, wild thoughts, a pending case that could end up in the state supreme court and a tiny whisper that extends beyond sorrow and leads into a field so wide it is almost more than Katherine can bear to lift her eyes to see what is around the next turn.


Before she opens the sealed instructions, Katherine flips through the files in her mind that she has lined up in a row that points to her heart, files from the week Annie died. She remembers the electrifying feeling of knowing that Annie would die before she ever saw her again. She remembers the flash of that moment in the high school bathroom all those years ago when their friendship was cemented forever, the way Annie held on to her hand when they came to get her and that second when her fingers slipped from her hand and then the months and months before she saw her friend again. The last days of high school, the summer they decided they would one day live in California, the night they climbed onto the roof and drank beer when their parents were at dinner and then all those years until now—kids, and lovers and weekends in the city and paths that crossed at intersections rimmed in sameness even though they had different roadmaps. And there was also Katherine’s schedule. The trials, the workloads and always this nudge, that she continually ignored, in the back of her mind that told her maybe she was spending way too much time on justice and not enough time inside of her own life.

“Damn you,” Katherine says, holding whatever is in the envelope to her breast in the same way she might hold Annie if she was sharing a sorrowful moment, maybe the loss of a love, the struggle through any avenue of life’s often messy streets. And even though she has already mourned the loss of her friend for weeks, she is wise enough to know that grief and remembering and loss cannot be predicted or held at bay. She knows and she lets her anger at the missing, at what must be in the envelope, at all the time she let slip away, spill from inside of her.

“Damn you for leaving me. Just damn you,” she says, wishing for just that second not to be as strong and as wise and as wonderful as Annie believed she was. Wishing that she could erase all her valleys of loss, fill them in with butter and cream and wine and walk across them like a bridge to an ocean as blue as the California sky.

Katherine thinks then for just a moment about her mother and she has the same pangs of regret, of missing, of loss, of suffocating sorrow. She allows herself to slip an inch down the wall, humbled even now, all the months, eight of them, following her mother’s death. The grieving, she knows, never ends, and all that will remain is the miracle of love. And she holds on to that miracle as if to save her life for the time it takes her to steady herself, to smell, without the reality of it, her mother’s scent—a fine mix of Dial soap, some ancient Avon product, garlic and Tide—her mother always used Tide.

“What you remember,” Katherine reminds herself, “is not what they think you will remember. It is often not.”

Before she opens the envelope, Katherine fingers a well-worn piece of newspaper she has retrieved from the kitchen counter that she has read so many times she could recite it from memory. She reads it one more time leaning against the edge of the fieldstone fireplace so she can look out into her backyard, the place she always imagined would be where she’d sit to write the same ashes-inside-tennis-shoe note to Annie as Annie wrote to her.

Her place. Her happiest space. The view into the garden, across a small hill and into the yard of her neighbor. No rooflines. Pure green dotted with flowers and a stretch of lawn that she has let go wild. Just this one spot no one else in the entire world dares to touch. Katherine looks and then she reads to prepare herself for the reading of whatever is under the damn red shoes.

San Francisco Chronicle


Annie G. Freeman—Local historian, English professor at San Francisco State University, founder of the Brighton Adolescent Suicide Prevention Network, Survivor’s Poetry Coalition, and Words on Wings Youth Summer Program; lively friend, mother, and the first woman in Northern California to successfully challenge the discriminatory hiring practices of all of California’s school systems, including the university system, has died of ovarian cancer.

Ms. Freeman, known by her friends as someone with a fiery spirit, endless compassion, and a laugh that “could be heard a mile away” died April 21 at the age of 56.

She moved to the San Francisco area from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1968 with her family. She lived in the San Francisco Bay area most of her life but graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison with a PhD in English and immediately returned to her much beloved Northern California.

Her work, first at San Francisco State University and later at Sonoma State, gained her international prominence as an advocate for teachers’ equality, a proponent of the use of writing as a therapeutic tool, and a developer of numerous young adult programs throughout California and the United States.

An adolescent survivor of a suicide attempt, Ms. Freeman was an outspoken advocate for treatment programs for young people battling depression and loneliness. Her unique and sometimes controversial programs, which have been used at clinics throughout the world, involved the use of teen mentors, wilderness settings, and writing to help heal what she called “the empty hearts” of young boys and girls.

Ms. Freeman was also a social and feminist activist who worked with a coalition of young academics to restructure the university pay system and institute gender awareness training at every California university system campus and at public schools throughout the state.

Although the majority of her writings were used to help others and in therapeutic settings, she also authored numerous articles and books on the history of Northern California, especially the small communities near Sonoma.

While her professional life undoubtedly helped thousands, Ms. Freeman said the single most profound act of her life was raising her two sons and making certain that they were exposed to as many thoughts, places and people as possible. Married briefly to an Italian painter in 1971, she never disclosed the identity of the father of her sons.

“She was a remarkable example of a woman who embraced life, fought stereotypes and helped so many people,” said Jill Matchney, retired president of the California State Teacher’s Union and a longtime friend of Ms. Freeman. “No one, not one single person, knew the breadth and scope of who Annie was, what she did, and how many lives she touched.”

When she was first diagnosed with cancer, following a routine exam, Ms. Freeman immediately became a regional spokeswoman for a variety of women’s cancer organizations, authored a book of poetry for those fighting “unlikely happenings,” and personally answered every letter or phone call from anyone who needed help or wanted to help her.

“My mother, once she decided that she wanted to live all those years ago after she tried to kill herself, loved life in a way that was beyond contagious,” said Nick Freeman, her son, who is a social worker at the Walons Family Clinic in Milwaukee. “Mom’s gone, but believe me, she is not done—not done at all.”

Ms. Freeman died with her two sons, Donan and Nick, her hospice caregivers, and her sister-in-law at her side, in her yard facing the edge of the mountains and her beloved ocean.

As part of her last wishes, Ms. Freeman asked that no formal funeral services be held but that well-wishers spend their time and money helping others and that any woman or man who has ever been touched by her life, writings, or one of her organizations reach out to help someone else.

When at last she opens the envelope, Katherine knows there is no way to really prepare herself for what request might be hiding inside. She knows that she owes the world nothing and that her dearest friend would ask her only for something that she deemed possible, and she knows, too, that in Annie Freeman’s world anything and everything was possible. The request, like Annie, could be astounding. It most likely is.

The letter is handwritten and when Katherine sees the first word, when she sees her name—Katherine—sitting there at the top of the page in the slim writing style from one of the fine black pens that Annie loved to use, she knows that this must have been done toward the end, toward the time when Annie knew she had only a few weeks, when this idea, whatever it was, had come to rest in a place that was ready to be put onto paper. The letters are shaky and for a moment Katherine closes her eyes and sees the trembling fingers of her friend, moving deliberately across this very sheet, focusing with every ounce of her remaining strength to just keep the tip of the pen against the top of the paper.

As wild and free as Annie was, and remained, she was also exact. Annie seldom hesitated. She would have hesitated in writing this only because it took her breath away to simply move her fingers.

While she reads, Katherine imagines her friend sitting in the wicker chair that faced the long backyard at her home. Annie would look up occasionally just to check the sky, just to see if it was still there curving above her, just to make certain that she could do just that—look. She would be thinking of Katherine and would maybe laugh out loud as she imagined Katherine, at this very moment, drinking her wine and filled with intense waves of wondering. Yes, Annie would definitely laugh.

“Shit,” Katherine said out loud. “You so knew who I was.”

The instructions, however, were filled with nothing laughable except the seemingly sheer impossibility of the desires placed after her name—“Katherine . . .” The instructions to the untrained eye might seem as hilarious as anything so difficult to accomplish that the only, the real, the natural response—must be to laugh.

Katherine, Laura, Rebecca, Jill and Marie——

I sure as hell would never have wanted a traditional funeral. You can all figure out how to get along without me. You can figure out that this makes sense and that at this time in your lives—Katherine, your mother; Laura, your daughter; Rebecca—everyone, so much loss and now me too; Jill, whatever loss you hold against your breastbone: all those students you no longer have to love and to help sustain your energy and direction; and Marie, all those lingering souls—all that loss needs to be colored in and then held to the light and you need to get rid of me, celebrate me, allow me this one last wish and here it is:

I want a traveling funeral.

That’s my wish.

I’ve spent weeks and weeks thinking about this, planning it, making the arrangements, and it has given me the great and extraordinary opportunity to take a remarkable journey back during the planning so that I can now move forward and so that you—and the women I have loved most—can honor me, grieve me and also prepare yourselves for what is coming down the road in your own lives. You are also allowed to have some fun. You all work too damn hard.

Do not—even one of you—say that you cannot attend my traveling funeral, because you are the procession. Do not one of you make an excuse why you cannot share this time with the women whose names are with yours on this list and do not think that this will be entirely painful. It will be fun. You will share stories and remember me and in that remembering you will also remember a part of you that may have become buried under all the damn layers of life that accumulate day after day until they have lined up like a brick wall to prevent us from seeing—really seeing.

You may not always get along, especially if Katherine is always in charge (Katherine—I’m kidding—remember what they said about you in high school?) and it may not be easy for you to arrange your schedules and families and the timetable in your own heads, which were not prepared for something like the traveling funeral of your friend Annie. But I am asking each of you to try. Please try and do this.

Meet the Author

Kris Radish is the bestselling author of four novels, The Elegant Gathering of White Snows, Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn, Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral, and The Sunday List of Dreams. She lives in Wisconsin, where she writes two nationally syndicated columns each week and is at work on her sixth novel, The Poetry of Emma’s Salvation.

Brief Biography

Oconomowoc, Wisconsin
Date of Birth:
September 18, 1953
Place of Birth:
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
B.A., University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1975

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Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 63 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
When fifty-six years old Annie Freeman dies from ovarian cancer she sends her ashes inside her red shoes via UPS to her friend Katherine Givens. Annie¿s instructions are to lead around the country funeral procession of her closest pals starting at Sonoma, California to Albuquerque, the Keys, Manhattan, Lake Superior and an island near Seattle, at each site her best friends are to sprinkle her remains. Katherine would do almost anything for the woman who understood her better than anyone. --- After a reluctant start and a bottle of courage labeled as Shiraz, Katherine begins to put together the odyssey of the last request of the San Francisco State University English professor. Under two weeks later, Katherine joined by Annie's university colleague Jill Matchney, women's crisis worker Laura Westma, neighbor Rebecca Carlson and hospice aide Marie Kondrinsky trek along Annie¿s given route. The women bond sharing secrets of their late zany pal who not only lived life to the fullest and encouraged others to do likewise, but she was also there to help the downtrodden do so. --- Using flashbacks to when Annie first met each of her pall bearers, readers obtain an intriguing character study inside a sisterhood bonding. The story line reflects mostly on Annie, but also provides insight into the greatness that she saw and supported in her cronies. Though the tale at times turns too melodramatically angst-laden, contemporary fiction readers will want to journey around the country tossing the ashes of a fine person. --- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could not wait to turn the pages and see what would happen next. Was so sorry when I finished the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a book club pick and I would have stopped reading after the first chapter if I could. The bra was driving me crazy and most of our group wanted the whole traveling funeral to die in a plane crash. What a disappointment and a waste of time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
GREAT BOOK I could not put it down. I think the "bra" chapter was hilarous and so real to me. If you have every lost a loved one or close friend...this book is the one!
jennbunny More than 1 year ago
This was my first Kris Radish book and also my most favorite! It is a story of friendship.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading this book was so timely as I was dealing with the deaths of several wonderful women in my life. Not being able to be part of the memorials bothered me, but after reading this book I felt like I could have my own memorial for them and celebrate the great and fun things about them. Read and enjoy the fun these women had learning about a friend they thought they knew.
zee12 More than 1 year ago
This was the first book I read by this author, and I have sought out most of the rest of her writings. As unlikely as it sounds, a traveling funeral is a fine beginning for a great road trip. I like her characters and the ways that she relates to women's issues...both large and small. Not deep reading, but fun and thought-provoking at the same time.
QOS More than 1 year ago
I had been hearing about this book for about a year and when a book club decided to discuss it, I decided to read it. Now I know what all the fuss was about! Before I proceed with a review, this book is for and about women. men might gain some insight but probably wouldn't come out of a reading thinking it was fun, let's be truthful. Women in the book club were of various ages, I'm more the age of the women in the book, but we could see parts of ourselves in all the characters. Annie Freeman was a bit larger than life but having lost 3 family members, 2 of them to cancer, those we love become that way very quickly when they pass away. There was realism in there with the caricatures of the characters. The writing style can be a bit stream of consciousness within stream of consciousness but still works. Reading it caused me to question, laugh and cry sometimes all at once. Baby Boomer women should definitely read this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I started the book, but it was so painfully descriptive and slow, that I had to give up! I got through about 1/3 of it and then I stopped reading. FYI: I don't remember the last book I didn't finish. I will see it in the theater if it becomes a movie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was our chosen book-club selection. Of the 9 women in our group, only two managed to get through the book. The rest of us just couldn't stay interested and finally gave it up. The characters are non-inspiring for the most part and the personalities seem contrived...would not recommend it.
DoranneLongPTMS 5 months ago
What a ride! Such fun to travel through life and death and grief as these characters travel around the country, into their past and into their future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nan2 More than 1 year ago
The plot speaks to the heart of a lot of women particularly those of us who are living through the loss of a sister or friend. Annie G. Freeman offers us each an alternate lens for looking at end of life celebrations and a tool for reflecting on our own lives. The author makes you challenge your own views of life, death and just living. Enjoyed it very much. I plan to buy copies for my sisters and my daughters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Definitely a book for women, refreshingly different with a wide array of emotions exposed. A group of diverse women meshing to complete a common goal that will forever change them. If you want predictable this is not the book for you. A reading adverture.
dressmakerSC More than 1 year ago
I loved this book from page 1. I could relate with the bra episode. I laughed and cried all the way to the last page. I honestly did not want this book to end. I related to each woman in some small way. This book should be shared with every woman in your life who is over 50. For those who did not like it, all I can say is, you never had a favorite bra or a comfortable pair of tennis shoes.
Heidi_G More than 1 year ago
Two minutes into the audio, I already disliked this title so much that I wanted to push the stop button. I stuck it out only because of a friend's high recommendation for the print version. And it was a struggle not to give up on the book. I just did not identify with, nor really like, any of the characters. Maybe too homespun for me, or too... what? I don't know; it was not the book for me. Two stars because the premise of a traveling funeral is interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Easy read about the bond of friendships with women in different stages of their life. I have other books by this same writer on my wish list.
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Cooty_Leroux More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed reading this book. And easy read, a great book to kick back with a cold glass of lemonade or wine by the pool and relax with.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the traveling funeral. This books reminds us to take time out of our busy days and enjoy time with your family and friends.
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