When the holidays rolled around, spending Christmas with my sister Katherine was the highlight. It all started with her “Smoking Donkey” present. One year, each one of us received a small plastic donkey and were instructed to stick the rolled paper in its mouth and light it on fire, and we would all watch as it blew smoke rings. It tickled our funny bone, and we laughed for hours.
Katherine’s gifts were never a shiny new present. Instead, a bunch of old, dilapidated, hysterically funny items from the thrift store or a crazy joke gift (the year it was Twister, we all ended up like pretzels at the end of the night) was inside the beautiful wrapping paper. She was so good at it that exchanging secondhand gifts became a tradition. Katherine made us realize the true meaning of Christmas — being together as a family, having fun. It wasn’t about receiving nice gifts.
We have never seen K.G. laugh so hard as when our dad was the butt of one of the joke gifts, the infamous “bird whistle.” Dad’s an avid bird watcher, so he was the perfect recipient of this “made-up gift” (actually a prank “backward” whistle from the joke store). “Blow real hard, Dad!” we all chimed in. His cheeks filled up with air, and ours did too from holding back our laughter, knowing what was about to happen. Instead of the expected sound of an owl chirping came a “Poof!” White powder covered my dad’s face; we couldn’t see his eyes.
He was in shock; the room was silent as we watched him dust the white powder off of his face. It was like the calm before the storm. The anticipation was more than we could take, and we all burst out in laughter. Katherine buckled over, holding her stomach from laughter while she rolled around on the living room floor, tears streaming down her face.
My sister was born and raised in Santa Barbara, with a vibrant soul and infectious laugh that touched everyone’s lives, including strangers; people were drawn in. Even in her youth, she was a true leader. She received the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) award at La Colina Junior High and was elected vice president of her class at San Marcos High School. She graduated with a fine-arts degree from Arizona State University.
Wherever she lived — Venice Beach; Palm Springs; Kona, Hawai’i — K.G.’s loving and generous spirit spurred her to volunteer for organizations to help troubled, disadvantaged, and homeless youth; she received a commendation from the City of Los Angeles for her efforts. She loved dogs and animals, volunteering for local animal shelters and caretaking domestic pets. She donated her time at the Kona Outdoor Circle — an organization that upholds the Hawaiian culture.
Katherine was an admired bodysurfer, enjoying many years in her “special bay” on Kona. A bona fide selkie at heart, K.G. sometimes seemed more comfortable in the ocean than on land. And she stayed totally fit. She worked out religiously — cycling, lifting weights, swimming. Along with her healthy lifestyle, K.G. loved cooking. Not long ago, she took a cooking class in Thailand, which combined two of her passions: cooking and travel.
Full of selfless and endless curiosity about people, K.G. worked for numerous elite spas that valued her gifts as a natural healer, skilled masseuse, and reiki master. But her true joy was travel, and she had recently started a travel retreat business for women.
Katherine passed away doing what she loved the most: traveling and looking for beautiful beaches. Finally, in Koh Rong (“Paradise Island”), Cambodia, she found her ultimate paradise in heaven on September 23, 2013 (she was born February 6, 1958). On her way to the beach, she was attacked and killed. The suspect is still at large, and our family continues to work with the U.S. Embassy to find closure. She was 55.
We know that K.G. is now bodysurfing the galaxies. She rests in the eternal peace that she sought on her spiritual journey. She is survived by her parents, George and Susan Grgich; her sisters Amy Grgich and Jennifer (Grgich) Harden; and Tom Harden, brother-in-law. We will never forget you, Katherine, our daughter, sister, and friend, for showing us the true meaning of Christmas. You will always remain our special “gift.”