Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of Ken’s death. In so many ways it’s impossible to fathom. I can still picture him and our life together. How can this be? So often in the intervening year I’ve woken up, happy, stretching–then I remember. He’s gone. And my mood dips and my heart breaks. Over and over. That part has gotten a little easier. I guess I’m getting used to it–something I struggle with because I don’t want to get used to not having him in my daily life. And though every day since he died I’ve learned a telling lesson or been pushed to be stronger or smarter, it’s still another daunting, bittersweet day further from a life I loved so much.
(Craig snapped this photo of PadLo (“SadLo”) on June 1, 2011. I think he accurately captured how we were all feeling in a very Ken-like way.)
Facing the anniversary of his death was something I dreaded–always–but particularly when the holiday milestones had passed and there was nothing between us but squares with bolded numbers on a calendar. It loomed in the distance, never letting me forget it was coming closer. The first of each month was an orderly and stark reminder another month had passed. And that “it” was coming.
But once I started thinking about how I would mark the occasion, I realized the day could be whatever I wanted it to be. It didn’t have to a thief or a bully who walked brazenly into my house and to hold me hostage or tell me how to feel. Rather, it was my day. In bold contrast to last June 1 I was in control and could do whatever I wanted to honor Ken and lasting impact he has. The way I was feeling about the day began to shift.
I started the day inevitably with thoughts of last June 1. Random ones. Like what a gorgeous day June 1, 2011 was–and how ironically in my mind it was the most beautiful day of the summer…maybe ever. (Yesterday was a different kind of day. Gloomy, rainy, cold. More appropriate in some ways.) I remember the breeze that kept the sun from making it too hot. And the sunburn on my back of my neck as I sat in the back yard with my brother- and mother-in-law and Ken’s bestie Kim for hours–dazed, broken and relieved. I didn’t want to relive last June 1.
So, I didn’t.
Ken had a green thumb. He had one of the greenest thumbs I’ve ever borne witness to–one of his many caregiving attributes. It’s something he and his friend Barbara shared in common. She has an overflowing and beautiful garden that Ken loved. I heard about it as soon as we met and before I saw it with my own eyes. It’s a lush paradise that he spent many an hour pulling weeds and planting green or flowery things. It seemed fitting to scatter a little of him there among the vibrant flowers and greenery.
And so we did, each of us in turn. Me, Barbara and husband Pedro. Talking of Ken. Loving him. And honoring him. It was subtle and powerful to hold his pebbly ashes in my bare hand and spread them among the flowering rose bush as Barbara spoke to him and recalled tales of him in the garden. It was joyful. It was love. And it was the perfect way to begin a day I imagined I’d be cursing the universe for. But I left there happy, moved and at peace.
(Just a tiny portion of Barbara’s beautiful garden–and Beagle–and the sprawling rosebush that we encircled with love.)
I met up with Anna, another “kenron” pal, at Garfield Park Conservatory, a place Ken introduced me to early in our relationship and we visited with regularity over the years. It was a meaningful place for Anna as well. She’d gone there to reflect last June 1 after learning of Ken’s passing. I had considered going there as part of my day, but once I got her invitation, I knew it was where I belonged. We walked among the ferns, aroids, and cacti, talking of Ken, life and how in just a couple of weeks she and her husband Dave will become first-time parents. It felt so right that there were moments during our conversations I completely forgot about the milestone the day marked–which really astounded me as I thought about it on my way home in the late afternoon.
(The Reflecting Pond with the standing Chihuly sculptures where we sat and talked.)
I arrived home shortly before my long-time bestie Kathy arrived to hang out and spend the night. She is a veteran of so many experiences in my life I was happy to know I’d be spending the evening and completing this “mother of all firsts” with her. We took a walk in the neighborhood for dinner, re-telling stories and sharing memories with Ken. After she went to bed, I sat down to do some writing, somehow wanting to make it to midnight. I was all about the journey for this special day, but I wanted to be awake to bid it a fond farewell. Forever.
It wasn’t that the day didn’t offer up its share of difficult moments–echoes from a year ago when the world as I knew it shifted on its axis–it was that they didn’t define the day. What did, was the richness of the connections and relationships with people I’m lucky enough to call my friends and family. The outpouring of support and love flowed toward me from the second I woke up until I went to sleep–and even after that. It’s been amazing to see and hear people expressing their love for him. I’m so proud to have loved someone with such integrity, creativity and charm. That he could love someone like me makes me feel special, worthy and somehow assures me that the future holds something for me–if my past is any indication.
In spite of it all, I’m still the luckiest man in the world.