Living in the Birthday Present
Today is Ken’s birthday.
Of all the annual milestones throughout the year, this one hurts the least because it’s said in the present tense. It is Ken’s birthday. Not was. I welcome any opportunity I can speak of him in the present tense. It will always be the anniversary of his birth on September 21, 1965. And–luckily for both of us–some thirty-odd (very odd, some would say) years later our paths crossed–setting us down an amazing and important path together. Part of that journey ended on June 1, 2011. But not all of it.
In keeping with my tradition over the last three years, I baked a double batch of homemade “Hostess Cupcakes”–replete with creamy filling–and delivered them to my lovelies at the Creticos Cancer Center. I made them the first time in April, 2010 when Ken finished–what we thought at the time–was a “preventative” round of chemo to share in the Infusion Room with the nurses, staff and other patients to celebrate the occasion and to thank them for all they’d done during our visits. I remember what a big deal Ken made about the cupcakes, proudly bragging to anyone who passed by that I’d made them. That’s my connection to making them.
I’ve probably only made them once since he died–and maybe three or four times total–since that first batch. And as I was making them the other night, I remembered why. Making these cupcakes is equal parts complicated (the recipe), painful (my heart) and therapeutic (my psyche). It’s impossible to make them without thinking about that first time; about the pervasive mood of excitement and celebration I felt in the kitchen, knowing the nightmare of the past six months was about to be a distant memory. This time here were some chin-quivering moments spent in my kitchen–as there are. As there has to be for me.
But in making them again, I’m changing the narrative. Along with the memories I have of making them that first time to celebrate Ken’s completion of chemo, there are also memories over the past three of years of seeing the nurses and staff, the smiles and laughter–with Ken and without. And the satisfaction I feel in returning every year at this time (as well as around Christmas) in honoring his memory, and–regardless of the outcome–the importance of the treatment he received there.
I freely admit there is some kind of emotional payoff in going to the cancer center strictly for social reasons, knowing I can stay for as little or as long as I want without any ties to receiving any of their professional services. Part of the trek is wanting to show gratitude to these incredible people who perform a job I could never dream of doing so professionally and kindly, but also a way of maintaining a connection to my old life–our old life. It’s not something I need as often as I used to, but it’s still something I need.
When Ken began receiving treatment there, it initially felt more like going to a distant aunt’s house: at first, foreign, cold and uninviting, but over time, we began to get more comfortable, and eventually walked in owning the place. Ken’s undeniable presence and charm settled for no less. He never looked forward to receiving treatment, but always to seeing the faces there–and entertaining them. For me, it was a respite from being solely responsible for his well-being, so my memories there are–for the most–fond. Mostly because Ken was such a positive source of goofiness and fun no matter where he was.
On this day, I want to share a new page on my blog. It’s aptly called About Ken, and as you’ll read, it’s a place where I’ve shared some photos and a little information about him. My own little virtual “Helen Zatterberg Park”.