On Ken's 50th Birthday

I’ve felt the pull of this day for a couple of weeks. Uneasiness and my social impotence returned, leaving me tired and usually in the desire of no one’s company. For someone as far down the path of grief as I consider myself, I’m more than a little surprised when I find an impending Ken-related milestone still throws a wrench into the works.

He would have turned fifty years old today. Fifty. Odd. Fifty seems so young to this forty-seven year old–let alone forty-five which was the last birthday he celebrated. Today would have been the day when he would have woken up to an email from Mama Jo titled “the day,” followed by a song-filled phone call from her accompanied by recollections of how she was hanging drapes when she went into labor–and really wanted to finish them before she went to the hospital. She’d remind him that by the time his dad came in from the parking the car, Ken had already arrived.

What a rush he was in to begin living, we’d always say. Which makes so much sense, as anyone who laid eyes upon him saw how much he savored life and how hard he fought for every day to experience it.

It’s funny to think that when he turned forty, we were living in LA. A few lifetimes ago, it seems. I surprised him with poems I’d asked friends and family to write about him. Some silly, some soulful, some a mix of both, he enjoyed the witnessing the creativity our peeps displayed when expressing their feelings for him.

The limerick I wrote for Ken for his 40th birthday.

The limerick I wrote for Ken for his 40th birthday.

On his 45th birthday we completed a “Ken-Do” Dictionary to surprise him with. He’d been re-diagnosed with cancer and I’d hoped seeing how much he was loved would bolster his strength and courage. Even better, we’d managed to surprise him with his brother and sister-in-law from Los Angeles. That birthday seems like only a few blinks of an eye ago. I’ll never forget the look on his weary and fatigued face when we walked into our back yard to have a cocktail to find Craig and Katie standing there, grinning from ear to ear. He was speechless. And for Ken, that was a feat!

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Since he died, I’ve marked this day with (among other things) taking home-baked goodies to the cancer where he received treatment, and to see beautiful Blanca, the sweetest (and Ken’s favorite) nurse. A new, state-of-the-art cancer facility had been built on the hospital campus and opened this past April. This was my first opportunity to see it, and I was lucky enough to get a personalized tour from Blanca who was rightly quite proud of it.

The new Creticos Cancer Center at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center

The new Creticos Cancer Center at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center

There are many reasons why I enjoy–and feel the need–to see Blanca. And I can’t explain all of them. Her spirit is so calm and joyful. She sees what most would consider to be such sadness and pain, yet she possesses a lightness that defies the disease that seemingly swirls around her. She is a connection to another time for me; a difficult time in some respects, but also a time that carries its own share of joys. When she laughs and smiles and mentions a “Kenny” memory, it’s both matter-of-fact and dazzling to me. That she has such powerful memories of one of thousands off patients she’s cared for over the years reaffirms all the things I know to be true about his character.

This year's treats were brownie cupcakes with chocolate ganache and flaked sea salt.

This year’s treats were brownie cupcakes with chocolate ganache and flaked sea salt.

Like last year, my friend Mindy was in town from Portland and accompanied me on my visit to deliver my treats, see Blanca and the new cancer facility. (Aside from the usual catharsis that spending time in the kitchen to bake for the nurses and staff provides), sharing this tradition with someone has begun to change it for me in the smallest of ways; to take it outside of myself and help me put it in some sort of context in terms of my life now. Without really realizing it, the day wasn’t just about marking Ken’s birthday. It was a day about love and fun and friendship and remembrance.

Most importantly, it was about life.

Mindy and Ron selfie toast after a job well done.

Mindy and Ron selfie toast to Ken after a job well done. Cheers!



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