Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Soirée of a Lifetime

Yesterday was the Memorial soirée for Ken--my partner, husband and friend of 10 years. The day and the event can only be described as "perfect." It went off exactly as it was supposed to and was exactly what I expected, hoped for and needed in order to feel a sense of closure and to gain some perspective to figure out what my life's road map will start to look like.

I was honored to have so many close friends and family attend, and even more honored to have so many dear ones step up to share words about what Ken meant to each of them--from family to friends and even our doctor who not only came to the soirée, but told a beautiful and funny story about Ken, proclaiming him without a doubt his favorite patient. (Hey, wait! I'm still his patient. Oh well, he is definitely hard act to follow.)

The day started off on a good note. I managed to get myself to the gym for my training appointment--after pushing it back a couple of hours. I was constantly surprised about how good I felt the day would go, and little I was stressing over the details that I'd painstakingly planned for weeks. It was a day for Ken, and a day for those of us who loved him to gather, share and love each other (whether in person or in spirit.) I had a house full of Andersons, and one of my favorite memories of the day was the five us standing around the peninsula in the kitchen having breakfast, talking and goofing. It was a gentle moment that was the harbinger of a gentle, loving day.

The folks at the Annoyance Theater was so accommodating, friendly, and helpful. Once we were at the venue I felt even more secure that the day would be perfect. And it was. In every way. It's a testament to good friends and family when little details are picked up by others. I didn't have to sweat any of it. I could feel it. My "what if?" was put into stasis while "why not?" was freed up to get some leg room.

The photo below is a view of the theater space where the soirée took place. My dad is center, observing the setup, and Rebecca, a wonderful friend and the mistress of ceremonies, is to the right, prepping for the shindig. Once it began, this show played to a packed audience.


After I'd put out the call for people to speak, I outlined a theme that is most closely identified with Ken. "Why not?" And each of them--a dozen perhaps--all stood up in front of this loving crowd and shared stories that were all different variations on that theme. Each speaker was more compelling and passionate and funny than the last. It truly was a celebration of someone who touched all of us in a deep and profound way. Each was moving and heartfelt and heartbreaking all at the same time. It was a tribute worthy of Ken, and he would have been proud of everyone who braved "stage fright" to stand up and share their words. In one of the final deliveries of the event, his almost-90-year-old grandmother stood up. "I've got something to say!" she proclaimed when Rebecca was making the last call for sharing. She stood up in the second row, holding Mama Jo's (my mother-in-law) hand and said a string of the most beautiful and touching words anyone could ever hope to hear. Her courage wasn't surprising. She's rife with it. But to stand up and share thoughts about Ken and his and my relationship was mind-blowing and tear-inducing. She called us "the perfect couple." Her words, along with so many others will stand out in my memory as part of one of the happiest days of my life. And definitely a hallmark to Ken and the love we shared.

This day was a platform for me. It was a solid foundation on which to securely plant my heart--and my feet--in order to figure out my life and my future--without Ken as a daily physical presence. Securely entrenched in my heart, he'll never be far away from my life or thoughts. But this soirée was freeing. To his memory. To me. And to all of us who loved him. He won't be forgotten. That's an obvious impossibility. He's left indelible impressions on all of us--even people he never met in person. As I talked to people afterward, that notion became clearer and clearer. It's a shared loss, but more than that, knowing him was a shared experience that I know we will all take with us as we move forward.

There is something special that happens when you gather loving, creative, giving people with a common purpose. There is no discernible formula, but the result is nothing short of magic. My endless love and gratitude to everyone who has loved and supported us during the last year and a half--and always. The soirée yesterday wasn't just a tribute to Ken, but to those of us he loved and who loved him as we came together and celebrated him...and just celebrated. He would have loved seeing that.

At the conclusion of the soirée, I put together a slide show with some musical assistance from my Katie and my Craig (sister-in-law and brother-in-law seem too sterile for the relationship we share), and my dear friend Mindy. Click the link below to watch it. I know I will.

Soirée Slideshow

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Why Not?" Moments Abound (and so do "Other" Kinds)

I have been keeping myself very busy lately. Lots of organizing and straightening up "common" areas. Places I never looked at twice because either I knew Ken would tend lovingly to them, or after he was sick I didn't have the time or wherewithal to focus on. It's being in these places that were last arranged by his expert hands that I've had some odd experiences. I've had moments of crystalline clarity when somehow everything that's happened "makes sense"; where I feel so empowered by the gifts he gave me and can turn my face toward the future and know I'll figure out something I (and he) can be proud of. And then there are times when I'm entranced and befuddled. Completely dazed, hearing myself mutter things like "I had everything. Now I have nothing" or "my future evaporated." They are disconnected moments that feel like more of an echo of my grief at its worst. And finally, I've had some quiet, sit-down moments where I've sometimes enjoyed, and sometimes just endured the quiet that fills my house now.

This week I've found myself requiring a much higher level of organization and tidiness that I have ever experienced before. I make my bed now. And worse, it satisfies me. I don't wait to tidy up after things have piled up. I do them when it's the right time to do them. My eyes examine familiar things in a new and more scrutinizing way. Let's face it. It's a more Ken-like way in many respects. When I was organizing the bedroom I pulled the dresser away from the window in order to get to the curtains. I couldn't remember if we'd purchased them in Chicago or LA, but in either case I knew for certain they hadn't seen the inside of a washing machine for quite some time. So I slipped them off the rod and I bundled them into my arms. I heard a familiar voice whisper "hey, why don't you check to see if we have any Rit in the laundry room." What a ridiculous suggestion! I don't do things like that. Too complicated. Too hard. What's the point? I considered it then discarded it, then reconsidered, then rediscarded, but didn't think I was up for the challenge (though I'd done it before for the living room curtains per Ken's request.) When I tossed them into the washer, lo and behold, there was some "yellow golden" dye sitting loudly on the shelf--front and center. Whether it was Ken or the emotional impression he left on me--like we were pressed so tightly together he left a true and indelible imprint on my heart or my brain or my psyche or on everything. I love moments like that. I hope they never stop. I need them. It makes me feel connected to him--and to our accomplished life together.


Aside from trying to get back into the swing of things at work, I've been planning Ken's memorial "soiree" (what he wanted it to be called) which is equal parts fulfilling and painful. Am I looking forward to it? Not at this point. Am I dreading it? Definitely. Though I'm excited to see the readings our friends and family will be presenting to pay homage to him, I'm dreading the idea of a final "good bye" to him, and to a life I cherished. As those very friends and family begin to descend on Chicago beginning tomorrow (Friday), I'm optimistic that I'll feel more comfortable with--well, with everything. There are several people I haven't hugged yet, or shared a person-to-person cry with. I don't think closure can begin for me until that happens. And certainly, the "soiree" is only the very beginning of the healing process. I know Ken would love the idea of so many loved ones together; loving and supporting one another. In that respect, I'm really looking forward to it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Better Day

Good days should be acknowledged. And today was one of those days. No tears came today--not that that would have been a bad thing. But for the time being appears i've reached my quota of saline production. I made the conscious choice to not work on the memorial soiree, though my "to do" lists are aching for some attention. I spoke to my friend Katie (who also happens to be my sister-in-law) for a good long while last night. She was the cherry--or rather the chocolate covered strawberry of my day.

Earlier in the afternoon I'd received a box of said chocolatey delights as well as a beautiful orchid plant, rife with blooms about to pop. Ken would have gone ape shit over such a gorgeous piece of flora. After marveling at its beauty for an hour, I said to myself, "Now how am I going to keep it alive until she gets here!?" Not good with the "green" (money or plants), my history with such things involves midnight trashcan burials and buying identical replacements more than reaping any long term enjoyment. But as my mom pointed out in an earlier conversation when I was telling her about the thoughtful gifts, I didn't used to be very good a cooking either, and managed to pick up that talent to a degree, so perhaps next on my self-improvement agenda will be to not kill plants.

I'll keep you updated.


This plant really is the metaphor for all the love and support I continue to receive from a family so full of love. I couldn't be more grateful if the plant were plastic.

Happy times lie ahead. Difficult ones too. But for today, I understand how "happy" will fit into my world again.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Day

Today is my birthday. I knew it would be difficult--for multiple reasons. Acknowledging--let alone celebrating--my birth when I so recently lost Ken didn't hold much interest for me. Aside from that, and even more importantly, Ken always made my birthday special--just by being himself. Whether he pulled out all the stops for my 40th birthday in 2008 with tons of gasp-inducing surprises or whether we just sat in the back yard, sipping martinis and talked and (inevitably) laughed. In either case, he always gave me a card he'd made. Those were the most important and meaningful parts of my day without exception. He loved celebrating my arrival on the planet because he delighted in knowing our paths crossed, intertwined.

The card he created and gave to me on my 40th (after an astounding day of surprises) typified what he gave me every single day.


Today the sorrow and emptiness were inescapable. Like a Looney Tunes Acme Pothole (TM) that was thrown in front of me, no matter how far I tried to back up, it just got bigger and bigger. It enveloped me. There was nothing I could do but surrender to it. And I wanted to. My heart is broken in the only way it can be when part of it is removed despite vehement--and futile--objection.

I heard his voice today. After I finished working, he urged me to stuff a couple olives with bleu cheese and shake a martini. I didn't really want to--hard to believe, I know. But I did. And I toasted to him, and all the birthdays he made so special for me. I looked at photo albums, and even watched the video taken from my aforementioned dazzling 40th birthday spectacular, rife with surprises, love and laughter. And I felt it all again. I listened to his voice purr on the video, and it made me...happy. He relished giving and surprising. And I took great delight in reliving it, focusing not on my reaction to the deluge of surprises, but in his, in being responsible for them.

There are times when I want to lock all the doors, close all the blinds and turn off every electronic device I have just to curl up in a corner and live in my memories. And I can't guarantee that won't happen--at least for an hour or two. It's hard to continue past the mesmerizing sheen of a such a beautiful shared life. You can't help but stare at it. Think about it. Be entranced by it. And miss it...desperately. When your identity becomes so intimately intertwined with another's, extricating yourself from it seems heartless and wrong.

I don't have any "a-ha" moments to share. Today was hard in spite of the love that was communicated to me via phone, text, snail mail, email, and Facebook. In retrospect, I'm sure it will have made a bigger difference than I'm able to discern today. As for me, I enter my 43rd year incomplete and more fragile than I've ever been in my life. There is a level of general discomfort and disorientation I'm completely unfamiliar with. Sometimes I'm controlled by it in a way that scares, angers, confuses, and exhausts me in equal measure.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Building and Stumbling

I returned to work yesterday. It was a daunting feat, but a necessary one. I'd submerged myself in alone-time last week to ensure I could feel the full gamut of emotions I needed to feel. I gave them their due. I kept busy but allowed myself moments/hours to feel what I felt. But by Sunday I was ready to go back to work—or at least be “out and among.” To be busy and distracted and productive sounded like a wonderful idea. And it was. A couple of well-wishers stopped by my desk, and that was lovely, but for the most part I don’t think many people noticed I was back in the office. Many of them probably hadn’t noticed how long I’d been gone or why. The day went well, in fact I felt good to be back in the Aeron saddle again. The morning passed quickly. I ran across the street to Corner Bakery and indulged in a chopped salad. Delicious! The second I finished it, I had the impulse to call Ken and see what he had for lunch. Weird. I dipped my toes into a the sadness pool, but kept jumping in. “It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.”

I left about 4:30. I felt triumphant and even texted my sister-in-law with said confidence. "Day 1 down!" As I rode the elevator up in the parking garage I could feel my emotions rising as well. As soon as I got into the car the tears streamed down my face and my chin quivered uncontrollably. The dam burst, and there was no holding it back—even if I’d wanted to. I used to love coming home. And seeing my sweet man. I knew we'd hang out and commiserate or celebrate, depending on the kind of days we’d had, over cocktails. It's sad and disappointing not to have that anymore. It’s another familiar experience that seems so empty and pointless and dull without him. Our time together was usually full of fun and laughter, but it was sacred at the same time. We replenished each other as well as ourselves.

I think a deeper challenge that I hadn't yet considered is finding meaning in my life. Before…just being part of “us” carried so much meaning for me. It was the multi-faceted foundation that acted as a spring board for everything else. I still had a strong sense of self but my life was bigger than me. The sum of us was greater than either if us individually. Therein lies the new challenge: creating a foundation to keep me stable and support me as I figure out what my life will look like and how it can serve me best. And serve the lessons I learned alongside the most amazing man I have ever known. I know he'd want our love and our life together to be a building block for me, not a stumbling block.

The bar in finding meaning in what I do in my life has been raised to just out of reach, it seems. When Ken was here it didn't really matter what I did all day because I came home to him in the evenings, and that was the time we worked on planning and pursuing our dreams. Now that time is over, and it feels like since it can’t ever be re-created, that it has to be taken to the next level in order to do it justice. What is that? I’m not exactly sure, but I’ll know it when I see it.

Giving myself permission to be excited about the possibilities that lie ahead won’t an easy task. It would feel like I’m abandoning my old life, and Ken. But it’s not time for that yet. I have a lot more feeling--and intellectualizing--to do before I get there.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Baking Lessons


Yesterday I decided I bake an apple pie. Simple enough, right? But never having done so before I felt like it would be a fun challenge--no matter how it turned out. Worse case scenario I'd just pitch it and learn from my mistakes. (a "what if...?" mindset workaround.) When I went to Jewel to buy some Granny Smith apples I couldn't find the sheets of pre-made pie dough anywhere. "I'll make it myself," I thought as I ran down all the ingredients involved, knowing I had them all. With some Internet recipe research I realized once made, the pie dough needed to be chilled for 4 hours or over night. "No problem! I'll make the dough tonight and bake the pie tomorrow." Easy peasy.

After therapy I puttered around until afternoon when I decided it was "go" time. I rolled out the first ball of buttery dough and placed it expertly into the pie dish to pre-bake it a bit. No one wants soggy pie bottom, right? Hmmmm...pie weights were in order. I'd seen on all the cooking shows that dried beans do the trick nicely. I'd always wondered where I could actually use the bag of lentils we'd had in the cabinet for years. Perfect! (because I'd never be able to cook them. Even better!) Once in the oven, I checked on it a few times, and though wasn't sure what I was looking for, felt semi-confident it was going semi-well.

Meanwhile I received a phone call from our property management company. It was Dave. Awesome Dave who I'd worked with last year after Ken's surgery to have improvements put into the apartment to make it handicap-friendly. He wasn't being very specific on the phone but I figured he was calling to check on the leak I'd called about earlier in the week.


"So what are we gonna do?" he asked when he was finally done speaking.

"About..." I knew then we were not talking about a maintenance issue.

"The rent."

"I'm confused. I paid the rent." And my Quicken-obsessed mind knew the check had cleared on the 3rd.

He said he was confused. I guess he didn't really know why he was calling, but as he skimmed the email the landlord had sent him (who had been on the distribution list I sent regarding Ken's passing), he said, "Oh, the landlord wants to know if you're going to stay in the unit; if you can afford it."

"Yes. I'm staying."

"Okay. Sorry for the confusion. Bye."


It's not that I feel every person needs to acknowledge Ken's death, what it meant to me or the world at-large, or even that I felt he was being insensitive. But he was addressing a result of something with no mention of the cause of the circumstance. In his defense, maybe the landlord didn't spell it out, but for me it was a harsh reminder of the devastating change that has so recently thunderstruck my life. At the end of the phone call my demeanor had changed. I could feel it surging. And I did think, "what a dick."

A moment later I pulled my almost-golden crust out of the oven and poured out the never-again-cookable lentils. Well, most of them. I was shocked to find the bottom layer of the little beans was inlaid into the crust like glazed Venetian tile. That was it! I'd had it! I was trying something new and something that was supposed to be fun and it had all turned to shit. It took every ounce of indifference I could muster to not threw everything--pie plate included--into the trash can.


My mood change was obvious and almost jarring. I sat down to journal really more as a way of zenning out than necessarily figuring out what the crux of the problem was. But as my fingers clicked away, the answer was revealed to me. Ken would have fixed my unfortunate pie situation. He could fix anything. He was the fixiest fixer EVER. He would have come into the kitchen, put his arms on me and told me to calm down. He'd probably shake me a martini! It was a jab of grief that was as upsetting as it was relieving. But I'd figured it out. And that was satisfying...and tiring. After some befuddled slogging around, I grabbed PadLo, turned on a recent kenron favorite "9 to 5" and snuggled in for a cry and nap.

When I woke up I felt better, and bit lighter. I poked my head into the kitchen, casually mulling around my lentil pie shell. Upon closer inspection, I found the last layer of them flicked out pretty easily. After a few moments, I had an empty pie shell, ready for the sugary apples I'd prepared. Before I knew it, I was rolling the dough for the top, and slapped that baby in the oven! All was not lost!

For my first attempt, I give myself a "B" for the result. However, it was the process that was far more valuable to me.

'Scuse me while I kiss this pie.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Out on a Limb

As a two-time amputee Ken was intimately familiar with the loss of a limb. He often told a story from college when he stood up while not wearing his prosthetic to grab a book off the shelf and forgetting he wasn't wearing his leg, took a step to walk across the room rather than sit back down. As he thrust his weight forward to walk and realized there was nothing there to support him, he laughed while he fell, experiencing confusion and dismay that he found himself in this predicament. He described his fall as long and in slow motion before landing unharmed on the dorm room floor. He was always proud to tell that story. It embodied him. He viewed that fall as a journey in itself and took the time to think and examine his feelings while he experienced it.

I feel like I've lost a limb. And, like him, though I know it's no longer physically there, there have been thousands of nano-seconds where I've expected to be able to rely on it; expecting to see him when I walk into the living room; expecting to hear his voice looming closer down the hallway as I prepare dinner; needing to check with him before making plans with a friend. All little reminders and habits that develop when you're used to counting on something that has always been there for you. And each time--like in his story--there is a fall. Sometimes quick and relatively painless, and sometimes slow and arduous. Sometimes it can feel like I'm an amnesiac who keeps forgetting something extraordinarily painful, and having to relive it when it's retold to me.

I cooked dinner for the first time tonight, rather than relying on frozen pizza or delivery. It seemed to be a fun, positive decision when i made it this afternoon. It was a great source of pride for both of us that I took over the cooking and moreover, fully embraced it. A few weeks ago, he was sitting in his wheelchair in the kitchen, watching me as pulled a full-on-cooking-show mode, laboriously detailing every nuance of what I was creating, and describing the anticipated and delicious outcome. He was delighting in my "haminess", yet when I turned away for a second to check the pasta, and turned back, he was gone. When I found him in the living room, he was sobbing. "I won't be around to watch you cook these amazing meals. And I won't be here to read all the wonderful things you write," he blurted, his chin quivering. I knelt beside him and held him as I wept with him. I wanted those things not to be true as much as he didn't. BuI'd learned from experience that moments of that can't be made "alright". All I could do was tell him it was because of his involving instruction I'd become fearless in the kitchen, and it was because of his support and encouragement that I kept writing. Likewise, it's because of him I write this blog. To share our story and as a means of healing and release for me. And it's because of him, I'll always love to cook and bake and feed people platefuls of love.

It's a strange thing to be alone in a place I shared with him; and a place we both loved. It's strange to wake up to a quiet house; not a creature stirring until I'm adding cream to my coffee. Silence by default hasn't been the case in my household for over ten years. By the same token, being alone is the only way for me to process this part of the journey.

And I know I'm not alone. I've been surrounded by love and support my entire life--and in particular the last year and a half when Ken was re-diagnosed with cancer. I'm without a limb I grew to rely on. But following Ken's impeccable lead, I know I'll be able to learn to do all the things that are important to me without it. Like him, I'll love remembering that limb and recalling what it gave me with great affection and gratitude (stump dog, anyone?)

But for now I'll just miss it--the part of me that isn't with me in the same physical way anymore, and do my best to honor him. And love him; and everything he so effortlessly seemed to give me. Sometimes I have to grip on to those lessons tightly during moments of overwhelming sadness, fits of unfocused rage, and unanswered cries for a "do over." (Note to self: make appointment with therapist.)

In spite of this inevitable emotional roller coaster I've been strapped into with great objection, the thought that serves me the most is "to get through this darkness is to honor him and our life together."

So, that's the plan, Stan.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Words of My Own

I have struggled with words (among many other things) this week since the loss of my husband, lover, and best friend Ken. As someone who is accustomed to documenting my feelings, it's been uncomfortable to be unable to access my "writing voice." Clearly, I'm bereft. And aside from a loss of words at a loss in every way possible--except in that I've been bathed in love and support from the Three Families: my Birth Family, my Married Family, and my Chosen Family.

But as I was talking to my sister-in-law (Married Family)--who if I'd met under different circumstances would have been a friend (Chosen Family)--I talked about the disconnection I felt from my writing voice, but remembered the one line I'd written in my diary yesterday:

"My life won't ever be the same--not because I'm without you, but because I loved you."

And that sums it up. I know I have a long road of healing and grief ahead of me, but Ken was a role model for me in so many ways, he would have been happy that I wrote just one sentence that I felt was meaningful. He would have been happy that I talked with our Katie. He would love that all of our friends and family have surrounded me with love; that his mother, brother and best friend were there with me to witness his completion of this journey and the beginning of the next, and to love and comfort each other.

The pragmatic part of me knows I'm not the first person to lose his husband, but I know I'm the first one who has lost Ken. That makes me lucky in one respect, and cursed in another.

I love you, baby. And I'll never stop missing you.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Stop All the Clocks

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

-W.H. Auden