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.


  1. Ken used to make ice cream. He made peach once. It had an aroma, texture, and flavor I've never tasted before or since.

  2. Honey, your humor's showing. I welcome it's return.
    Long live Stump Dog, but more importantly, what did you make for dinner?

  3. Making the robot both tear up and laugh out loud in just a few paragraphs is truly a talent. Thank you.

  4. Wonderful piece Ron. There are so many positive things to remember about Ken that it helps keep the sadness at bay.

  5. I laughed, I cried, but most of all, I was awe-inspired by your wit, wisdom and strength. Hold on tight to those memories!

  6. Wonderful. I for one am glad Ken kept urging you to keep blogging.

  7. Beautiful...so very sorry for your loss.

  8. I can feel the loss and pain in your words...its beautiful and strong and a kick in the butt to us all that we should always always be thankful for what we have and not take anyone/anything for granted. I am so sorry for your loss Ron...