I received an email last week from Kathy Buckley. She is a stand-up comedienne and motivational speaker, and she was someone Ken loved very much. They met in 2004 when we lived in Los Angeles at a Disability Showcase for CBS, and in my recollection it was love at first sight. I remember him telling me about their first meeting and her brazenly honest approach to life. She was somewhat of a mirror to Ken--neither of them looking at their disabilities as inabilities. Anyway, her email indicated she'd be in town and wanted to know if we could get together for dinner. It was really excited to hear from her, and even more so to be able to visit with her.
I remember all through Ken's illness I received a phone call every so often from Kathy--calling not to check on Ken (because they communicated regularly)--she was calling to check on me. I had never actually connected with her, but would try to send her an email to thank her for the call and update her on how I was doing. In March when Ken was in the hospital before being released to come home for hospice, she had called me. I was stressed and emotionally stretched to my limits. I had left Ken at the hospital with visiting friends to come home to coordinate the removal of a really unsatisfying massage chair I'd bought for him and the delivery of his hospital bed, oxygen concentrator, and all the accoutrements of hospice. Kathy's call came while they were putting together the hospital bed. I felt so bad that I'd never been able to talk with her live, so I answered, thinking it would do me good to talk with her. I think I got out, "Hi, Kathy" before I completely broke down--unable to utter another single word. After a few moments of my complete inability to get out one single discernible word, she told me she very sweetly told me she loved me and that maybe it would be better we spoke another time. I did my best to reply in agreement before hanging up and stumbling to our bedroom where I curled up on the bed and let myself completely unravel for a few brief minutes, but picking myself up, washing my face and heading back to the hospital.
I'd had a couple of "dark" days before I met Kathy for dinner. I'm certain part of it was anxiety about seeing her and just not knowing what to expect. Could I comfort her if she needed to express her feelings about Ken's death? Would be both be messes? Or would I just not know what to say to her? In trying to figure out why I was feeling so uncertain, I thought a lot about Ken's journey-oriented attitude--one I'm trying to adopt when possible--and considered that sometimes my feelings can be too complex to be "figured out". In those cases, it's been more "fake it 'til you make it."
When I arrived at the hotel and walked through the slowly turning automatic door, I could see her face, smiling from her perch on a table in the middle of the lobby. We hugged hard and long. She engenders such love, light and peace, I felt like I could have just melted away in her embrace. I haven't physically seen Kathy since April 28, 2006, when Ken and I had a small "going away" gathering at our apartment in the San Fernando Valley before we moved back to Chicago. She and Ken had kept in regular touch with each other, and he'd been able to see her on a trip or two back to LA since we moved. They'd had regular phone conversations up until shortly before his death.
Kathy is a unique combination that is sublime and so full of light and love mixed with bawdy and audacious humor. My time with her didn't lack anything. It's a strange thing to find yourself friends with people who were Ken's friends. They were mine too--by proxy, but I was never the main caretaker of those relationships. That's another facet of loss that I'm learning to deal with. So many people reached out and supported us during the past two years, and I'd like to be able to connect with each of them--whether in person, email or snail mail card--but it doesn't always occur to me to do so, and doesn't always seem possible. I guess it's just daunting. Or maybe I'm doing enough or as much as I can. Regardless, my visit with Kathy was as colorful as Kathy herself is.
In anticipating our visit, I felt more like I was going to visit with a friend of Ken's, but as I lost track of my multiple neuroses, I knew I was sitting and talking with a good friend of mine. I was happy she brought up Ken and we were able to talk about him, lovingly and harassingly. I told her (and she agreed) that he would be so happy to see us sitting together, talking, harassing and loving each other. It felt so right.