As the weeks have passed and the reality of my mother's impending death has settled densely upon my chest, I cannot help but be aware of the fact that, for most, life simply goes on. The paradoxical reality of a well-wisher expressing regret and fellowship in your misery one day and the next musing on the mundane is almost too duplicitous to endure. The most distressing aspect of this is that I have been guilty of this opprobrious insensitivity in the past, and there are not sufficient words to express my profound regret. Perhaps most of us are not capable of the type of solidarity needed to truly be a party to the overwhelming grief of another until we are faced with devastating grief of our own. So it goes.
As with any good generalization, there are numerous exceptions. For those of you who don't know Ken Morgan, my mom's husband, allow me to reveal to you the epitome of just such an exception.
It would be useful here to report that Ken and I have always enjoyed an implicit affection for each other based on our mutual love of my mother. Useful, yes. Truthful? Certainly not. Our relationship began somewhat precariously.
When I was 11 years old, my mom officially began to raise my sister and me on her own. The reality is that she had been raising us on her own for several years prior to that. After her divorce, my mom worked three jobs to afford my sister and me the opportunity to stay in Wheaton and complete our schooling with our friends. I doubt if she intended deliberately to become my hero, my model for proper living, but she did. And as each year blended into the next, my admiration for her expanded and multiplied. As any of us who have survived the rigors of adolescence can appreciate, many times I had shoddy methods of paying her back for all of her sacrifices. However, despite the many vices that I battled during these years, my love for her could never be questioned or minimized, and the same, thankfully, can be said of her love for me.
(This is the point where the dramatic music begins in my head, signaling a change in the tone of our story. Not quite the "Da-dah...Da-dah...Da-dah" from Jaws, but something similar)
Enter Ken. The first man to infiltrate my mom's life that had not carried with him an assortment of self destructive behaviors that he would be all to willing to share with her. The first man that actually liked who she was sober, and encouraged her to remain that way. The first man that had the courage to pursue and fall in love with her despite the blatant disapproval of her son. I know what you're thinking. The exact same thing I was thinking when Ken arrived.
"Where the hell does this guy get off," right?
Alright. So you're probably not thinking that. Thankfully, I am not thinking that either...any more.
My discontentment with the genesis of their relationship was rooted in the natural guardianship that developed in me over my mother. I had witnessed first hand the destruction that was her marriage. I had observed the lineup of nincompoops who had tried to win her favor by feeding her demons. And now, irrepressible in his pursuit of her was Ken. I was able to distinguish, almost immediately by the glimmer in her eye, that Ken possessed a capability that I had not seen for many years and that scared me to death. My mom had fallen in love with Ken, and in so doing had bestowed upon him the potential to break her heart. And I would be damned if I was going to let that happen without a fight.
I suppose I've learned a little something about perseverance from Ken, too.
The most concise way to describe what happened next and brings us to today would be simply to tell you that these two people, my mom and Ken, loved and continue to love each other more than most. They have made an art out of encouraging and caring for each other. They have learned the intricacies that exist in each other, and valued them. Despite each others flaws, undeterred by each others weaknesses, they have complimented each other perfectly.
I could not have asked for a greater gift for my mother. I could never tell Ken how thankful I am that he endured my dissatisfaction and pursued her. Her life was never better than it was when her soul was affixed to his. The years that they have shared have been truly remarkable and we have all reaped the benefits.
I happen to have the amazing good fortune of being married to a positively awesome woman who is also the epitome of an exception to the generalization made above. I was in our room earlier, and I came across some photos that she has been collecting of my mom. She was preparing to put these into a collection for me. What struck me about these photos of my mom is that Ken is in damn near every one of them. By her side. Smiling that genuine smile of his that transforms his face into little more than teeth and glasses. And there are pictures of Ken at our wedding. And there are pictures of Ken at our holiday gatherings. And there are pictures of Ken at our boy's birthday parties.
The photos that moved me the most, however, are the photos of Ken holding each of my sons mere hours after they were born. The affection that is present on his face in those photos is not something that can be manufactured. It is genuine. And it struck me that, at some indistinguishable point along the way, I finally realized what I had been so vigorously fighting all of those years ago. Ken is family. Ken is Grandpa. Ken is a man that I admire. Ken is a man that I love.
As these days have progressed and Ken has been handed more and more responsibility for my mother's care, I have cherished him more and more. Ken has never complained. He has never asked for help. He has loved my mother fiercely and has eased her pain. What a joy it has been to see the same glimmer in her eye when she sees him today that I witnessed years ago. For now I realize that, in Ken's care, my mother was never vulnerable to having her heart broken. She was allowing him to mend her heart and he did, and then some.
In a rare moment of emotion recently, Ken related to me that after a tragedy befell him in the past, he felt as though he was losing a piece of his future. His voice cracked and he continued, saying, "In losing your mother I am losing my whole life."
I certainly understand that feeling, but Ken will not get off that easy.
After all Ken, there are pictures of you to be taken at our boys' weddings. And there are pictures of you to be taken at our holiday gatherings. And there are pictures of you to be taken at our boys' birthday parties.
You are family. You are Grandpa. You are a man that we admire. You are a man that we love.