Disclaimer: This post is long. This post is raw. This post is real. I’ve needed to write this for a long time, almost a year, and here it is.
The other night I mixed two very dangerous things: too much caffeine and Long Island Medium. Both led to more tossing and turning than I am comfortable with.
Watching Theresa Caputo is pretty much a spiritual experience for me. I think her gift is so amazing, and she is the most incredible kind of person. Completely warm, open and always giving. On a more personal level, she has truthfully altered my belief system. You see, even though I don’t go to church or necessarily align with a specific religion, I do believe that I am connected to the Universe in a way that is special and that there is more out there than just this life I’m living.
For me, it’s okay to not label this feeling of… connectedness, let’s call it. It’s fluid, it’s a part of me, and in a simple way, it makes me feel like I am one with the Universe.
Okay, okay. I know that makes me sound really kooky. But it’s the truth. And when I watch Long Island Medium, it validates that connectedness for me. It reminds me that the ones who aren’t with us anymore physically are still with us spiritually.
This is something that I give a lot of thought to these days, though it was never that important to me until my step-dad passed away in January.
I miss Ken every day, and every day–in some small way–I have to remind myself that he’s not at home with my mom, hanging out and giving my sister a hard time. Spiritually, I reach out to him all the time, and I whisper to myself that he knows I’m happy. That he is with me still.
So, last night, while I was mentally hyped up on caffeine and thoughts about Ken, I tried to remember all the moments that I had with him. I hadn’t really allowed myself to think that far back, and I couldn’t stop the tears from welling up in my eyes.
When I met Ken, I was 18, covered in flour, and essentially I was sick of my life. Typical teenager. I was tired of school, tired of the small town lifestyle, tired of feeling stuck. It was December of my senior year of high school and the last thing I cared about was some guy my mom wanted me to meet. I think back on that night and my heart does this funny thing where I feel like it’s breaking and bursting at the same time. I knew my mom had been out of a date, but when she showed up at my establishment of
goofing off work with her date in tow, I had no idea how Ken would change my life over the next six years. What a moment. That’s where it all began.
I thought Ken was so weird because he didn’t have a cell phone. He boasted about this for the longest time until my mom twisted his arm and forced him to get one later on down the road. He eventually learned to text. In the beginning though, I just didn’t understand him at all. He used to tell this story about a time when his car broke down in the middle of nowhere, and how he didn’t think it was a big deal at all. He simply walked to the nearest gas station, which was closed, and laid down on the concrete with his head propped on the curb and just waited. This was in 2005, mind you, when any sane person would have a cell phone to call for some back up. But not Ken. He was different.
It was the little things that set him apart, like how every time he came to the house, he knocked on the back door to let us know he was there. At the time, I lived at home with my mom and sister, and Ken always respected our space. In the spring semester of my senior year my life became stable in a way that it had never been before, and I learned to relax and let go of some of my negativity. It was a season of growth for me, and I don’t know if Ken ever knew how much a positive effect he had on me. I hope he knows now.
He is the only man I’ve ever known that could truly hang with my mom. He matched her in every way, and they complimented each other perfectly. Whatever she wanted to do was exactly what he wanted to do, and he never missed an opportunity to tell anyone how much he loved and appreciated her. Gushing is not the right word–it was more than that.
This was the first time in my life I was able to witness a healthy relationship in action. I thought that happy couples only existed on the television screen, and that nuclear families weren’t real. I have never been so happy to be so wrong about something. Ken was such a man, a caretaker, a calm presence, a cheerleader, so responsible, giving, and full of integrity.
During the summer of 2006, I had the opportunity to travel to Beijing to spend some time with my dad while he was on a job there. I had never been so far from home before. One morning I got a call from Mom telling me that Ken had to have a quadruple bypass due to a football injury he’d received when he was younger. He had only been in our lives for six months, but already he was such a part of our family I couldn’t imagine anything happening to him. It was scary, but he was very strong and the surgery was a success. Mom started buying turkey bacon and skim milk. Ken lost weight and looked incredible. They worked in the yard a lot and were so tan and happy.
Ken’s life revolved around coaching. He had a passion for competition and shaping kids lives. Football became a part of our routine in a way it never had before, and Mom traveled all over Texas with Ken to watch his teams play. He had this incredible head of stark white hair, and when he was on the field it was impossible for him to stay in one spot. He was constantly up and down, up and down, yelling and screaming, running and pacing. From the stands, all you could see was this white blur. It was fierce, and to be honest, a little scary. But his kids loved him, and he loved them more than they probably realized. In 2010, in the last game he ever coached, he won a state champion title.
He was a master omelette maker, expert griller and made every Tommy Bahama shirt he owned look good. When he hugged you, the world felt like it made a little more sense, and he had a way of reviving the most despondent of souls. When I was in college, I came home one weekend because I needed a break. You see, I was very worried that I was not going to get an internship and that I would eventually fail at everything in life. I sat at the bar in the kitchen with him and Mom and the more they told me it would all be okay and I’d get a call soon, the more frustrated and angry I got. I started to cry and complained that I just wanted to have fun. Not missing a beat, Ken started rattling off things we could do. I can’t remember the specific ideas he was throwing out, but somehow we ended up at the grocery store on the search for Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce. I think we ended up barbecuing that night. And every time I see a bottle of that sauce, it reminds me of that day.
He just loved to have fun. And he was up for anything. He drank Dos Equis and Johnnie Walker Black and never, ever lost his cool.
He taught Janie how to drive, and when she ran into the neighbor’s mailbox he helped her fix it. They went to the beach a lot, and talked about one day living close to the water. Mom and Ken were hardcore about their beach time. They would spend all day in the sand, drinking Miller Lite and somehow never getting sunburned.
He begrudgingly became a cat lover. A stray that I named Pat attached herself to Ken and never let go, though he tried many times to get rid of her.
He loved Casablanca and telling stories. When we talked, he’d ask me thoughtful questions and really listen to my answers. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I think it’s something that not a lot of people do anymore. He always told me he loved me and doted on me. Our family grew as we got to know his son Brad and daughter Alyssa. I felt nuclear and loved it.
One Christmas Eve we all got decidedly wasted. Mom built a fire in the back yard and we passed around a bottle of Tuaca and danced to Alice in Chains in the carport. At some point we thought it would be a good idea to drink some ancient scotch that was my great-grandmothers, and I got so lit that I don’t remember much after that. I fell asleep in my clothes and the next morning, Ken opened the bottle of scotch and stuck it in my face. I almost hurled and he just laughed. Somehow, along with never getting sunburned he and Mom never got hungover.
Ken got sick. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but he was so alive and energetic it didn’t seem like a big deal at all. The doctors were optimistic and so were we. He was on and off meds for awhile, taking part in different drug tests. Everything was okay and it was like he wasn’t battling cancer at all. And then the tests the doctors were so excited about didn’t go the way they intended, and they lost their optimism.
Last summer, things got especially serious. Ken was having trouble walking around and the medication he was on made him see things that weren’t there. One weekend when I was home I laid in bed with him, my head in the crook of his arm. I rubbed his chest and closed my eyes. He told me that everyone thought he was Superman, but he wasn’t. I cried and didn’t believe him.
The last real conversation I remember having with Ken was last November when I was home for Thanksgiving. That was smack dab in the middle of my leaving my ex-husband, and when I walked in the house Ken was the only one there. I remember he wore a long-sleeved red shirt, and his once full head of hair were just little wisps. I felt nervous, though I shouldn’t have. We sat at the bar and had a conversation I’ll never forget, and he validated so many things for me in that moment. I knew I was on the right path.
Things didn’t get better. In early January I was attending an all-day department training seminar, half-listening to someone who was probably important talk about “safety in the workplace.” I was in a large banquet-style room with close to 200 colleagues, just waiting until the next break. Maybe I have a text from Shelton, I thought. I slyly dug for my phone and when the screen came on I had a missed call and two text messages. Ken died this morning. Ken died this morning.
Everything else in that moment, except for those text messages, disappeared for me. I was sitting in the middle of the room, but in a split second I was up, moving, running for the door. Get to the door. Get to the door. Ken died this morning. Run.
When I hugged Mom that same evening, she only said three words. “I wasn’t ready.”
We gathered and swallowed tears and did what we could to let go of what we had known. I can only speak for myself, but I never said goodbye. And time has moved on. Everything is different now–not just for me, but for everyone. It’s a good thing. Good things have happened. I remind myself of that a lot.
Last night while I was tossing and turning, I thought about Brad and his wife, Kate. We found out over the summer that they were going to have a baby, and I knew Ken would be so excited. I haven’t talked to Brad in a long time, but as I was flipping and flopping that night I thought about the baby. When was the baby due? It had to be soon. Theresa says that spirits are aware of everything going on in our lives. Is the baby coming soon? I asked myself. I think the baby is on it’s way.
The next day I got a text from Mom: Caroline Elisabeth Little – 8 lbs, 4 oz, blond hair, blue eyes.
Maybe one day I’ll be shopping and Theresa will come up to me and ask me “Who’s the older male that has passed?”
And I’ll smile and say, “My stepdad, Ken.”
Until then, I’ll keep acknowledging his presence in my life and remain open to all of the Universe’s messages.
Even if it means losing a little sleep every now and then.
I love you, Ken.
If you have made it to the bottom of this post, I thank you. I appreciate you reading my story so much. If you’d like to learn more about Ken, these are news stories that are my favorites: