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On Remembering Those Quiet Days

After my father died I found myself living alone in his condominium in Orange County. The days following his death were lonely ones. After having lived with him for so long it felt impossibly strange and disquieting to come home to those rooms by myself. I turned on music and opened the patio doors to the warm air, but it didn’t help. There was an emptiness I couldn’t escape.

A friend of mine is going through something similar right now, having just lost his husband. I met Ken and Ron during my last couple of months working in hospice, and my relationship with both of them transcended into a friendship. Ken died while we were driving through Utah on our way here and I have been thinking about him and Ron ever since. The very first moment I met Ken I knew he was unlike anyone else I’d ever known. He had a life spirit that was so effervescent that it made you wonder what the rest of us have been doing with our lives.

His husband Ron is an equally unique soul with one of the most peaceful countenances I’ve ever come across. Ron has been writing a series of beautiful blog posts that remind me of those days just after my father died, and he’s given me permission to share some of it here.

From Out on a Limb, The Xanax Diary:

“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. But I’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.”

Read the whole entry here.


  1. Oh, bookmarking that site for sure, Claire. My heart goes out to Ron, and condolences to you too on the loss of a friend. One might possibly think that in your line of work one would get used to losing people — but I can’t imagine that you ever do! Yes, of course…”it’s life”, and in life, death happens. But still…

    Comment by Carroll on June 14, 2011 at 10:31 am

  2. Yeah, you know it never did get easier. Each person we lost was quite sad. What made it better though was knowing that we helped make their passing as peaceful as possible for their families.

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on June 14, 2011 at 12:50 pm

  3. Thanks, Carroll. I so appreciate your kindness, and comments on my blog.

    Claire, you were an amazing gift to us on a journey we knew we had to take, but were so uncertain of. Your calm, wisdom and experience helped us both in ways I’m am certain I can’t express in words. We clicked with you immediately. Ken adored you (as do I). Even now, with sharing my blog on yours, you’re helping me continue on with my journey through the darkness. People like you are like sparks that light things perhaps only momentarily, but if you look fast enough, you can see where you’re going.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Ron Stempkowski on June 14, 2011 at 8:27 pm

  4. Wow, what an amazing complement. Thank you, Ron. I miss you both!

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on June 15, 2011 at 1:17 pm

  5. [...] couple of months ago I wrote about my friends Ron and Ken, a couple I had the privilege of meeting just before I moved away from Chicago. Ken died just days [...]

    Pingback by Claire Bidwell Smith » Connecting on August 18, 2011 at 6:40 am

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