My brother Ken has been gone two months today. On Sunday, Daddy will have been gone a year.
Ken started the last year of his life taking care of Daddy, who had become too weak to get up without help. He walked Daddy through the process of dying with grace and a quiet confidence that I didn’t know he possessed. He lifted and carried and bathed and fed with infinite patience. When we knew there was no more time, he was the one who stayed calm while the rest of us fell apart. He told us then that he wanted to die quickly. He made me promise that if he ever found himself in straits similar to Daddy’s, I’d just give him the morphine already and let him go. At least he was spared that.
I didn’t get to say goodbye. I didn’t have the opportunity to tell him that he was a hero. Not just to me, but to so many others who were touched by his courage and by his commitment to equality for everyone. He was one of those rare people who could see beyond his own oppression, who didn’t seek to lift himself by pushing others down, who truly believed in God’s abundance.
Ironically, he struggled with depression throughout his life. There were days when he could barely get out of bed. He had insomnia. The arthritis that started in his twenties hampered his landscaping work. He was painfully shy and hated crowds. While he loved me and my family, he generally liked us best in small doses.
But he changed the world when he stood on the steps of the state courthouse in 2002 and called out Roy Moore, refusing to stay silent when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court used his office to advocate violence against gay people. What had been a fragmented equality movement was galvanized, as others who’d been too frightened or too disheartened or too busy or too uninvolved followed his example and stepped forward to say, “Enough is enough.” I was one of them.
Today, Equality Alabama, the organization that Ken co-founded, is thriving and growing. Alabama has two openly gay elected officials. The state chapter of NOW has been revitalized. The Open Hearts and Minds Lectures in Montgomery are an ongoing success. One young man whose parents disowned him now has another family: his gay dads, his adopted aunt and uncle, and three girls who consider themselves his sisters. Immanuel Presbyterian Church has a beautiful memorial garden, and the man who designed it is now truly a part of it.
Ken never wanted acclaim for his accomplishments. Frankly, it embarrassed him. He was happy to be at home with his beloved partner and their dogs, working in the yard or searching eBay for Tallulah Bankhead memorabilia to add to his collection. But he was called to speak out against injustice, and he answered.
If he had to have an epitaph at 50, I’d say that’s a damn good one.