A year ago today we were awakened by a ringing cell phone. I was so discombobulated that I couldn’t get to it in time. Surely it was a wrong number. No one ever called that early on a Sunday morning. When I finally dug the phone from my purse, I saw Tony’s number on the missed calls list. I called him back, and he answered, frantic, tears in his voice. “Kathy, I think he’s dead.” Surely, surely I didn’t hear that right.
Tony said Ken had had some kind of attack. He was fine one minute; the next, he couldn’t breathe. The paramedics were there, and they were about to leave for the hospital. I told him I was on my way. Surely he would be okay. The paramedics were there.
I packed a bag with the kind of thing you take when you expect to spend time at a hospital. A couple of shirts, some clean underwear, toothbrush and toothpaste. They might have to keep him a few days, but we’d be close to their house; I’d have a place to shower and wash clothes.
At the last minute Bill decided to go with me. He called his sister to stay with the girls, and we headed for Montgomery. My phone rang before we got to the interstate. Surely it would be Tony telling me Ken was better.
He wasn’t. He was gone before they reached the hospital, probably gone before they left the house. A heart attack, a stroke, a ruptured aneurysm? We don’t know. We do know he had been suffering with severe headaches for a couple of months before his death, but tests and scans had revealed nothing to explain them.
He went quickly. It’s what he wanted. He had watched our father die, slowly and painfully, just months before. He left behind an amazing and inspiring legacy, of which I’ve written a great deal. I’m so proud of him and what he accomplished in his much too short life. Most days that’s enough to get by on.
Today it isn’t. Today I just want him here. I want to sit and listen to him and Tony tell me about what they’ve been doing to the house and the yard, where they went over the weekend, how the dogs are doing, what’s happening at church this week. I want to ask him about the weed infestation in the front bed and how hard would it be to rewire the light fixture outside the garage door. I want to hear about the events he’s attended and the ones he’s planning and how important it is to work for justice for all people, not just the ones who look like us or believe like us. I want to see Tony light up when he walks into the room. I want to see my mother smile again.
Today he’s been gone a year. All the magical thinking in the world won’t bring him back. Tomorrow I’ll get back to cherishing the memories and doing what I can to carry on the work. Today I hurt.