The Family

[click pictures for full size images]

Early Tuesday I got a ride with Keith, Sharon’s husband and Pat to attend the memorial in Vancouver. Kenneth’s first visit to Lund in many years came last summer to attend a memorial for the death of Mike, one of Pat’s sons, who had also worked at our camp. Soon thereafter Pat had lost another son. She bore the weight of these tragedies with great strength.

We arrived at the spare but stately old Vancouver frame house, the home of Willow, Ron and their children, with some time to spare. Ron had corresponded with me about the old pictures and journal excerpts they had read on this weblog, so I felt immediately drawn into the family. Ron and Willow disappeared, and I met Ron’s father Henry, his sister-in-law Rachel, her 15 month old son Dash, and her husband Cameron. She has a Ph.D. in English and he’s finishing one. For two and a half minutes we discussed her dissertation topic, the Semiotics of Multicultural Rhetoric.

In the midst of the hubbub, Sharon, whom I’d first met two days earlier, prepared me a grilled cheese sandwich with pickled green beans and a cup of coffee, and poured me a shot of her 25 year old prized Canadian Whiskey.

The Unitarian Church at 49th and Oak was packed with 250 people attending the memorial. We were greeted by a shrine outside and four kids handing out programs, two of them Kenneth’s adopted grandchildren, Sophia and Flynn.

The service began with a quotation from Mary Oliver:

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

The lay minister didn’t know Kenneth but was awed by the intensity and range of his legacy. The program included a harp introduction, recorded music, an operatic rendition of “Ave Maria,” and a beautiful piano and voice performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” by Ron.

There were three speeches, one by his professional mentor, one by a former lover, and one by his son-in-law. From these I learned that he worked with child protective services and in an alternative school for severely disturbed kids; that he founded and managed “After Hours,” a drop in center and hotline which became a Province-wide institution; that he organized teams and competed as a runner, a hurdler and a softball player in the Gay Olympics; that he was a textile designer; that he earned an M.A. from Pratt Institute of Art in New York; that he was a famous D.J.–“Poppalizard”– in young people’s clubs. Ron spoke of the way he remained as part of the family after Willow married: Poppa to the grandchildren, cook, party organizer, gardener and house painter. It struck me how many of these life accomplishments were there in germ during the time we knew him in his early twenties.

Following the three speeches and a candlelighting and quenching ceremony, Ron presented a DVD with musical accompaniment including a dozens of pictures and film clips of Kenneth from infancy to grandfatherhood.

At the huge reception afterward, I ran into Mara, Janet and Rhea, Lund people who now live elsewhere. I would have loved to stay for the roasts and tributes, but I had a plane to catch.

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