Ken was my son’s headmaster in middle school. He was a popular man in the community and an asset to the school, where his gentle love and encouragement smoothed over those rough adolescent years for many students. Nathan’s transfer to private school was rough – he had a hard time with the academically challenging classes, but Ken saw something that nearly everyone else missed and he and Nathan became fast friends.
Ken gave us the gift of his friendship, and the jewel of his stories about renovating a house out in the country, and sleeping in the bed of his truck when the house was too hot. He was the one who told me, when I was worried about Nathan, “He’ll be fine. When he figures out what he’s passionate about, get ready to get out of his way.”
He was the kind of man who phoned me after I was in a minor car accident to make sure I was OK. “Nathan was sad at chapel today,” he reported to me. “And I wanted to make sure you were OK.”
We were sorry when Ken left the school to attend seminary; Nathan was featured in a TV story about the departure, blinking back tears, voice breaking. The minute the story ended, the phone rang. It was Ken, and he said, “Nath has us all in tears over here.” and they spoke for a long time.
He and I kept in touch after he left. I spoke with him right after he got married. “She looks like Doris Day,” he reported. “Today I spoke to the world’s happiest man,” I noted in my journal.
Nathan got sick and I kept Ken updated on chemo treatments and white blood counts and school work. I asked for his prayers to get the family through the challenges.
The Make a Wish Foundation sent our family, and one of Nathan’s friends, on a week-long trip to Orlando. The boys had fun but I kept trying to shake off a feeling of dread, of something awful on the horizon. Maybe it was knowing that many of the children on the trip would die from their disease, and hoping Nathan’s doctor was right, that his illness was treatable. Or maybe it was something else.
The very night we got back from the trip, our friend Mary Ann called, with unimaginable news: Ken was dead, in a car wreck.
Late that night, unable to sleep, barely able to breathe, I phoned the office to check my voicemail. There was only one message, from two days before. “Hey, Melinda. Ken here, just checking to see how Nathan’s doing.”