We met Ken last summer at the library park when he wheeled up to us in a wheelchair and held out a piece of paper on which he had scribbled one word: HELP. When we met Ken, he couldn’t walk and couldn’t talk, but he could wheel his chair anywhere in the city and he always made us laugh with his wit and humor. In December, Ken was admitted to Vanderbilt Hospital where we were told that the tumor that had taken away his ability to talk would also take his life. Shortly thereafter, he lost his ability to swallow and was given a feeding tube. In January, he was moved to Bordeaux Long-Term Care Facility and in February, we were able to move him to The Drake Motel and get him into Guardian Hospice. His insurance covered hospice care, and a portion of his disability check combined with our Mercy Fund covered his stay at The Drake.
Since February, Ken has been a guest “speaker” at Otter Creek’s Vespers service, he was featured on the front page of The Tennessean’s Easter Sunday paper, he has ridden in a hot air balloon, taken a road trip to Kentucky with our friend Brett, gone to see the new Harry Potter movie, and has shamelessly pumped his beloved coffee into his feeding tube in some of the nicest Starbucks in town!
Ken was born in San Francisco in 1963 to a 17-year-old mother who gave him up to foster care. He cycled in and out of foster homes and was physically, sexually, and emotionally abused until he set out on his own at the age of 14. Though he has felt alone and unloved for most of his life, he died a peaceful, dignified death surrounded by a loving community. It was humbling to sit with Ken in his last days as his worn body began to shut down. It was sacred to hold his warm and weathered hands, to wipe his feverish head with a cool rag, to smooth lotion over his rough feet, and to see his bright blue eyes open as he recognized the voice of a friend.
Ken’s funeral will be held this Monday at 9:00am at Woodlawn. To celebrate his life, we are asking everyone to wear tie dye shirts. We’ll post more details as they become available.
On behalf of Ken, we’d like to thank the following people and groups for your love, support, and presence in his life: Open Table Nashville, our sister community, for surrounding Ken with friendship, love, and dignity in his last year of life; David Schenck who met Ken at Vanderbilt hospital in December and was with Ken when he passed; Guardian Hospice (especially Lauren, Scott, Kim, and Sharon) who cared for Ken from February to August and whose staff became an extended family for him; Alive Hospice who cared for Ken in his last week and provided a peaceful environment so the he could have a dignified and comfortable death; Bob Smietana who helped us get Ken’s story out to the broader Nashville community; The Tennessean reader who wishes to remain anonymous who donated a beautiful plot (valued at $4,000) at Woodlawn where Ken will be buried; Woodlawn Funeral Home for generously waiving the $1,700 cost of having the burial plot opened and closed; Nashville Funeral and Cremation Service who are helping to give Ken a dignified burial; and God who first loved Ken and caused his path to cross with ours, thus transforming all of our lives.
To see Bob’s article commemorating Ken’s life and death in The Tennessean, click here.