Ken Bovey: Part 7 Saying Good-bye

June 13th, 2011 was the 20th anniversary of the death of a friend of mine, Ken Bovey.   Ken died at the age of 32 from scleroderma, a rare auto-immune disease.  This is the story of the last 10 months of Ken’s life.  It is a story of how one man prepared for his own death.

Tuesday Evening 12 June 1991

I don’t know where Ken got the energy, but our visit this Tuesday night on the cardiac care unit was almost two hours long.  Usually, our visits would last 20 minutes – half an hour if it was a good night.  This time, Ken had energy - he was even enthusiastic and chatty.  “Call Michelle, would you, Pat?”

I went to the pay phone in the lobby and called Michelle.  She agreed to come to the hospital for a later than usual visit with Ken.  After she arrived, I gave them some alone time and sat in the small waiting area, just outside his room.  It had been on my mind for the past week that Ken and I had to, somehow, seal all that had happened in the months that we had been journeying together.  I had with me that night a canvas book bag.  Inside it was a crucifix, a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a bottle of holy water from Medjugorje.  With these things I would attempt to bless my friend and prepare him, as best I could, for the end.

As I sat there waiting for them to have their visit, I became very agitated and anxious.  Thoughts of doubt went through my mind and feelings of fear plagued my heart.  “What if I am making a mistake?  What if this faith thing isn’t real after all?”  The fear this engendered in me was paralyzing.  Despite my thoughts and feelings to the contrary, I knew this night we would say our final prayer together.   I stood up and walked into Ken’s room.

Michelle was sitting on the far side of Ken’s bed.  They were looking at each other and having a good chat.  Ken’s spirit continued in the light and happy way that he shared earlier.   They looked over at me and welcomed me into their moment.  “Uh, Ken, I’d like to do something with you, if you don’t mind.”

“Okay, Pat” Ken said.  I sat opposite Michelle with Ken lying between us.  He had his knees propped up.  I opened my canvas bag, pulled out the crucifix, and placed it in his lap.  I was having trouble getting the words out and I stumbled and stammered over what I was trying to say.  “Just say it, Pat.”

“This crucifix, Ken, represents the suffering you’ve been going through for the past year.  You’ve been carrying your cross.  And, even though you are going to die, by faith we know that life doesn’t end in death.  We believe that death is merely the passage way to new life.”   Taking out the picture of the Virgin, I continued, “We also believe the Blessed Virgin Mary will meet you at the time of your death and will take you to heaven.”  Frankly, I wasn’t really sure about this point, but I believed it might be true, so I said it anyway.  I took some of the water and made the sign of the cross on Ken’s forehead.  I gave the bottle to Michelle and she did the same.

“Let’s drink it!”, Michelle exclaimed.

“Why not?”  Each of us took a sip of the water and we laughed together.   I lead the three of us in the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary (especially the “pray for us sinners now and at the hour or our death”), and the Glory Be.   When finished, we reached across to each other touching our foreheads together, sharing a hug.   It was a wonderful moment of friendship and joy.  After some idle chit chat, I announced that it was time for me to go, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”   My drive home was solemn.  I knew something very special had happened this night.  What I didn’t realize was that my night with Ken was not over.

At home, no sooner had I put my keys on the kitchen counter, the phone rang.  It was Michelle.  “Pat, you have to come back to the hospital.  Ken says he’s going to die tonight.”   A streak of panic flushed through me, yet, ironically, on a conscious level, I did not believe it.  Ken seemed too content, too normal to die this night.   Regardless, I got back in the car, drove back to the hospital, and made my way back up to Ken’s room.

Michelle, excused herself so I could be alone with Ken.   I pulled up a chair on the right hand side of his bed and said, “So you are going to die tonight?”

“Yes,” he answered.   He was so calm and matter of fact that it only added to my disbelief.   His utter sense of normalcy seemed completely out of character for a man who was about to die.  I may as well have asked him if he was going to the store to buy milk.

I had prepared myself over the last couple of weeks to share some things that I needed to clear with him, but I found myself going through the motions and wondering if I would feel silly seeing him alive the next day.  He accepted my apology and thanked me for all we had gone through.  Having said everything we needed to say, there came a moment of silence when only a good-bye was worth saying.   As a way of leaving, I told him a story that my Buddhist teacher had taught me a couple of years before.

“There were two monks walking in the forest.  They were on a pilgrimage and one of them got gravely ill and was dying.   The dying monk asked his friend to ferry him across the Dharma River.  I’m not going to say good-bye, Ken.  I’m just going to say, ‘see you on the other side of the Dharma River.’”

“Okay, Pat,” Ken said with a smile.

I kissed him on the forehead, patted him on the hand, and said, “See you on the other side of the Dharma River, Ken.”    As I walked around the bed to leave, I looked back to Ken.  He smiled and raised his hand in what appeared to be a peace sign.  At that moment, I didn’t pay much attention to it.  Knowing him to be a vegetarian-tree hugging-peace activist, I thought he was flashing me the peace sign.  I smiled and walked out the door.   Again, I drove home in silence, not knowing what to think or feel.

4 Comments

  1. by Belinda

    On August 8, 2011

    Wow Pat,
    Well done.
    Love, Belinda

  2. by Geoff

    On August 9, 2011

    It’s very good Pat. I feel like I am there when you write about this. It makes me cry and reminds me how much I miss my big brother.

  3. by Patrick O'Connor

    On August 9, 2011

    Wonderful, Geoff. Thank you for your comments.

  4. by Tammy

    On August 13, 2011

    Ken’s calm acceptance of his impending death and the grace with which he endured such physical pain are a true testament to the power of friendship and the security of God’s presence to carry us through difficult times while He waits to welcome us into Heaven.

    This chapter evoked so much emotion. I can only imagine how much you miss your friend. I cried tears of sadness but, also, tears of hopefulness.

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