A True Friend Always Keeps You Thinking

by Joe Kennedy

My friend Rita called me many months ago. “I’ve been thinking about things you said when we had lunch the other day,” she told me, “and I just wondered, how does it feel to lose everything?”

The question surprised me, but I told Rita I didn’t believe I’d lost everything, though the stroke I’d suffered in February 2009 had affected my life dramatically.

She was taking a longer view, back to September 1999, when my wife Sharon died and left our children and me with a daunting array of challenges as we grappled to resume our activities without her.

I bring up this subject because last week, when I asked Stuart Revercomb, my editor here at the Star-Sentinel, what he’d like to read about in this column as we move forward, he said, among other things, “Your journey.”

Ah. That — the sometimes nauseating, sometimes thrilling combination of space walk and roller coaster ride we experience as we feel our way into new territory clutching each other to maintain our balance when the dips and twists of our path threatened to cast us into the abyss.

As I’ve written a thousand times, Katherine and Michael were 12 and 16, respectively, when our lives imploded. Stuart was being generous when he called that time a mere journey. In truth my part of it was a downward spiral, the plunge of an airliner under the control of a stronger and stronger gravitational force – a dive as difficult to interrupt as the tears of an exhausted child.

Journey? Try shipwreck. And yet, here we stand.

I told Rita on the phone that day that I felt I hadn’t lost everything, but I agreed with her that the list of losses was profound: Sharon died. I lost my columnist job to a buyout. The subsequent job I acquired lasted  nine months, until I resigned. I had a stroke that gave me a visual impairment. Then I injured my legs and developed chronic pain.

Along the way, I have spent, by my standards, a fortune on health care, personal assistance and the occasional giddy purchase to take my worried mind off this mess.

Those purchases include a multi-day trip to Fort Worth in celebration of My daughter Katherine’s graduation from college, a new TV, an e-reader, an Ipad and a half-bushel  of Maryland steamed crabs flown in for my pleasure last weekend. These are the actions of an exhausted soul, but one with a lot of life left in it.

Pain, even mild pain, sometimes takes the day.

My friend Rita died unexpectedly on August 19th 2010, so we never finished our exploration of profound loss. Still, I don’t think I’ve experienced it. She went so far as to say at one point that the readership, excellence and popularity of my “Cuppa Joe” column made me one of the most prominent people in this part of the state. That’s another thing I lost.

Kind words, and I appreciate them, though I think they’re pretty far out.

In truth, it was Rita that emulated excellence – one who was always impeccably dressed, straightforward and so deeply involved in the Roanoke community that, far beyond the Valley, her name, Rita Glinieki, remains synonymous with public service, especially on behalf of the mentally ill.

Like any true friend, she made me think — always a risky maneuver — and I am glad she did.


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  1. Dear Jo,
    What a lovely article mentioning my mother-in-law’s unselfish, devoted volunteer efforts to help others of less fortune. It could not have come at a better time since her birthday is this Friday. Thank you for your kind words. Very similar to her way of reaching others, your gift of words, life experiences, and wisdom have touched so many of your readers, including myself. On behalf of her family, thank you, for remembering Rita. Sincerely, Marie Angermeier Gliniecki

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