Twenty-five years ago, on yesterday‘s summer solstice, our youngest son, Kenneth, died of AIDS at 31 years of age.
After the celebrations of his life and the condolence visits ceased, the full impact of his loss began to hit us. No more dinners together or watching Broadway musicals were on our calendars. His funny stories about his work as a concierge, such as when he saved Gladys Knight from a costuming disaster, were recalled. Ken was just a phone call away if I was working on a repair at our house. He always knew how to fix whatever was broken.
I felt aimless about how to get past this loss until a few years later when a friend asked me to join him on a 600-mile, 7-day bike ride across Texas to raise money for AIDS. I knew this was a great way to honor Ken’s memory, even if I was unsure if I could complete the ride physically, much less raise the $3000 required to participate.
My ride partner and others began training in the late Spring, meeting early mornings through the summer to get our 50 miles in before the hot Texas summers wore us out. When the ride happened in the early fall, I joined with 600 others to share the common goal of fighting the disease that took Ken’s life.
I secured Ken’s picture to the front of my bike and logged the miles I needed every day to get in shape. I set out to raise $5000. My family, friends, and colleagues made sure it exceeded $20,000. They, too, were inspired by Ken’s life.
The ride was intense as we biked and camped across the Texas plains. I rode with my riding partners each day except for the day we called “the century ride.” That day I rode the 100 miles alone, with Ken’s voice and remembrances of his life in my mind. In some ways, it was the easiest day as I felt Kenneth propelling me through the countryside. In other ways, it was the most transformational day of my life as I realized that out of adversity and grief comes renewal.
Seven days after we left Austin, with a stop in Houston and some small towns along the way, we arrived in Dallas. As is the tradition, I raised my bike above my head, thanking Ken for his inspiration.
That day, I began to understand the power of resilience. It is much more than just surviving through challenges; it is growing through that adversity. It’s certainly not a gift I wanted if it cost Kenneth his life, but it is a gift I cherish every day as I continue to honor his memory.
© Richard Citrin 2022