|Dying With Grace ~ by Maury Thompson
as featured in the Post-Star, October, 2006
Editor's note: Reporter Maury Thompson spent 10 months visiting Ken Ball at St. Joseph's House of Grace on Henry Street in Glens Falls, a facility for the terminally ill.
Ken Ball taught me death doesn't have to be an ugly thing.
I began this writing project expecting to chronicle the musings of a man grappling with fate.
But Ken dealt with the uncertainty of death the way a parent deals with a child who is afraid of the dark.
He turned a night light on, so to speak.
Once the shadows were gone, the room wasn't such a scary place after all.
Ken's humor and storytelling was his way of shedding light on the situation.
At times, he had me almost believing he wasn't going to die.
I found myself questioning how I would end the story if he did go home after Easter and live on for several more years.
As the weeks stretched on, it became apparent from Ken's complexion I wouldn't have to face that quandary.
The conclusion of his story came Sept. 7
I was on my way back to the office from covering a grand opening celebration at Kamco Supply Corp. on Pruyn's Island
I stopped at Saint Joseph's on my way back to the office and rang the door bell.
This time, a volunteer answered and said Ken died a few hours earlier.
At that point, it was time for me to pick up where Ken left off, and keep his stories alive.
Ken and I share a kinship, of sorts -- not as blood relatives, but as storytellers.
Ken's stories often contain practical information, such as how to throw a hatchet.
"You have to kind of figure out how it's balanced and throw it in such a way so it turns over about once, so it makes kind of a somersault," Ken said, recalling the summer he attended Boy Scout camp in Chautauqua County. "And so that it goes about 5 feet and turns over and goes at the target."
On my first visit on Nov. 21, volunteers Bill and Harriet Rogers told me they were a little bit apprehensive, not knowing what to expect.
"I know we're going to get attached to these people, and you know the end result is that we're going to lose them," Harriet Rogers said.
On my third visit, I wrote the following in my notes: "I'm starting to feel like the Rogers, that it's going to be hard not to get attached to Ken."
He smiled every time I came to visit. And when I left, Ken would always say, "Stop by any time."
Ken did the community a favor by sharing a vulnerable and personal period of his life publicly.
And he did us all a favor by sharing his stories.
Chapters could be written about his high school years in Akron, Ohio, where his father managed a Dun and Bradstreet office and about life in the Glens Falls area in the 1950s and '60s.
If time and space permitted, I'd pass along his stories about taking ballroom dance classes, building radios from a kit and listening to Amos 'n' Andy on KDKA -- the Pittsburgh radio station with a signal powerful enough to reach Akron.
We frequently talked about how I, too, listened to KDKA as a child, albeit long after Amos 'n' Andy were off the air.
Henry Street became an extension of my news beat during the months we visited, and I miss going there to see Ken.
But Ken's spirit lives on in his stories.
Staff writer Maury Thompson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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© Copyright 2006 Lee Publications, Inc. DBA The Post-Star.