Peter’s and my younger son, Jay P., died 10 years ago last July.
Jay was a happy-go-lucky, moody, opinionated young man with a wife and two young children when he died of cancer at 45. He was a Christian, Catholic, Republican, talented writer and editor. As most everyone would describe Jay, he loved Iowa with a passion, anything and everything Iowa. Except the Twins and Vikings from neighboring Minnesota!
Being I am his mom I could write a book about him. I could write about all the good things he was and I could also point out a few unpleasant things. The problem with any news story or obituary is all you hear about is the wonderful person that man or woman was. I guess that’s all well and good, but that just isn’t the way most of us are.
One of Jay’s closest friends, and he had many, was Ken Fuson. Ken worked at The Des Moines Register for years and that is where Jay met Ken. They were very much alike. They had the same humor, same interests, same gripes and groans. They were always there for each other through thick and thin!
When Jay was bedridden, and later in hospice, Ken visited Jay nearly every day. I feel guilty saying “nearly every day” because when I spent the last few weeks in Des Moines with Jay before he died, Ken was there every day. He would walk into the room and immediately Jay was up for a lively conversation about their latest friends or the game last night or where to find the best takeout food. There wasn’t a subject they didn’t hash and rehash. They laughed and cried together as friends do.
Shortly before Jay moved to hospice care, Ken and Jay undertook a very emotional journey together. Ken would bring his big, clumsy tape recorder over to Jay and CeCe’s home, set it up beside Jay’s bed and Ken would interview Jay for what seemed like hours. Mostly it concerned things Jay wanted Zoey and Kiernan to know about the family, about Iowa, about friends. He wanted to give his two children a glimpse of who their father was. At the time Zoey was 10 and Kiernan was 7 years old. They remember many things about Jay, but of course not the man he was, just the dad he was to them. On those recordings he gave them advice and told them how much he loved them.
Ten years later we are attending Ken’s funeral today (Saturday, Jan. 11) as you are reading this.
Ken was an extremely accomplished writer and has been highly acclaimed as such. His best writing was human nature stories for The Register. Give Ken a story idea, any story idea and he’d take it from there. Always well written, factual and just what you needed to know.
But most important to us was that he wrote Jay’s eulogy. It was loving, sweet, truthful, sometimes a little inappropriate, but always Ken and always Jay! Ken knew exactly what to say and how to say it to give the people there at the funeral a glimpse of who his friend, Jay Wagner, was.
One of the last requests Jay made of his dad was for us to help Ken through life as much as we could. Ken’s life was far from easy or perfect and sometimes those things interfered with Ken enjoying the good life he should have had. His health was always an uphill battle as well as a finally licked addiction. But it was liver disease that he couldn’t fight anymore. He was on a list for a transplant, but nothing was happening as fast as needed. Ken finally traveled to Omaha, NE, to be there ready for the transplant if one became available for him. It didn’t happen.
Our friend died at the age of 63, loved by many, many people. You will likely remember Ken’s byline in The REVIEW. He wrote weekly columns for us for more than seven years after Jay’s day then, after a short break, cut back to every other week. He also worked, when possible, in public relations.
Ken finally found the church and church family he was looking for after many years of searching. But most important he found the Savior that he had searched for. Rest in peace, Ken. Tell Jay about all the family and friends who still remember and love him. The two of you will be forever loved and missed.
God is good.
Connie Wagner lives in Sibley. She is the co-founder of The N’West Iowa REVIEW and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.