Courage. Hope. Inspiration. Sometimes you can find all three in the spirit of one special person.
This Sunday you get to meet her.
The Sunday Series (13): Never Be Alone
“When I met him everything changed. I am a confident, independent woman because of him. Grant breathed life into me.” – Penny Kinkade
On June 14th 2013, breathing became difficult. Oxygen was in short supply, as was any sense of rational thought, or glimmer of hope for the future, any future. Grant Kinkade was gone.
Grant and his friend Bob Rust were hit and killed the night of June 14th as they were crossing the road in Fenwick, Delaware. Just weeks before the Kinkade family had purchased their first beach house in Fenwick. Grant was a Senior Partner for New York Life in the Baltimore General Office, Bob was the father-in-law of another Partner in that same office. Today, we are not recounting all the details of what happened, you can read the back story in this post, (http://markbrodinsky.com/2013/06/17/when-tomorrow-never-comes-its-just-about-life/). No today it’s about coming out of the dark.
I never met Bob, but I worked with Grant and met his wife Penny. And that’s where we travel today, on Penny’s road to recovery. Courage, hope, inspiration. As Grant would tell her all the time, “baby steps and small wins”.
It just so happens right before our interview, Penny had gone to do what she had put off for quite some time…picking up the urn where Grant’s ashes will be placed, at least for now. Penny had not wanted to go, she had put off so many things following the loss of the man who called her “pooky” and his “princess”. But Penny says for 2014 this was one of the things she needed to accomplish, handling things one day at a time. But as soon as she had her husband’s ashes in her hands, the past seven months came flooding back, the reality of her life, for which sometimes she says she is still in denial… was more than she could take. She got back in the car, heard the song, “Best Friends”, which meant so much to her and Grant, At that point Penny says she “lost it.” But then, just like she has done over and over and over these past seven months, she collected herself, got it together and was ready to speak to me.
Penny and Grant met more than two decades ago, while he was still working at the Giant grocery store. Penny says he “jumped into a bottle of Polo”, the first time they were together, as to mask the scent he picked up at the store. Though I only spoke to Penny on the phone for this interview, I could hear her smile as she recounted those early days. “He didn’t always smell the best”, she said, “he smelled from the job, but the Polo made it better.” Years later, when Penny would ask Grant why he smelled so good he would tell her it wasn’t the Polo, it was the “Dove soap”. 🙂
A certain scent, a familiar smell can invoke a special memory, yet now that’s all Penny has left. The couple was 32 days shy of their 20th wedding anniversary when Grant was taken from this world. Penny compares her own life with Grant to the classic Hollywood couple, George Burns and Gracie. The legendary comedian George Burns was the down-to-earth realist, Gracie his wife, the sometimes scatter-brained dreamer. That’s how many marriages work best, the hot-and-the-cold, the ying-and-the-yang, the black-and-the-white. Penny says she and Grant could trade jabs with the greatest of ease, but always had so much respect for one another, especially when it came to allowing each other to do what they enjoyed.
Penny loved to dance. Grant could care less. She says Grant would always say he was “taking one for the team”, when he took her dancing. Grant had a classic line for everything. Penny would dance, he would watch and then rescue her when her other dance partners got a little too close for comfort. Or Penny said he simply had to just go get her so they could leave, because she couldn’t stop dancing, or talking. “Let’s go, we gotta go, we’re getting old here”, he would say.
In turn, Grant loved to hang out with the boys, many of those “boys” were the members of his team, the group of agents he led at New York life. The rule was if Grant called Penny, it meant it was her time to go pick him up. No drinking and driving. They would always keep each other safe.
It’s one of the things the Kinkade children wonder about now. Her son Tucker recently told Penny, “you did everything you could to make sure you and Dad didn’t get hurt, how come that family, (the one driving the car that killed Grant), didn’t?”
It’s a question many are asking. But the question of “why” will forever be one that is not easy to answer and troubles Tucker and Penny’s other children, Madison and Shelby. Penny says sometimes it’s a perfect storm of grief. Yet it’s Penny who has tried at times to mask the grief from her children. She’s the one hiding in the closet to cry until she is called to help with a family activity, or to answer a question, then wipe the tears and appear to be calm and collected. Friends are telling her it’s ok to show the sadness, after all the kids need to see just how much their parents loved each other.
Talking to Penny there is little doubt about devotion and endless love. Grant was a big man, but despite his gruff exterior and imposing presence, he had the softest of hearts for his wife, son and daughters. He never forgot his most important responsibilities were husband, father, coach, provider. He was meticulous, a planner and a success story, having gone from the grocery store to become an insurance agent, then moving up the ranks to Senior Partner. His “minions” as Penny called them, loved him as much as his own family did. Current and former agents are telling her stories of how Grant changed their lives and continues to do so, even after his passing. What others may have taken for granted, they are now embracing simply because of what happened to the Kinkade family.
Penny says so many people tell her how they now go home earlier to spend time with their family, they don’t work so hard, they live in the moment, they make sure they are family-focused because they realize how lives can be changed in an instant. “I’m happy for them”, says Penny, “but so sad we had to experience this loss for others to find out what is important. I always believed everything happens for a reason, but I’m not really getting it right now. I’m really having a hard time understanding why this happened. Not just Grant, but Bob too. Bob beat cancer and everybody loved him. Two amazing people gone in one fell swoop. Wow. They made such an impact here on earth, maybe God wanted them to be with him.”
At times that faith and belief carries Penny through the day. Other times it’s therapy, books and friends who are helping Penny to cope. You don’t spend 23 years with someone, lose him and then a little more than half-a-year later suddenly see the world as rosy, but Penny has already overcome a significant challenge. She is coming out of the dark, her own rage. It’s a lesson she says she wants to share.
“It almost happened to me”, says Penny. I almost let anger consume me. I started hating everything. I hated that the trees were green, the grass was green, everything and anything I saw and it scared me. I always told Grant I am a survivor. I am not the little engine that could, I am the little engine that can.” And so Penny is making it happen, for herself, for her children and for life. “It sucks he is not here and I hate he is not here. But I have such a zest for life. Grant always told me baby steps and small wins, baby steps and small wins. All you need is a win and you will rock whatever you decide to do.”
So Penny is making her decision to tackle the challenges before her head on. As the calendar turns to 2014 she is committed to tackling one thing at a time, day by day. On the day we spoke it was the challenge of picking up the urn, “a win”, she says. It’s one more thing she can check off her list of challenges, emotional, mental and even physical to keep her life and the lives of Madison, Shelby and Tucker moving forward.
Penny says she and Grant were not a “normal couple” because they had been together so long. Then again, “normal” is relative for any relationship. It’s all about love, conviction, dedication and compromise. Penny says Grant kept her on track. “I was always running late and he hated that, but he dealt with it because it was me. I would get lost a lot, I could get lost in my own backyard. Grant was my compass, my moral compass, he was my everything. I’m starting over again. I’m on the see-saw but it’s not moving, because I don’t have a counterpart. Who is going to get me like he did? He just got me, he just did.”
What Penny may not realize, but I could tell in the time we spoke, is just how far she has come. She is able to perfectly articulate her situation, talk about the accident, talk about the challenges she and her children face and I could hear the sadness and sense of loss in her voice, but also that of determination. Like Penny says she has a “zest for life” and as she reminds herself of that and all that she needs to accomplish. She also realizes she is doing the one thing Grant would want her to do, to carry on, she has something to prove to him. “I’m doing this for him”, says Penny. “He is happy now, he was sad because he had to leave us, but I know he is happy now. And I’m doing this for him. I want him to see I can do this. I want him to know I was always listening. I was paying attention. Baby steps and small wins.”
Sometimes the synergy with this blog and the Sunday Series is off the charts. When Penny spoke of Grant as being her compass, I was quickly reminded of a video I saw just a few days before from the group Lady Antebellum. The name of that song? Compass. Those lyrics are as if Grant were speaking to Penny. I’m including some of them here, but I challenge you to click on the You Tube link below, then get ready to stand up, clap your hands, dance, and celebrate, because that’s what Grant would have wanted.
I knew Grant well enough to know he would not want any pity parties… just a reason to party and then get out there and make life happen. Just like Penny is doing for him now. “I’m an extension of Grant”, she says. Which means his heart will go on.
Baby steps and small wins.
You want to give up cause it’s dark, we’re really not that far apart.
So let your heart, sweetheart, be your compass when you’re lost,
you should follow it wherever it may go.
When it’s all said and done, you can walk instead of run,
cause no matter what you’ll never be alone.
Never be alone
– Compass, lyrics by Lady Antebellum
Until next time thanks for taking the time,
Compass, by Lady Antebellum
For feedback on the Sunday Series, or if you have a story idea to share, contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Brodinsky, Author
It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
#1 Amazon Best-Seller
Buy the book: www.amazon.com/author/markbrodinsky