Interview with Kent Hooper, widower, professor at the University of Puget Sound
Even as the pain of her absence remains palpable after six years, Kent Hooper entertains no illusions about life and death. “Aileen is dead. I’m not going to see her again.” That hard fact does not impact his attitude about “getting back on the horse,” as it were. “I had the one great relationship in my life. There’s probably no number two out there. In many ways, I still feel like I’m married and I’m OK with that.”
Though Kent, 60 and a Professor of German at the University of Puget Sound, has dated, he feels with some amusement that many women look at him as some kind of salvage case. “They’re surprised that the house is in good order, and that I can cook and clean on my own.” In fact, though he mainly cooks for one now, he still sets a table, plates his dinner presentably and will even add the ambiance of candles.
If you’re thinking this all adds up to a man who had a full and happy marriage, you’d be right. “Aileen and I were together for nearly thirty years. We never argued or fought. It was a problem-free marriage that centered on family and a rotating circle of neighborhood cocktail and dinner parties.”
Aileen’s cancer diagnosis came in 2009. And she passed in February, 2012. “The doctor told us the survival rates for her type of cancer ranged from one month to ten years. Aileen wound up somewhere near the middle of the pack.”
Kent adds that Aileen continued to work during that time too. “It was therapy,” Kent says, “but we did slow things down from the go-go pace we enjoyed when she was healthy. We lived a simpler, more peaceful and quiet life.”
Having those three years to prepare did not make Aileen’s death any easier to cope with. “It sucked,” Kent says. “I’d really never been without either a girlfriend or a wife.”
Friends and family circled the wagons, not allowing Kent to isolate himself. “I thought I’d move to a smaller house, but the kids (he has a son and a daughter) said “no.” They stayed with me for a few weeks, insisting I go back to work earlier than I wanted to, and I vowed to accept every dinner invitation from my friends that was offered.”
Kent says he read everything he could about grieving and widowhood, but the book that resonated deepest for him was C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. Still, Kent had to find out if he could live alone. In 2014 he was granted a sabbatical from teaching, and discovered to his surprise and satisfaction that he could. He still misses Aileen, especially on her birthday and on holidays. “What gets me out of the dumps is that she told me I’d be all right. She was right, but it’s because I continue to try to live life the way Aileen did.” Kent admits it saddens him to know she couldn’t be around for the good things happening to her family, like marriages and grandkids.
The pain of her absence is particularly strong when Kent visits Ireland, where Aileen was born and raised along with her four surviving sisters (one a twin) that Kent promised to keep an eye on. “It’s hard going back, though, because we’d always thought we’d wind up living there after retirement.” And yet, he feels curiously lucky because his children have what amount to four other mothers (aunts) keeping an eye on them!
While he has no plans or expectations of remarrying, Kent would still like to find a traveling companion for his retirement years. “It’s no fun going to, say, Hawaii by yourself.” Someone suggested his best bet might be a gay woman, and Kent allows jocularly that could be a great fit.
In the meantime, there’s a patch of daffodils that bloom in Kent’s yard every year around the day of Aileen’s passing in February. Yes, Aileen may be dead as Kent believes, but as long as even Mother Nature remembers her, he knows she’ll always remain “alive” in his memory.