New York Times 2017 “The Lives They Loved”

In 2012, after my father died, I submitted his story to the NYT’s The Lives They Loved section. For some reason, it made me feel better – my father was a simple man, no movie star or world leader, yet he was bigger than life in my world. Publishing his story in the Times seemed right. It proved he was important enough to be memorialized and have his story known and read by others across the globe.

At the time, I never dreamt that I’d be writing Rick’s story so soon.

I was invited by several people to join them tonight, New Year’s Eve, but I declined. I love them and thank them for loving me and for trying to help me through this grief journey, but I wanted to be alone tonight – alone with my memories. I believe leaving 2017 behind is one of the most difficult things I’ve encountered. I’m not sure exactly why. I know I’ll never forget Rick, but I fear leaving this year – and him – behind. He was IN this year. He lived it. He existed. He will never see 2018 and I will go on without him.

I realized tonight that I’ve never been alone on New Year’s Eve. I’ve had parents, my son, my family, or friends nearby for the last 60 years. Tonight, I will be alone with my memories and my love. Tonight, I will write of the Life I Loved and submit it to the New York Times. I’ve cleared a path in the snow and I’ll sit under Rick’s gazebo, wearing his hoodie and drinking wine by his fire.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue trying to live without him.

Here’s the story of Rick, in 400 words or less, as submitted to the New York Times.

In March 1996, I met Rick Palmer in an AOL chat room. A year later, we married and, for the next twenty years, he took me on the ride of my life.

We downed shots in Tijuana, sipped wine in Boston’s Palm Restaurant, swam at a nude beach in California, and ate lobster in Maine. We gathered beads on Bourbon Street and talked politics at DC parties. We toured Amsterdam’s red light district and my ancestors’ Cornwall village. We gambled in Vegas, visited the Grand Canyon and drove Highway 1 from Maine to Florida. The consummate wanderer, Rick never liked to plan ahead. ‘Let’s see what we find,’ he’d say.

Rick played guitar, and sang with a deep husky voice that earned him awards at Karaoke contests across the US. His rendition of Garth Brooks’ ‘The Dance’ earned him my heart.

Rick was a self-made man. He earned a football scholarship to WMU but dropped out after his father died, and built a career by initiative and hard work. He began as a baggage handler at an international airline and was promoted to ramp supervisor. He volunteered to write the local union publication, moved to the district level, earned more than 30 awards, and was invited to the international office. In 2011, he took an early retirement to dedicate himself to our web and print design business.

A tireless worker, Rick renovated three homes. He was passionate about music, photography, Stan Lee comics, and cooking. He was an avowed liberal and a voracious reader who avidly consumed the daily NY Times and several books each month. He was a wordsmith, an excellent writer, and a dreamer who loved the sound of thunderstorms and distant train whistles outside our bedroom window.

Rick loved his hometown Garden City, Michigan, and volunteered his design skills to community organizations. He rode his bicycle more than 10 miles a day, listening to his latest book. He fancied himself an ‘old curmudgeon,’ yet he made friends wherever we went.

Rick gave me 21 unforgettable years of love, laughter, and adventure. His life was cut short by cancer, but he sure lived in the time he had! Rick had a huge heart and an indomitable spirit. He was my husband, best friend, travel companion, business partner, writing coach, and champion. I found Rick Palmer in an AOL chatroom, and my life was never the same.

About the author

Katherine Billings Palmer is a technical writer, poet, and essayist from Garden City, Michigan. She’s won several academic writing awards, including first place in the University of Michigan Dearborn Critical Essay Contest for her work about poet John Donne: “‘The Sun Rising’: A Lover’s Boast.”

In 2017, Katherine’s husband, Rick, died of complications from small cell lung cancer. She wrote a series of poems and essays about her struggles to cope with her grief. I Wanted to Grow Old With You is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Her latest book, A Widow’s Words: Grief, Reflection, Prose, and Poetry – The First Year was published in January 2019 and is also available on

Katherine is a guest blogger for the Hope for Widows Foundation and writes about her grief journey at


  1. We love you and Rick and miss him very much. Rick was one of the few people who agree with me 100% in every political issue

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *