chapter two

Rick Roy

The bright, hot sun is beating on my back. The waves of Lake Huron are washing rhythmically against the shore. The sky is blue and nearly cloudless. I put aside my literary magazine to drink it all in: the sun, the breeze, the sand, the summer.

“This is the life, Rick Roy,” I say to myself.

I’m stunned by the silly phrase. It’s something I used to say to my husband, more than twenty years ago.

Rick. The gentle giant. The largest man I’ve ever known. A doctor once told him he’d never seen a patient with a bigger spine. He completely filled doorways with his huge presence. He completely filled my life, too.

I wasn’t the only one impressed by his stature. I remember watching Braveheart with my dad and son one evening soon after Rick and I met. I noted aloud that Mel Gibson was quite a hunk with those muscles. “What?” Said my dad. “Rick could eat him for breakfast!”

I loved all things Scottish and from the beginning of our relationship, he humored me. From watching Scottish movies, to listening for hours to bagpipe or Celtic music, he joined me and even enjoyed some of the experiences – although he drew the line at watching Outlander with me.

On one of our early dates, he discovered that there would be a bagpipe performance taking place downtown and surprised me with tickets. I married him the next year.

The nickname came about one night when Rick and I were watching a rerun of Rob Roy, starring Liam Neeson. Soon after, I began to playfully refer to Rick as “Rick Roy.” Silly, but it amused him (and slightly irritated him), so the nickname stuck for a while.

Rick could be cantankerous but, in general, he loved life and adventure, and I have many, many beautiful memories of the life we enjoyed together. He and I spent years traveling to new vacation sites, basking in the sun on various beaches, and even simply enjoying evenings on our deck at home. He appreciated life and his blessings and often turned to me to say:

“Ah, this is the life, Gerry.”

And I’d agree.

“Yes. This is the life, Rick Roy.”

So many years have passed since those early years of marriage that I’d forgotten about the silly phrase. We were married for twenty years and he’s been gone for five. Lung cancer stole that fantastic life from us.

But, as often happens, tiny little glints of happy memories will surface as I continue on without him. And as I sit here alone savoring life, basking in the beauty of nature on a sunny day on the beach of Lake Huron, a phrase I haven’t said in nearly twenty years popped into my mind and took me back to that happy time.

This is the life, my dear Rick Roy. This is the life.

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

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