Interview with Daniel Kenner: 'Anticipate the needs of those around you, speak for those in need and stay fiercely loyal' @alwysroom4grace


Daniel Kenner rocked out to Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” while other infants sang “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” A proud member of Actor’s Equity, SAG-AFTRA, and National Players Tour 60, Daniel was a Presidential Arts Scholar at George Washington University and Scholarship recipient at The British American Drama Academy. Directed the Washington D.C. premier of Sarah Kane’s Crave. Author of the manuscript, Roux. Winner of the Rhode Island Playwriting Festival for his World War II letters home drama, Fields of Sacrifice. Adapted Les Misérables for high school stages.
Maureen Kenner’s heart was in the classroom. For thirty-five years she was a Special Education teacher in the Providence Public Schools. Born and raised in Dobbs Ferry, New York, Maureen graduated from Rhode Island College with a degree in education and later earned a Master’s Degree from Providence College. Maureen was a vital influence at the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School at Fox Point, working tirelessly as a mentor for the betterment of all children and their families. Honored with many accolades throughout her career, Maureen was awarded Providence Teacher of the Year in 2003. Living with cancer, as a model patient, Maureen exemplified integrity, courage, grace, and hope. For thirty-one years, through sickness and health, Maureen was the beloved soul mate to the late Jacob “Buddy” Kenner, her intense love recognized in 2016 as a Rhode Island Caregiver of the Year.

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Title: ROOM FOR GRACE
Author: Daniel Kenner & Maureen Kenner
Publisher: Silver Boot Imprints
Pages: 200
Genre: Memoir & Biography

BOOK BLURB:

Stage 4 cancer for her and a debilitating disease for her husband: life crashed down in an instant. Maureen Kenner found resilience, however, in the lessons she learned from her Special Ed students in Providence, RI. Her students lived with their hearts opened despite struggles of the highest magnitude. Through these students, Maureen gains courage, humor, and the strength of spirit to face her devastating realities, head on. Maureen’s oral history was captured by her son Daniel who tenderly wrought this book out of their recorded conversations. Through anecdotes and hard-earned lessons, Maureen tackles challenge after challenge and reframes daily struggles with a positive outlook allowing her to transcend and conquer mortal fears with dignity and room for grace.

PRAISE:

"Maureen Kenner was one of those people who brightened every room she entered. Thanks to Room for Grace, that light is not extinguished. Although her story shares great sadness, Room for Grace is a book of hope and a celebration of life that sheds Maureen’s light on us all."

—Ann Hood, Author of The Obituary Writer and The Red Thread

“In these pages, you will find a story like no other. Maureen’s story is one of courage and love, a story that will move you to your core.”

—David Flink, Chief Empowerment Officer, Eye to Eye

“The piercing light of Maureen’s compassion, love and intelligence, will leave every reader wanting to reach out in the spirit of service and live life to the fullest.”

—Annie Lanzillotto, Author of Hard Candy: Caregiving, Mourning, and Stagelight

“Buddy Kenner was a big-hearted teacher, universally beloved by all, a warrior for the arts and their importance in the curriculum. Amazing and unique guy. Read this book.”

Tom Chandler, Rhode Island Poet Laureate Emeritus


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Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life! Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process. Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  When did you come up with the idea to write your book?

My dad, Buddy, was officially diagnosed with Frontotemporal Lobe Dementia on Valentine’s Day 2013. FTD attacks the parts of the brain that deal with behavior, problem solving, emotion control and speech. We were told to be prepared for aggression, a loss of empathy, dysphasia, a loss of cultural inhibitions, and an inability to do any sort of planning or organizing. He would only get worse. There was no cure. Four months later, my mom, Maureen, was at her annual physical and her blood tests showed alarming levels of anemia. For women age fifty-plus, that can be a sign of colon cancer. It was confirmed a month later, when the cancer metastasized from her colon to her umbilicus. Both my parents were vibrant storytellers. But by 2015, the dementia was erasing my dad’s personality. In conversation, he would be stuck, like a needle on a record. So, afraid of losing their stories, the three of us traveled for a week to Bar Harbor, Maine to celebrate their thirtieth anniversary. Wanting to secure their legacy, I planned and organized an oral history project. A preservation project, to have her voice on tape.
I recorded thirty hours of interviews and conversations with my mom from the terrace overlooking Frenchman’s Bay and, Room For Grace was born.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

I’d get sick after every draft I completed. I’d be so worn down, exhausted, afraid, unsure. But invariably, writing Room For Grace was my chance to keep their voices close. I needed to keep hearing them. It was like body armor for me. I feared the inevitable. Writing and journaling those four years of my parents’ illnesses allowed me to participate more closely and to monitor changes and nuances. I believed my mom when she told me we’d find lessons in all the small day-to-day moments. Though, many of the moments were profoundly sad. But, I knew I was giving my family a gift. A record. A tribute. I gave them my presence and my curiosity and gave them the opportunity to be articulate. We spent a lot of time together, in the last eighteen months. There were always going to be more lessons, that’s just who my mom was and, there were always going to be more stories, that’s just who my dad was. I was always going to want to give my mom a piece of my mind, that’s just who I am. We were all present for something mysterious. That’s unconditional love, to share in mystery together. Mom and I pushed each other so that her courage became my courage. The last thing I remember her saying was - I want to thank you for being so free with your thoughts. I shared an incredible bond with my parents. To hear their fears, many of them devastating, to watch their lives shrink from disease, it wasn’t easy. But to be one of the vessels they could pour their thoughts into gave me a sense of peace. And ultimately, after they passed, I had no regret. In its place, I had pages and pages and pages of amazing stories waiting to be tackled, to be remembered, to be shared. If I had any advice I guess I would say, anticipate the needs of those around you, speak for those in need and stay fiercely loyal.

Q: What’s one fact about your book that would surprise people?

Six months after Mom and Dad passed I went to New Mexico and wrote over a hundred pages of dialogue that was later considered and edited into Room For Grace. All these memories and scenes just busted their way out of my consciousness. I could hear both their voices, profound and distinguished. And for weeks it just spilled out.

Q: What message are you trying to get across with your book?

I want readers to find the power in their own voice. How do we express grief? There are many positives to tragedy. We can choose hope over hibernation and, happiness over pessimism. We can turn misfortune into laughter and humanization. Tragedy reminds us how big our community is and, how to accept help. It’s an opportunity for others to come to the rescue. Embracing the yes allows others to carry us. The art of saying yes shows trust and love and respect. If everything was perfect we wouldn’t find opportunities for empathy, compassion and generosity of spirit. Those traits, those qualities. When you share the load, you get to see the best in others. It’s like what The Beatles say on the last line of the White Album. My mom learned to let others carry her when she needed to be carried. My grandmother taught her that the more people who love a child, the better. I was, and am, so proud to know that my mom and dad were people the community rallied behind. Cheering for their healing, the community nourished them with daily visits, leas of orchids, origami cranes, handmade cards, gift boxes, songs and signs on our lawn. For four years, they never stopped being present, witnessing, participating, expressing and sharing love, encouragement, insight and calm. With the endless strength and hope the community provided, Mom and Dad continued to experience compassion, laughter and the thrills of building new memories. The cancer gave Mom the clarity to help validate her core beliefs. People are good.

Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

Form deep and meaningful connections. Our family used Caring Bridge (www.caringbridge.org) to connect with family and our communities. If you visit our website, www.RoomForGrace.org, you’ll find Topics and Questions For Discussion. Room For Grace will also be donating 10% of total sales. Every 1,000 books sold, we’ll choose new non-profits. The first organization we are partnering with is Eye To Eye. Eye to Eye's mission is to improve the life of every person with a learning disability. They fulfill their mission by supporting and growing a network of youth mentoring programs run by and for those with learning differences, and by organizing advocates to support the full inclusion of people with learning disabilities and ADHD in all aspects of society. Mentors talk openly and bravely about their experiences, while mentees realize they are not alone, sometimes for the very first time. They see someone who was once just like they are today. More importantly, they see someone they hope to be tomorrow.

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