I suppose I have always known the day would come when I’d write about Dennis. Not a tribute. But who he was.
Not an easy task. Many times I’ve tried. And many times I’ve thought, “Not yet.”
Perhaps it’s time.
Words do not come easily to us non-Robert Brownings, who cannot begin to “count the ways.” Soaring rhetoric in hyperbolic praise would be inappropriate. But then so is speaking in tones of low-voiced sorrowing that well-ordered grief seems to require.
I think that part of the process of letting go is holding on. Dennis counseled us to move forward and make this work. We owe it to him to be all right. It is a binding contract for those of us privileged to have shared his life.
T. S. Eliot declared “April is the cruelest month…” I have known months notable for their brutality, but I do think Eliot got it right. April was harsh.
Quite simply, Dennis was what he seemed to be.
Blinded by my own mortality, I tend to launch questions into the great void of outer darkness regarding the rationale of the universe and its justice system, with my signature damaged intensity.
Dennis never did. He seemed to embrace the wisdom that acceptance, not anger, was the more productive weapon when going into battle with such a formidable foe as pancreatic cancer. By acceptance, I do not mean surrender. He was, as Brodi said, a fierce warrior. It was merely a tip of the gladiator’s helmet to a sinister opponent prior to waging combat.
This was his grace. Grace has its own power. Victory without grace is hollow. Ultimately, Dennis was triumphant.
Our grandchildren sing primary songs reminding us that we are each a Child of God. But Dennis was an Adult of God. Lacking the grace that defined him, I am more a Juvenile of God, trying in vain to curtail my harsh-language mechanism triggered by fear and anguish in a futile effort to snuff this disease with smothering obscenities.
In the end, “cancer” is the greatest obscenity.
Dennis knew intuitively that, as Viktor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”
He succeeded. I struggle.
Dennis’ passing alters everything, myself included. But then, I was altered by our life together.
Dennis reverenced all the things in life that he held sacred – his Friends, his Faith, and his Family. His was a gentleman’s code, which did not allow him to compromise the personal integrity that comprised his wholeness. He possessed quiet modesty, infusing our lives with texture and richness.
We are frequently asked how our family is getting through each of the holidays since April. The answer is – quite well. But much like Emily, the main character in Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town,” who is allowed to relive her 12th birthday, with all its painful beauty, it is the poignant, endearing, fulfilling, ordinary moments of ordinary days that give meaning to life…not necessarily the arbitrary special occasions dictated by calendars. Our life was comprised mostly of 12th birthdays.
For a long time I concurred with William Faulkner when he said, “Between grief and nothing, I’ll take grief.” But now, I sometimes wonder. Bereavement is not imminent. Sorrow has been a companion for so long. It is not new or raw or angry, but seasoned, aged. It no longer has the power to suffocate by paralyzing our lungs, or swallow us by the immensity of his not-thereness.
There is a surprising, unexpected element of joy in sorrow. Sometimes, however, I think a momentary anesthetic of nothingness to numb and harness the sadness that disgorges itself at random might be useful.
But, of course, the only way out is through.
The eternal mathematical equations of life usually insist that the degree of grief is in direct proportion to the amount of love. If I embraced the one, I am compelled to accept the other. I’m bound by the terms of the contract.
Our hearts are broken. Of that, there is no doubt. But the tightness of shrunken scar tissue will form around the wounds, and our hearts will heal and be stronger.
Someone received his corneas. Perhaps they will see the world through his eyes. I hope so.
It is pleasant to think about.
I understand about seasons. Dennis left in the season of lilacs, a rather splendid goal we shared, but were saving for an April in the future. Dennis accomplished our objective much too soon. He never seemed to master the fine art of procrastination.
What I DON’T understand is “a time for every purpose under heaven.” Dennis had purpose beyond the moment. Purpose is perplexing. How does loss serve purpose, loss that leaves us tilted and dim? That information is not available to the common man. I guess I’ll have to wait for all to be revealed. But when it is, it better come with some plump comfort!
Dennis was not perfect. He had flaws. But for the life of me, I can’t recall at the moment what they were. He was wise, warm and witty…”a quiet man, a fierce warrior.”
Quite simply, he was what he seemed to be.