Monday, October 24, 2011


I feel like I post a lot about my dad here. Which I feel ok about because I don't journal so faithfully as I used to. Which I feel sort of sheepish about because I like to think I'm sort of a private person (sort of) and I'm worried I lean toward, like, LiveJournal-esque emo blogging. So the disclaimer: this isn't cheery or entertaining. And also, I'm not looking for sympathy.

My dad died a year ago tomorrow. I came back from teaching the evening class (which was ended exactly this time that Monday evening) to an urgent sounding message from Alex who worked with Dennis that I should give them a call. I did: Dennis was in the hospital. He had collapsed at work and he was taken in an ambulance to the hospital downtown. I was flustered at this point, but not sure how to feel: I knew he'd spent some time admitted a couple of months before (we found out after the fact, incidentally, and I was hurt and furious about that. Selfish bastard), so figured that either it was nothing at all and they'd called because they were more worried than he was, or it was a real-life emergency, which I wasn't really ready to think about and decided to try not to panic in case it turned out to be nothing.

I called Rachel who lives in Sandy to go check it out: she's  my oldest sister and the one who lives closest to Salt Lake. She said she'd take Randy (husband) and go and let us know. (This is such a perfect scenario, can I say? Rachel coming to save the day? Rachel doing the hard thing. It was 95% convenience, but, really, what would *I* have done?)

So. James came to pick me up from the office. We ate Subway (distractedly) in the Cougareat. Jeremy called me--apparently he'd heard not from Rachel but from his friend whose other distant friend (who we'd never met) was Dennis's emergency contact (again, I was so mad).

I was waiting for an FHE in the library to start when Randy called to tell me Dennis was gone. Because he's a great brother-in-law and a great husband. I didn't cry, but told Christina who was hosting FHE who hugged me, and gathered my things and told James we had to go to Salt Lake and we went.

Have I written this? He was dead when he got to the hospital. Apparently his coworkers left him in his office to have a meeting and when they got back (half an hour later? More?) his heart wasn't beating. There was a doctor passing by who administered CPR till the ambulance came, but there wasn't any sign of anything. This seems like the most tragic part, right? And one I hesitate to think about not because it's miserable, but because part of me wants to turn it into a poem or an essay, some morbid imagining of my dad's last moments, my dad dying alone.

I was the first one, after R&R, at the hospital. There were hugs, and Rachel told me they gave her Dennis's wallet which made her cry. And I went to go see the body, which was mostly weird and purple and foreign. I don't think I touched him, or not much. Rachel was very sweet and contemplative, rubbing his forehead in a way I could never imagine happening in real life.

James was there the whole time, the whole week in fact, taking time off work to hang out with the family, or to sit close, or to let me cry as we sat alone in Dennis's empty apartment. What a good man I got.

Anne got there half an hour later or so, with another round of Diet Cokes and bustling with competent energy. We spent a lot of time laughing that night, a lot of time planning and talking through details. We waited for Melissa to get down from Rexburg and Jeremy from Boise and fended off the ED nurse who needed the room (now that I have a better sense of how highly in demand ED beds are I feel a little bad). And it was really delightful and tender and difficult.

PostScript: I only cried once the week of Dennis's funeral. And it was kind of intense, but didn't feel real still? I have pangs of emotion--I wrote about preparing for the wedding. When we discuss emergency contacts at work or Epic's neat functionality triggered by marking a patient as 'deceased' or when a dummy patient's last name is Borzoi I get twinges of sadness or anger or regret.
And right now I'm feeling sort of low--or part of it at least is that I can look back from this distance and recognized how hard that was to get through. How Dennis' death marked the beginning of one of the most challenging (in a thousand ways. and wonderful) years of my life. And my family's life. I feel ok that only now am I beginning to let myself know what his death means and meant and how his life shaped mine. I guess moving toward accepting the fact that I'm a slow reactor when it comes to emotional things. It takes some thought and some time to figure out how I feel.

And. I guess I want to say, too, how wonderful everyone was. Rachel and Randy organizing with the mortuary and other hard adult-y things, Jeremy taking care of all of Dennis' accounts and documents--breaking into Dennis' email (finally--I've told this story? His security question was "who's your favorite author" and we only had 5 guesses every 12 hours and that puzzle punctuated the funeral week), Anne doing the details--getting the burial outfit together, etc times 1000, Melissa finding a spot for Dennis' skittish spoiled wolf hound. And the extended family. And my grandmother. And Connie. And my great friends who came to the funeral and washed my dishes and brought dinner and put up with me moping.

So. Tomorrow I think James and I will honor Dennis by buying some flowers and eating something delicious. I hear the Utah crew are planning honors graveside (I miss them/wish I were there). And that is the end.


  1. Yes, do eat something yummy tomorrow. And tuck this (from a favorite of mine and Jesse's) away somewhere, especially the last two words:

    “Tell the angel who will watch over your future destiny … to pray sometimes for a man, who like Satan thought himself for an instant equal to God, but who now acknowledges with Christian humility that God alone possesses supreme power and infinite wisdom. Perhaps those prayers may soften the remorse he feels in his heart. As for you … this is the secret of my conduct towards you. There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die … that we may appreciate the enjoyments of living.
    “Live, then, and be happy … and never forget that until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words—wait and hope.”

    The Count of Monte Cristo

  2. So there's a thing I read that Joan Didion wrote, just the quote actually, I want to read the whole book, but you know, book lists are long. But in the quote I read, she said that part of our grieving is for ourselves, "as we were, as we are no longer" which is my only explanation for why I retell/revisit my stories of loss: I'm trying to figure out who I was/am now? I think we have to tell our stories to each other because we grow in a collective way not as an individual. I think. Possibly. These are ideas I wish we could talk about in person over some fruit pie for breakfast.

    What was Dennis' occupation? I've always meant to ask.

  3. Thanks Kjerstin. This was good for me to read today, and I'm sure Dennis will appreciate the good food and the flowers, even if from another realm. :)

  4. Your writing about your dad is some of my favorite.

  5. Lindsey--Conrad. Which is perfect.

    Everyone else: win. Thank you.