The horrible part of needing to write is in the ache to express in words those pivotal moments that changes one’s life when at such a time words cannot hope to suffice. Our friend (and this term falls infinitely short of what he truly is) Dennis lies in a bed tended by hospice, our son Michael, their neighbor Trish, friends on demand, and his heart and soul for the past twenty-eight years; Marc. Dennis is in and out of awareness of what is going on. He eats little or nothing now, and is being made as comfortable as possible. How I hate that last phrase, because it never leads anyplace good for those of us who watch and wait and pray.
I cannot talk about Dennis without talking about Marc. They have been a couple and inseparable for twenty-eight years and married for twenty-five. They are Marc and Den, inseparable, one. If couples can be said to have soul mates, they are ours, and we are the richer and better for it. Over the twenty years we have known each other they have become part of our family, and we part of theirs. Our hearts are breaking, and I wonder if they will ever heal because I am not sure they will ever stop breaking from this.
Since the devastating diagnoses of cancer for Dennis, Marc has been brave, doting, caring, and protective. He has been all we hope we can be when placed in such a situation. Even in tragedy, Marc sets a high bar. I think if the dictionary had a picture by the word “stoic,” you would find his handsome, bearded, and smiling face.
Dennis in health was a lanky handsome man of the earth, loving to tend the gardens both at his work (the College of Charleston) and at his home. Sometimes I think his goal was to make things as fertile and lovely as his soul. To see Dennis at labor was to know a truly intimate part of him.
Dennis in decline is a pallid, frail saint. Shuffling when he could still walk, but the movements of his hands though impeded by his health are oddly somehow beautiful and graceful punctuations to his raspy, ruined speech. He clings to his dignity, and tries to ask as little of the people around him as he can. Even when he needs nurturing, Dennis attempts to be the nurturer.
Our favorite nickname for Dennis is Mother Theresa, because he embraced all things so readily. Wanting to help or improve or simply lighten a load. I still laugh at the look Marc gave Dennis, when Dennis brought home a baby fox nestled in a box with a towel. Dennis had found the fox at work (then the El Pomar Foundation in Colorado Springs) abandoned outside its den. I believe the pup went to the zoo for rescue, but Dennis’s first idea was to raise him as one of his own (only Marc in his wisdom stayed Dennis’s hand in this). In the battle between nature taking its course and Dennis having his way, odds were always in Dennis’s favor.
It is not easy to say goodbye to such a heart and spirit. Selfishly I do not want to. Selfishly I want him bound to this earth and in our lives for much longer than we have had. My faith assures me that he is going to a place better than this, a place without prejudice, a place of pure love, a place that will only be enriched by Dennis’s soul. I take comfort in this. I know that ultimately death is harder on the survivors, and that the pain is now squarely moving to our shoulders.
Dennis, Jean-Marie and I love you truly and with all our hearts. We will miss you more than we can say. Thank you for all you have meant to us and done for us. Thank you for your comfort, friendship, and love through the too short years that seem like no time at all. Thank you for leaving your mark on this earth as the Godfather of our grandson. Thank you for being Uncle Den to our Children. The world is better with you in it, but now you are needed to tend other gardens and set another place to bloom. We will take care of Marc. Goodbye.