Dennis, the final journey
Things have been quiet here at FigurativeArtist as we have been dealing with the illness of my wonderful husband Dennis, whose huge support allowed us to grow this website and offer support to our amazing network of artists.
Being an artist, an observer, a curator, a documenter has helped me create a thing of beauty in this slideshow of Dennis’s adventurous life, which may bring tears of joy, humor and sadness.
We had just over one year from diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis to his peaceful passing at home on Feb 27, 2017.
We are very grateful to all the help, love and support we had along the way. Friends offered helpful errands, many supplied us with wonderfully welcomed dinners for the freezer, many sent their thoughts and prayers. Thank you all for your flowers, cards, wishes and homemade soups.
We’re so fortunate, here on the Sunshine Coast, to be blessed with fantastic home care and all covered under our BC medical plan. The hospital Loan Cupboard loaned us a wheelchair and other useful equipment that made it possible for him to sit back and take the transit, pushed by yours truly, so he could focus on spending his diminishing energy on eating, looking out the window and breathing instead of the increasingly enormous task of walking from the couch to the table.
Home care visits included a dietitian who offered some good guidance as his eating pattern changed. Flo coached him in better breathing practices and the whole amazing team of visiting nurses checked in on us and kept us on track after we became housebound in early December. Even his family doctor, fellow Scouse Dr. Murphy dropped in to check on him from time to time.
We were lucky to have been offered the only medication for the disease, OFEV and take part in the drug trial. The value of the medicine, which was delivered FREE to our door once a month was $3800 a month. Nurse Michele phoned every month to monitor his progress.
What had been treated as double pneumonia, in Mexico (and may have been) was diagnosed as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in February, 2016.
He took the news of his incurable progressive terminal illness in stride and carried on making plans for sketching and travel while he still felt up to it. He was sorely disappointed to miss Hiroshi’s small April sketching tour of Japan but in June, he and Paula joined fellow artists on a painting trip to Alert Bay. In August, they joined 130 other keen urban sketchers in the 4th Annual West Coast Sketchcrawl in Tacoma and in September, he was well enough to enjoy the entire month feasting on “medicinal” steak and Guinness pies in England, exploring new places and making one last pilgrimage back to visit his oldest friends in Liverpool.
One last little jaunt in November to Palm Springs gave him a lovely lift, sketching on his folding stool in the sun before his world became the house overlooking Gibsons Harbour. Not one to complain, he counted his many blessing of health, love, family and friends; indeed a rich life well lived.
My role in his journey was as loving, supportive life partner, trying to make the journey as smooth, happy and peaceful as possible. Always ones to consider the glass half full rather than half empty, we kept up the cheeky Liverpool humor and wit and that helped carry us through, right to the end.
Quietly sharing the news early on with our network of artist and sailor friends and family was the only way to approach it. Approach it face on, our only way. Like a mudslide slowly creeping down the hill, it was an unstoppable path so best to try to make the best of it. Keeping that secret would have been such a burden. There was only one old friend in Liverpool that he did not tell, lovely Rita Meter-maid.
Keeping up my cheerful demeanor, keeping my pink blush cheeks, my pretty face, my flowers in my hair and not letting the tears take over was my gift to Dennis. In fact, I was very careful not to let to let my tears show because I did not want to add my stress and burden to his. Indeed, I felt that if I showed my weakness or pain that he would possibly given up more quickly and taken a faster route out, not wanting to hurt me. I held us both up so that we could have as much comfortable and quality time as possible.
With time, we were able to make sure all our affairs were in order. It’s a lesson to keep as many home and business accounts with your spouse joint to make things simpler in the difficult time of loss of one’s partner. It’s terrible to hear of some people who have no skills in the kitchen, bank account, home and the vast hole that the loss of the master of those departments brings. Not a gift at all.
If we could have made some changes along the way, these are the things I wish we’d one differently that may have made a difference to the journey, but not the destination.
See a Naturopath. As he knew our Naturopath could not cure him, he was NOT interested in seeing her, despite my urgings. It took him many months before he accepted to consult her for what relief she could offer his side-effects like nausea and severe weight loss.
Drink more Boost/Ensure/smoothies. He kind of left that until he lost so much weight that it was really difficult to climb back from the abyss.
Switch his OFEV to the lower dose. The full strength OFEV played havoc with his guts. When he finally switched to the lower dose just before Christmas, his stomach settled right down.
Change from oxygen bottles to oxygen concentrater earlier. The oxygen tanks were delivered FREE to our home every 2 weeks once he needed them but when we finally switched to the 24/7 supply of oxygen rater than on-demand exertion oxygen, he was greatly relieved and felt better.
As the end grew near, we were able to enjoy last visits from many friends and family, young and old, that was a wonderful gift to Dennis. Thank you all for coming or writing.
When he mentioned to me about 4 years ago that he wanted to be buried in the ground, I bought him a family plot at our local Seaview Cemetery for his next birthday. Others thought that was odd, but I knew if meant something to him. Passing by the cemetery on my way to life drawing in Sechelt, it always gave me a great sense of comfort to know that our spot was reserved for when the time came. Well, it has come.
A friend, MTK, came and told me maybe I didn’t know that Dennis was quite upset that he would not be buried in a cedar casket as he wanted. Aha, I had thought that the simple pine casket available here to me would be be quite sweet… I jumped online, located a simple cedar casket in Vancouver and Bruce drove the truck in next week to pick it up. We brought it home and quietly tucked it in the studio downstairs. A few weeks earlier, Dennis may well have been able to enjoy seeing it but that time had passed. He had approved the picture of it and knew it would come but had not known it was already here as the clock ticked down.
A few days before the end, I asked him if he had given any thought to what clothes he might wish to be buried in. Yes he had! Seriously folks, it was marvelous to have been able to have had these conversations and I encourage you all to do so when your own time approaches. First, he wanted a long linen night shirt. Hmmm…. not sure I could make that happen on short notice…. His second choice was simple hemp shirt and pants. Yes!! I could make that happen! Ben and I went up to the Hemp Store in Sechelt and picked out a lovely simple natural hemp shirt and pull on pants for him to wear on his final journey. Lovely.
Dennis passed away peacefully at home. He was very grateful not to have suffered any pain, pneumonia, falls or any other ill effects except for basically not being able to breathe.
A very small crowd of our closest friends and family gathered for a lovely simple graveside service and green burial, officiated by Reverend Terri Scallon.
We laid cedar boughs. clipped from our hedge on top of the cedar casket and it was lowered just below ground level for some final words of blessing and thanks. A perfect, soft, quiet, respectful, uplifting, joyful graveside service ending with a cheer and round of applause for our Den.
We do not get a dress rehearsal at this task of burying our loved ones. I was very glad to have been his support and to have helped others lift the fear from the path we will all one day take if we are blessed to have loved ones. I did not know that my handling of this journey would offer many a model of how things can be done with joy and humor and not just sadness. That time will come and my own journey will be a longer one than Dennis’ was.
Investing in our community of friends and loved ones has laid a rich foundation that will come to support and nurture me as I move forward.
Good bye Dennis. Thank for being the model human being that you were to us all.
. son . brother . husband . father .
. friend . mentor . sailor . artist .
Death Is Nothing At All
By Henry Scott-Holland
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!