Eulogy for my dad, Walter G. Dennis

IMG_0095-0.JPGEulogy by Joe Dennis delivered at the funeral of Walter G. Dennis on on Sept. 24, 2014.

Many associate strength with fighting — the bravery to engage in physical conflict with another individual — and win the fight. My dad was the opposite. Rather than engage in physical conflicts or verbal arguments, he fought his battles with a Christ-like response. Anyone who knew my father knew he was the person you could go to if you needed emotional support or just needed to vent. He told me many times that his role is to pacify situations, and encouraged me to be the peacemaker when battles arise. To this day, I don’t know of one enemy he had.

But strength took on a different meaning over the past 15 years when my dad often joked that Edward Hospital was his vacation home — “Hotel Edward” he named it. Bad heart valve, loss of hearing, pacemaker, hernia, four intestinal surgeries and cancer — it has to be a record how many health battles he’s overcome. Since 2000, doctors have been warning of his pending death. Well, he outlived some of those doctors, as well as many other friends, family and caretakers. He said he was like a cat — he had “9 lives.”

See, what the doctors didn’t know was my dad was such a stubborn man. Whether it was planting a garden, cooking spaghetti or building a deck, there was a wrong way to do things, and then there was his way. And the doctor’s way of getting better — taking it easy, using a wheelchair, and resting — was clearly the wrong way. Instead, my dad continued to exercise, walked on his own and of course, maintained his garden. And the times he did need help, you had to help on his terms. His stubbornness fueled his strength and kept him alive through multiple operations and dozens of hospital visits over the years. Through his persistence, my dad taught me to never give up.

My dad was a great father. I know when I was a baby he worked multiple jobs to support his family. As I grew older, he never hesitated to play a game with me … teaching me the intricacies of Monopoly, Marbles and of course his favorite, Chinese Checkers, a tradition he taught my sons. Every Saturday we’d venture to the East Side Chicago Public Library and I’d pick out some books that he’d help me read back home — our mutual favorite being Curious George. He launched and lead a local Tiger Cub Scout chapter so I could participate. Even when he would leave home for a business trip, my sadness of him leaving was balanced with anticipation of what surprise he would bring back — usually a storybook record. When I got into sports, he always took time to help me learn to hit a baseball, swim or shoot a basketball. I knew that every game I played, he would be there, usually still in his suit coat and tie as he raced home from work to catch my first at bat. In my teenage years he gave me flexibility, supported my newfound love of heavy metal music. While other parents might have been skeptical of the influence of such music on an impressionable teen, my dad had faith the values he and my mom instilled in me through not only their words and actions, but the words and actions of a strong family would be a solid foundation. And they were right.

He showed great love for his surviving siblings and me, my sister, his grandchildren and of course my mom, who he would often call “his angel.” But that love extended to nieces, nephews, cousins, and a large circle of friends who were considered family. I know he treasured every family gathering — and being married to a Filipino there were many — and reminded me how important it is for me to be a part of them. The last words he told me was to “Be there for my family.”

He always told me that God and family need to be at the heart of everything. And again, he lead by example. It all starts with God, and my dad was the most faithful man I’ve ever encountered. Of course every Sunday church was a requirement, but it was much more than that. My dad taught me the importance of praying every night. He would sit beside my bed and we would recite the Guardian Angel prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and a Hail Mary. Then we would pray to the Holy family, and he would encourage me to think about things I’m thankful for, and people I want to pray for. He often reminded me when I questioned God that we needed to accept God’s will.

Keeping God at the center was evidenced by the importance of service in his life. His record of service could rival most anyone. Even as his physical abilities diminished, he continued to serve others. He taught me that we all have responsibilities, not just to ourselves and our families, but to the entire community. I remember as a child one night praying with him, and I said, “God bless everyone except the bad guys.” After the prayer my dad told me it was very important to pray for “the bad guys,” because every person is a child of God. And it is our responsibility to treat every person with love.

Walter G. Dennis was truly a great man. A great husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, cousin and friend. A great member of his church and community. And a great soldier of God.

I love you dad. I will remember you everyday and continue your unselfish legacy of love of God, family and community. Thank you Dad, for teaching me how to love everyone, unconditionally.

Walter, our dear friend

Printed on the back of the memorial card for my dad, who died Sept. 20.

A child of God, he was one of his men,
Was given to us to be one of our friends.
His life on Earth was a blessing to many
He loved every person, especially his family.

In every person he met, he saw the good,
Anything to help another, he always would.
“See God in every person,” he would often say.
Love and help, and remember them when you pray.

He was always active, even sick he wouldn’t be still,
But he prayed and tried to live according to God’s will.
“Leave it up to God,” he said when life was getting tough.
Words he lived by until the end, when his body had enough.

He is now with God in Heaven, looking down at us from the sky,
Reminding us of our purpose here, and telling us not to cry.
For we are all God’s children, this life here is not our end.
Hopefully one day we will join God, and Walter, our dear friend.

–Joseph Dennis

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You can go now dad, it’s OK

Memories from childhood fill my head,
Of things you taught me and stories you read.
Like shooting a basketball and swinging a bat,
And the adventures of a monkey and man with a yellow hat.

My interests changed, but one thing remained the same,
You were always there for me at every play, recital and game.
You saw every minute, and complimented me as I tried.
You calmed me when I was angry, and comforted me when I cried.

We didn’t always agree, I went through a rebellious phase,
But even then you stuck with me, whatever my latest craze.
As I grew older and married, you blessed my new life.
You welcomed into the family my beautiful wife.

Your grandkids really miss you, they wish they could say goodbye.
I came to Chicago to move you,
I didn’t think I’d watch you die.
As the cancer spreads, and you slowly fade away
Please know I’ll take care of mom, You can go now dad, it’s OK.

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Battling Depression

Robin Williams’ suicide personally affected me. Not because I knew him, or even because I’m a big fan of his work. Rather, we have a mutual enemy: depression.

Like Williams, I’ve been battling depression for much of my life. It’s a difficult condition, not only for those afflicted but also for the afflicted’s loved ones. In addition to severe sadness, it can cause extreme anger. It can be a constant feeling, or in my case get triggered by seemingly unrelated events or an innocuous statement someone says.

A friend who knew about my depression innocently asked me, “Why can’t you just be happy? When I’m sad I just stop focusing on the negative and focus on the positive.”

I wish it were that easy. However depression can consume its victims in an inescapable way. And it’s impossible for someone who hasn’t suffered from depression to truly understand — much like it’s impossible for males to truly understand the pain of birthing a baby. Yet it would be considered socially unacceptable to tell a woman in labor to just “get over it” and “focus on the happiness of a new baby!”

Another misnomer is that one can tell when someone is suffering depression. Robin Williams — considered one of the funniest men in the world — is a perfect example to counter that claim. People are often surprised when they hear about my battle with depression. I’m generally considered outgoing and relatable, have a successful track record at work, have no addictions,  am financially stable, very involved with my church and community, and have a beautiful wife and three sons. By most definitions, I am living the American dream. But I still struggle with depression.

Hopefully Robin Williams’ suicide will be a wakeup call to those with depression. Several weapons are needed in one’s battle with the disease. My arsenal is filled with a very supportive family, helpful medications and consistent therapist and psychiatrist visits. I know it’s a battle that will likely be with me until my death. But I am determined to not be like Robin Williams, and let depression be the death of me.

An open letter to my Chicago (and other northern) friends

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So much for dinner on the patio.

Dear Chicago (and other northern) family and friends,

I write this letter through my love and concern for y’all, so please don’t take this the wrong way.

After spending a weekend in the city — enduring subfreezing temperatures — and leaving just before the wind chill was expected to hit -40 degrees, I wanted to let you in on a little secret: YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIVE THIS WAY. I have found land 800 miles south where “below zero” only refers to the chances of finding a snow plow at a hardware store. I live in a place called Georgia, but there are many other iterations, places called Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.

There are many cool things about the South — like they put sugar in their iced tea — but one of them isn’t the temperature. Sometimes it may dip into the 30s, but on the rare occasion it gets colder than that you don’t have to go outside because everything shuts down. And a snow flurry? If there’s even a speck of a flake, everything shuts down.

I tell you this because I’m worried for y’all. I know — and even understand — your affection for Chicago. I spent the first 23 years of my life there. Hands down, it’s the best city in the world! That’s why I visit it a few times a year, usually in the summer. But as I discovered on my most recent trip there, winter has gotten so bad there that as someone who cares for you, I’m declaring it unhealthy.

It’s just not right to walk outside and have a gust of wind slap your face so hard you start crying, only to have the tears freeze to your face and followed up with another slap of subzero Lake Michigan wind. It’s not normal for your skin to crack because you dared to venture outside. Every day, I hear tales of loved ones hurting backs, arms and legs — not to mention suffering frostbite and mini-icicles on facial hair– after plowing driveways and shoveling sidewalks. It’s wrong that you’re forced to start your car 15 minutes before even driving, that is if you can pry your door open from being frozen shut.

I’ve discovered this land where none of that happens! It’s not so far south where the only seasons are “unbearably hot summer” and “comfortably hot summer.” We have four seasons, only our winters consist of a few weeks of “somewhat cold” — heavy coat optional. And if somehow your cold air or even a flurry sneaks it way down South for a day — nothing will be expected of you! Your work will be cancelled, the police will declare the roads unsafe and you’ll be stuck at home watching 24/7 weather coverage.

I urge you to check out this land. Get on your snow boots, ski mask, leather gloves and heavy coat. Plow your driveway, wipe the icicles off your face, pry your car door open and heat it up for 30 minutes. After generously applying hand lotion and lip balm for the last time, begin making the 13-hour trek down south.

I’ll be waiting for you on my front porch, sweet tea in hand.

Sincerely,

Joe