Posts Tagged ‘death’

We Have to do Better (grief)

Short post tonight. I ran into an old neighbor at the UPS store today. He recognized me before I knew he was even there. I was busy shipping off Easter cards to grandchildren and a shadow box to our son’s widow. The clerk was busy trying to get me the best deal and we were holding up the line.

This old neighbor called out to me. We exchanged hellos and “it’s been so long since…” greetings. Then I said, “We lost Levi in December, you know.”

“Yeah. I heard that.”

Not much more. I’m sure he felt awkward. Levi worked for him during his pre-teen years. Worked hard. Nights, cleaning and waxing floors in commercial buildings. Levi made good money under the table. It was hard work and the neighbor was a hard boss. We never encouraged Levi to complain but we knew it was hard work and thankless. It gave him something to do and a way to make money, and it taught him the value of hard work.

Still. I waited for more of an acknowledgement, but all I got was, “Tell Don, ‘Hi’.”

Tell Don “Hi”.

No, I’m sorry for your loss.

No, he was a great kid and a hard worker.

No, I knew him.

Just, “Tell Don, ‘Hi’.”

The last time I saw this person was at another funeral, probably ten years ago. I know he’s not insensitive to grief.

He just didn’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say. Death rips us apart. Our hearts are shredded. What can you say? Don’t ask for the details: I can’t talk about those right now, and not in a public setting. We can’t even reach out and touch hands in our Covid-19 society.

My ex-neighbor left the store. The clerk got me the best deals on shipping. I left, feeling slightly empty, like something had not been acknowledged about my son’s brief life. My son spent hours at the neighbor’s house, playing with his children. He worked hard. and I didn’t get a simple, “I am so sorry.” That’s all I wanted. An acknowledgment that my son walked this earth and touched your life. That he was real.

We have to do better when reaching out to people who are bereaved. Acknowledge the life lost. Speak a memory. Offer a hand, even in COVID times. Don’t just pass it over.

Our son mattered. He was a hero. A father. A Husband. A brother. A son. A hard worker.

I forgive you, my neighbor. I get that you felt suddenly awkward in the face of death. I hope this post spurs someone like you to speak out next time. Grief needs to be acknowledged, not brushed past.

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I like to decorate early and un-decorate late, but Christmas 2020 deserved to come down before the New Year.

Words fail me at this point. How do I tell someone about this past month?

We were on an airplane somewhere between Phoenix and Charleston, trying to catch a little sleep. I must have dozed off. I woke to a feeling of something passing me in the atmosphere and the soft Voice that whispered, “He’s gone now.”

I lied to myself the rest of the flight. He wasn’t gone, I heard wrong, he had to still be alive. Even the cryptic message from our daughter-in-law could be read either way. I stared at that message in the airport in Charleston, waiting for the last leg of our trip, hoping that she meant he had improved and still lived. In my heart, I knew. And when she met us at the gate at Fort Walton Beach, Florida, I knew.

Our son was gone. We had a brief time of good-byes before we boarded the flight in Phoenix and we had a chance to tell him we loved him by phone. His sister was in the air somewhere and had no chance for a good-bye.

There are so many questions. What the hell is “Secondary HLH”? How could such a beautiful soul die in such a terrible way? Why?

Father to six. Beloved husband. Beloved in-law. Son. Soldier. Leader. Friend. Lover of dogs (and cats, even though he denied it). Hero. Green Beret. God, he loved Special Forces (Airborne). He loved jumping out of airplanes and helicopters. He loved his children.

And he’s gone. 34 years old. A baby. The hole in our collective hearts is huge. His wife. His father-in-law who loved him like a son. His brother-in-law who looked up to him. His sister. His father and I. His six babies.

My emotions are still very raw. Words just don’t flow. His oldest son (age 12) wrote a beautiful tribute.


Once upon a time there lived a son and his father, they both had a lot of fun together then one day his father had a great idea to go to a place called Disney World. They started their journey from home and then made a couple pit stops but they made it. When they got there, they went to a hotel and then the next few days of endless fun, they rode 21 rides in total but on the last day at Disney World his dad got extremely sick. When they got home, he was taken to a hospital next to the beach. It was two days until the son had news his father had passed away; his whole family was sad and angry, so they stayed home for a week due to this tragic event.  The son missed his father very much and his father never got to give him his Christmas gift, so his mom did, and it was a swiss army knife from his father and his son loved it. A couple days later they had to plan his funeral, but they had their entire family by their sides through everything.

The End

Levi A. Presley, Sergeant First Class, 3rd Battalion, 7th Group Special Forces (Airborne)

September 6, 1986 – December 12, 2020

Painting by Elisabeth McGinn Art

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Tonight marks the 14th anniversary of the last night that I had a living little sister. It doesn’t seem like 14 years, and her last night on earth was spent in a coma, and far, far, far away from me. She touched a lot of lives and is remembered fondly by so many.


One year, we held a huge wedding in the backyard of our house in Winnemucca. Teddy Bear and Pinky Cat got married. Teddy still lives with me, safe in a box with his Best Man, Lucky Dog. Pinky Cat went on to live with Deni, and was lost somewhere along the line. Perhaps she died when my sister’s rental burned down. Teddy and Pinky never got divorced, they merely lived separated.

We baked a heart-shaped two-layer cake and frosted it with home-made icing that didn’t mix quite properly, so it was a pink frosting it white powdered sugar polka-dots. The stuffed animals spent their honeymoon in their tree house (pictured).


When asked by the Mayor of Winnemucca what she would do if she was Chief Winnemucca ( a real historical figure) and all of her people were starving, but someone brought her two chicken eggs, Deni replied, “I’d scramble them and share them with everyone.”

Her family nick-name was “Sam”. When she was very little, there was a back yard baseball game. The neighborhood boys protested that girls could not play. The father in charge looked around and said, “I don’t see any girls. Oh: here’s Tommy, George, and Sam.” Sam was the name that stuck.


Deni, Terry, Jaci

We never wore shoes, my sister and I. We walked from our house to the public swimming pool across sidewalk, asphalt, dirt, gravel, and railroad ties (the worst!) in 100 degree weather, but we never wore shoes.

My father believed that my sister got a cut on her bare foot and that was where the infection began. Certainly, the era of going barefoot was over after March 3, 2000.


Terry, Jaci, Sam

It happened quickly. She cut her foot and washed it, then forgot. But it hurt more than usual. And her leg began to throb. and then she was sick to her stomach. She called my dad, a widower by then, and cried that she was “afraid…” She was newly married to her second husband, struggling to raise her three small children, and living in a single wide trailer my dad bought her.

Dad called me on the 2nd of March to tell me that Sam was being rushed to Reno via LifeFlight. She was in a coma already.


She was not quite 41 years old and trying to get her life straight. She’d been a drug addict, an alcoholic, and she’d done her time in jail. She had four children by different fathers.

When Mom died in 1995, Sam was probably 17 years old emotionally. That’s what chronic alcohol and drug abuse does: arrests your emotional development. She was an alcoholic by the time she was 17.

When Sam died, she was probably 23 emotionally. She was close to Dad, and he mentored her (sometimes begrudgingly) in home repair and keeping a steady job. She wrote me long letters on how she was turning her life around.


We fought like sisters. We giggled like sisters. She was the brave one who knew no fear; I was the shy one who needed to consider all the risks. She was a talented artist, a loving mother, and a loyal friend. She had a temper to go with those dark brown eyes.

The diagnosis was “necrotizing fasciitis” (Flesh-eating bacteria). It is a deadly form of the Streptococcal bacteria that gains entry through a wound. It can be a pin-prick size of a wound, but if the bacteria is present and there is no immunity, it begins to attack the muscles. It rapidly moves to the organs, and most people who die of it, die of Toxic Shock Syndrome when their organs simply shut down. The lucky ones may end up losing a limb, and a few emerge apparently unscathed (but deeply scarred internally).

My great-grandmother on my father’s side died of a streptococcal infection that attacked her organs. My dad believed it was the same disease, but Grandmother died in 1930 in Salt Lake City and her records were lost. We have only my grandfather’s diary entry to go by, and his description is terribly like what took my little sister down.

Both women died too young to leave small children behind.

I flew down for the funeral. It was a much harder funeral to attend than my mother’s. Mom’s death was slow and agonizing and predictable: emphysema robbed her of her ability to breathe on her own. My sister died pretty much overnight. There was no warning for me, no way to prepare myself emotionally – and then I had to face her orphans!

Chrystal cuddled up with me during the funeral. She was the oldest of the little ones. Her big brother sat on the other side of her, a young man already.

It wasn’t all sad. My brother did the eulogy and he told all the funny stories he could think of. The crowd was tense: nearly everyone who came wore their “colors” – members of an outlaw biker band that had the local city police circling the church in hopes of serving a warrant or two. My brother was still a county deputy. The pastor had never had so many obvious sinners in his church before (it was standing room only). There were childhood friends who came hundreds of miles to say “good-bye”. All the strays my sister had taken in over her short life.

Terry played the song that he said best exemplified Deni’s short life on earth, a life she embraced fully.

It brought the house down.


I get sad when I think about the good times we had together, the bad times we shared through letters, and when I watch Deni’s kids struggle to grow up. Sam wasn’t successful by business standards, but she remains an icon of fierce loyalty and love for the hundreds whose lives were touched by hers.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥Lovin’ Denise♥♥♥♥♥♥♥
Fourteen years.

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