My Wish for Denis: “Blue Skies and Soft Landings”

By Shelley Seyler

There are those people in our lives who are angels in human form. I recently lost one such angel after a long battle with brain cancer. Denis, the father of my best friend from high school, died January 10, 2011. This one’s for you, Denis.

Snapshots

My best friend Sheila and I met on the cross-country team when I was 14. She was three years older but it was a friendship designed in heaven. As I said in my maid of honor speech just four months ago, she “knew me before I knew me.” She was and continues to be my hero, because she is one the strongest and most resilient women I have the privilege of knowing.

I met her parents for the first time when they hosted a spaghetti supper. While the team poured in to carbo load, Denis and Linda welcomed me with a warm embrace. I had never experienced anything like it.

Their home became a refuge for me. I spent as much time as possible at the Ducharme home watching Patriots games, sitting around the kitchen table to enjoy a warm meal, and relaxing in their plush backyard. “Shell! Hey gorgeous, how are ya?” soon became the guaranteed greeting from Denis when I walked in the door. It may have been dark and chilling to the bone outside, but there was enough loving warmth to go around. They dubbed me their “third daughter” and placed my picture on their bookshelf. Even today, it rests in the same place.

Being a great family man is not the whole story. Denis loved skydiving, a hobby of his that he did for pleasure and also at events to raise money for local charities. It was often assumed if he was out on a weekend that he was flying through the air and loving every minute of it.

Time Marches On

Having about 400 miles between myself and the Ducharme family never created any distance in our hearts. Every time I came home from college, I made sure to visit Linda and Denis, run with Sheila on our favorite trails, and lounge on the couch with their family dog. Home and comfort equaled these simple but loved-filled routines. And every visit was just like the last. I was greeted with a huge bear hug from Denis. If something was bothering me, he was sure to ask; if I seemed happy, he was would say, “life is treating you good, huh?”

When Denis got sick, it was as if someone sucked all the air out of my chest. I sat on the floor in my apartment, stunned and unable to articulate my feelings. My first thought was for Sheila and her family and my second for my own loss. It was as if all of the wonderful memories scanned before my eyes like a movie and all I could do was watch in silence.

Spring Ahead

In April 2010, about five months after Denis was diagnosed with cancer, his family held a benefit for him in our town. Hundreds of people came to show their support and gratitude for Denis, who was such a contributing member of the community. They ran out of tickets but people poured in anyway.

By Thanksgiving, his health had deteriorated significantly. I went home briefly for the holiday knowing it might be the last time I saw him. When I walked in, he was sitting in a chair by the window, surrounded by his daughters, wife, and sister. I felt a void for the missing hug that swept me off my feet. Instead I kissed his cheek, leaned over, and gave him my strongest embrace.

It was 4 in the afternoon but shortly after I arrived, he had to lie down. Before we left, I went in to say goodbye. “Shell, if you ever need anything just let me know. I am invincible you know. And when summer comes, I am going to take you skydiving,” he said jovially.

Winter Gloom

On January 10, I woke at 5 a.m., unable to fall back to sleep. As a life-long insomniac, this was not generally how my sleep issues manifested. I lay in bed until 7 a.m. and decided it was time to start the day. At 7:45 a.m. Sheila called to tell me that her dad’s time had come to leave this earth. I take comfort in knowing that I was awake for the last two hours of his life.

I booked my flight, emailed my professors, and hopped on the next plane home. The services were held at the same church where Sheila and her husband, Damon, married four months earlier. The day of their wedding yielded a dry, sunny, beautiful New England fall day. The weather for Denis’ services equally mirrored the mood: three feet of snow and bitter cold. To say that the contrast was stark would be an understatement.

I rode with the family in the limo and sat with them in the front row of the church for the services. Though we had all already begun to cry, when we sat down with the coffin in front of us, it was impossible to ignore why we were there. We all sat close, holding each other, rubbing each other’s backs, and crying together at our loss. I will never get the images of the strongest woman I know crying at the mercy of the moment. I will never forget seeing Linda kneel, turn her tear-streaked face toward the heavens and utter a prayer for the love of her life.

An Endless String

Denis lived with an open heart and extended hands. And this is exactly what made him one of the best men I knew. He touched everyone he met by simply being himself. He welcomed anyone into his home with the jovial presence that was the core of his personality. He approached life with no reservations and greeted everyone with love and a sense of acceptance.

Dear Denis

Denis, you left an indelible mark on my heart. May we all carry with us your positive energy and love; may we all make this world a better place by modeling your response to a world that continues to spin out of our control. May we touch everyone we meet with the same hand with which you touched us. You will be sorely missed but we all take a lesson from you and walk in your footsteps. Until we meet again, I wish you what Linda so eloquently said at your memorial: “blue skies and soft landings.”

My name is Shelley Seyler and I am an activist first and a law student second. My passion is to bring awareness to the issues women face both domestically and internationally. I hope to do so as a lawyer, writer, feminist, friend, and woman. Thanks for reading. Check out my blog For Women Worldwide.

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Comments
One Response to “My Wish for Denis: “Blue Skies and Soft Landings””
  1. Beautiful… love you forever and always!!! xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

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