Dorion Mode - A blog by Robinson Dorion.

February 7, 2020

Dealing with Death

Filed under: Amor fati — Robinson Dorion @ 20:02

As my luck has played out, in ~30 years of life, I've somehow not been touched much by tragic deaths or death generally. As you'll read below a couple tragic deaths have affected me, but they either happened before I was born or I was too young to remember. The closest person to me to have taken the eternal nap was my paternal grandfather - Walter, a.k.a. Red - who passed when I was 21. He was a couple months away from turning 92 and lived ~15 miles away. He was ready and when his time came, I took comfort in the fact that I'd gone out of my way to spend substantial time with him in his last years. Apart from him, no very close personal relationships had been severed by the ultimate fate of all the living.

All that changed a bit the first week of December. The family dog, a Lhaso Apso, had just turned 17 in November and had been on his last legs for most of 2019. We got him when he was 3 months old and I was turning 13. Probably not the only dog in New England around that time named Nomar(i). My parents said they got him for my 10 year old sister, but I think a part of them wanted a kid to care for as she and I started becoming more independent. He was an easy dog to have : clean, loyal, protective, lots of energy, but also knew how to chill out. He lived a better life and ate better meals than most people(ii). Of the four of us, I was the least close with the dog(iii), so I reckon it really helped my parents for me to be there in coming to the decision. Looming large was the Hawai'i trip, for which they had decided they weren't going to kennel him. The 3rd or 4th of December they made the appointment with the vet to put him down the 11th or 12th. Given the known fate, I spent some extra time with him including walking him up the block the 5th. It was snowing and despite his relatively weak, old legs he ran most of the walk and some of it through the powdery snow which was up to his shoulders.

Chilling out with him the evening of December 5th :


As fate would have it, my Father woke up to him having some kind of seizure the morning of the 6th and thought he was going to die right there. He bounced back, but the decision was made then to move up the schedule to that afternoon. I accompanied my Father and held Nomar in my lap the few mile drive to the vet, he was getting pretty antsy towards the end. We proceeded to the room and had about 10 minutes with him to say goodbye before the vet came in. We took off his collar and my Father held him as they administered the sedative. After that was in, they released him and he wandered the room a bit before the drowsiness kicked in and he fell right at my feet. His goofy last steps reminded me of what he sometimes looked like as a puppy. We were both crying by then, cause what else are you going to do after 17 years ? We moved him into his bed, the vet applied the lethal injection and confirmed shortly after that his heart had stopped. I felt thankful to have him as a dog, thankful to be there for his last moments and thankful for life being able to move on now that the people are freed from the uncertainty and stress they were carrying given his precarious state.

Turning the page to Saturday the 7th, a close hometown acquaintance, Pat Gilligan, overdosed on some form of opiod. He was two years older than me, but the town of less than 20k and high school of about 1k is small. I remember him since I was about 8 and we shared many of the same friends. My sophomore year of high school I mainly spent time with seniors because I was on the varsity teams. I was never teammates with Pat, but his best friends were the group I hung out with so we spent a decent amount of time together from when I was 15 to 20 and always had laughs and good times. It was hard not to like him, his classmates gave him the superlative of "everyone's friend", he was smiling regularly and making others smile and had the brain power to make himself into a civil engineer. The funeral was a standard Catholic affair that didn't really hit me until his two older sisters gave the eulogy at which point it all sunk in and the tears flowed. It was tough to learn that though he had struggled with this addiction for about a decade, he had been sober the past 10 months, spent an enjoyable Thanksgiving with family, was making Christmas plans to sync with friends only then to slip into relapse and have it all taken away days later. I spent the afternoon and evening with those friends(iv), many of whom I'd not seen nor spoken to for 5 or 6 years. Touching base with them was good for reminding me where I came from and although it had been half a decade, we were able to pick right up as if we'd all been hanging out the weekend prior and every other weekend since high school(v). That experience, along with some others helped underscore the strength of the bonds I managed to forge in my small town upbringing(vi).


Above, Pat(vii) at "Bomoroo" 2010, Lake Bomoseen, VT. For a number of summers everyone would invite their college friends to a party that started as a boat tie up at the south end sand bar of the lake, transition to BBQ then Pond Hill Ranch in Castleton for the Saturday night rodeo, then to The Bomoseen Inn, a.k.a. The Dog, then for those degeneratesfun people still standing, Hampton N.Y. where the bars stayed open a couple hours later(viii). R.I.P Patrick.

Now, moving on to a funeral that was paid for, but not yet executed. At some point in December my paternal, 97 year old, grandmother June took the time to make her arrangements. While she has flirted with death on a number of occassions, she could also live another few years. In fact, I thought I'd seen her for the last time and said my goodbyes in May of 2017. About to turn 94, she had moved in with my parents the weekend prior and I was visiting. My maternal grandmother, Pam, was also visiting for the week and the three of us were sitting down to breakfast. June went to the washroom and a couple minutes later we heard a crash from in there. She had fallen and I was first on the scene. After not hearing a response to my knock on the door, I opened it through the resistance of her walker that I found to be obstructing from the inside to see her lying on the ground. I rushed to her side and started talking to her for about 30 seconds trying to elicit a response to realize maybe I ought to check her pulse and shut up and give her a chance to to respond, which she ended up doing. Pam came to the door and I told her to call an ambulance and lay talking with her and rubbing her back until the ambulance came. She said, "The back rub feels nice," to which I replied, "You could've asked for a back rub without falling down," which made her laugh, which hurt her back because she had sustained some compression fractures.

She was in a lot of pain and when we went to visit her in the hospital that evening the pain hadn't subsided. During that hospital visit she shared, "What's the point, we know this isn't going to get any better and I'm going to end up back here in worse shape. You know I love life and I've lived a good one, but I'd just as soon not make it to 95." It was a month out from her birthday. After that, pretty much overnight, she went from being coherent enough to live independently at 94 to disassociating to the point of not forming complete sentences. Part of it may have been the pain meds being administered, but I think the disassociation was caused moreso by checking out from life. What's the point of carrying on conversations if it's about to be over ? This experience taught me a lot and my visits involved trying to make eye contact with her and tell her I was thankful for knowing her. There were a couple times in the hospital when I was alone with her that she briefly snapped out of the disassociation to tell me that I understood her to soon break back down to the disassociation. I returned to Panama with closure thinking it was the last time I'd see her.

The only problem was, her internals were too healthy and after a month of realizing she wasn't dead yet, she decided to come back to reality and go home. Since then she has returned to her correspondence - a good chunk of which is in French with her former students,(ix) playing bridge,(x) drinking her evening Manhattan and carrying conversation when she manages to hear what's being said. In many ways she's still waiting to die. Pretty much all of her friends and many of her former students have passed. I don't really know how to conclude it here other than to say I'm thankful her underlying health bought us some more time together and allowed me to witness someone close preparing to part with the gift of life. Make the most of the time you have with the people you love and say what you have to say because either you die before them and you don't get to say it or they die before you and you don't get to say it. Also, drink Manhattans if you got 'em. Throwing up cheers with June at The Fair Haven Inn, July 2018 :


The final aspect of processing death during this time was the Hawai'i cruise itself. The back story is, my maternal grandmother Pam, isn't my biological grandmother. The first part of the story is when my mother was 10, her family was in a fatal car accident on Highway 37 south of Mt. Vernon, Illinois ; killing her mother Shirley and youngest brother Barry. They say my grandfather was saved by the steering wheel and my mother and her three other brothers saved by luck of being in the backseat. My grandfather married Pam in the late 1980s and the second part of the tragic backstory is he died in a hang gliding accident in 1992. My first birthday :


Despite being married less than a decade, Pam stayed with the family and has been the glue that has held it together since. She has financed numerous holidays, including the trip to Hawai'i, and I'd say is the primary reason I know my uncles, aunts and cousins to the extent I do. Pam remarried in the 1990s to a man with a daughter from a previous marriage. This aunt is the one that introduced us to the French75, in addition to being cool in various other ways.

On one such holiday when I was about 11 I had made some money caddying in Long Island. Pam was making a second career as stockbroker at that point. I later found out her broker had asked her if she was interested in it after he noticed she was good at picking companies to invest in. At the time, she declined because she was preparing to retire from education with my grandfather. After his passing, she went for it. Fresh cash in hand, she sat me down on the porch by the sea, explained the high level concept of long term value investing and made me a proposition : she'd open a brokerage account for me and for every dollar I invested, she'd match. I took her up on this and that's what sparked my interest in investment. Paying respect in 2016 at Grandpa's memorial(xi) in West Frankfurt, Illinois :


On the negative side, the downside of the tragic deaths of my grandparents is hard to express. The reverberations of how they rocked my family are still felt today. I'd have enjoyed and learned a lot from my grandfather as everyone says we had a lot in common. On the positive side, without those deaths, I'd not have my grandma Pam, perhaps never been interested in finance and for sure would be a different person. Maybe in the alt-reality of them surviving to the present I'd have found my way to where I am now, but I wouldn't be who I am now.

Life is precious and robust. Death is part of life and while it's difficult to deal with the fact that you'll die and everyone you know and love will die, it's still worth making the most of in the finite time you have. What else are you going to do ?

I'll play Ode to Joy and take refuge in amore fati.

  1. After then Boston Red Sox star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra --Nomar Garciapuppy ?-- who ended up being traded at the deadline summer of '04, the year the Sawx broke the 86 year "Cruse of the Bambino". Despite "our guy" being traded, and Orlando Cabrerra delivering in October, the name wasn't going to change at that point. [^]
  2. My dad usually served the dog's portion of the meat first to shut up his excited barking. [^]
  3. You know that bit from Snatch, yeah ?
    Mickey: "Do ya like dags ?"
    Tommy: "Oh, dogs. Sure, I like dags, but I like caravans more."

    I like dogs ok, but I like people more and have a sneaking suspicion most people who have dogs do so to cover the hole in their personality that prevents them from earning higher quality relationships with people. Especially people in cities who essentially sign up to have their lives run by an animal and pick up shit for a decade for a beast they will never hold a conversation with. At least for all the diaper changing children learn to talk pretty early. If I'm ever to have a dog it'll be if/when I own a farm, can keep it outside and train it to hunt. Anyways, </rant> [^]

  4. Jacob was in town and tagged along to the after "party". [^]
  5. Within certain bounds of course. Perhaps only one or two in the group can begin to grok what I've written on this blog so far. [^]
  6. It also underscored how weird people can be because some people that obviously ought to have been at the "celebration" didn't show. Imagine living 3 hours drive away in Boston and not going to the funeral of your childhood/high school friend the weekend prior to Christmas. Unfathomable to me. [^]
  7. The only pic I had of him. [^]
  8. No wonder I managed to keep the pace on the cruise like I did. [^]
  9. A family tragedy typical of gringolandia is that while both her and Red spoke French (she taught at what's now Castleton University), they only spoke it as an encryption mechanism, i.e. when they didn't want their children to understand. So depsite my surname, I'm struggling to reclaim my linguistic heritage in my 20s. The poverty of being American. [^]
  10. She's a grandmaster, but no, she didn't teach us that either, sigh. [^]
  11. How he earned the memorial is an article for another day. [^]


  1. The bridge community is small. It's likely Pam knew my grandmother, Sally B. Johnson, who was also a talented bridge player. And it's possible she knows my father, Ronald Haack. Unfortunately my dad also never taught me to play bridge.

    I can relate to a few things in this article.

    I had a middle school acquaintance who seems similar to Pat, a funny and all around well liked kid, who also passed recently from falling off a roof after drinking. Oddly, his funeral was fun. Everyone was happy to connect with old friends and people were merry and sharing stories. Even the parents and relatives seemed to be taking it well.

    And I also have never experienced a death of a close loved one. It is unsettling to know with certainty that a tragic day like none ever experienced before is coming.

    I'm sorry for your losses. (Do not read that with any qntra sarcasm ! :) ) Here's to making the most of the time we have.

    Comment by whaack — February 14, 2020 @ 02:41

  2. [...] month in a fog of sadness without wanting to really do anything. It's true that bad news never has good timing. Some days are great and some I have to give myself a pep talk to breathe in the morning. I'm not [...]

    Pingback by You would have loved her. « Bimbo Club — May 11, 2020 @ 03:21

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