The life celebration for Robert “Bob” Dennison, 65, a retired professor of geography at Heartland Community College in Normal, will be April 27.
It will be at the American Legion home, 110 W. Court, Mason City, the town where Dennison grew up and graduated from high school.
Single, a graduate of Eastern Illinois University, a longtime resident of Normal who also taught at Illinois State University and Illinois Valley Community College, Dennison is survived by Lucy and Butch, his beloved rat terriers.
Friends can call between 4 and 6 p.m. for the life celebration, where there will be refreshments, music and a time to share stories about Dennison.
One other thing:
Bob Dennison plans to be there.
You know of the irony, if not the ongoing fact of life and death, of how we wait until after a person is gone to celebrate them?
“I want this to be a happy event, filled with smiles, laughter and good feeling,” he recently wrote to his friends, in a mass email announcing his "end-of-life" ceremony.
Bear in mind, this is not a joke.
A man of failing health and congestive heart failure, but with a faith in God, a vibrant love of life and a great sense of humor, Dennison recently was told by a doctor that his days are “significantly numbered”; that his heart at that moment was pumping at only 6 percent and that his water retention and body's inability to expel it efficiently was at an alarmingly high level.
“They could not tell me how long I had, whether it be two weeks, six months or a year because I was doing so well at such a low (heart-pumping) rate,” he says.
Thus, upon his release, Dennison went home to the next day of the rest of his life ... even if the rest of his life might not have been more than that day.
“I think I was more scared by anticipating the news than actually getting it. In some ways, it is a relief to hear it ... to know what we're dealing with,” he says.
And since that day, three weeks ago now, rather than be sullen, downtrodden and secluded, Dennison (no relation to Bob Dennison, the former Twin City auto dealer) has done a bit of the reverse.
On Facebook, he began to document his dying with thoughts of life.
In his “Ramblings of a Dying Man, Day One,” he wrote:
“Yesterday I was able to take my two rat terriers for a brief walk. Being able to do this whenever I am able is therapeutic. How often do we forget to enjoy the simple things like sharing time with our pets and giving back to them the unconditional love they provide to us? I think the old expression is true that 'Our dogs may not be the only thing in our lives but to them we are everything in theirs.’"
A day later, in another “Rambling,” he offered:
“Keep it simple today, enjoy the sound of the rain falling on your window panes, the warmth of the sun pressing down on your face, the joy of having one of God's creatures in your care, and let someone know you care about them."
In yet another, he wrote:
“On Friday while doing some shopping at Schnucks, I was at the register and they asked, 'Do you want to redeem your reward points today?’ A brief moment of thought and I was saying, 'Sure, why not?' At this stage of life, I need to redeem them. I cannot take them with me. I have also thought how in life we have all earned 'reward points’ for how we have treated people and then get them back by how they treat us. Redeem your reward points today by sharing time with a friend or mending a broken relationship. Ultimately, it will be too late to do in the future. You can't take them with you when you are gone.”
And so Saturday will be Dennison's “life celebration,” when he hopes, plans, to be fully alive to joyfully attend.
Those hopes also might be getting a little better.
Since Dennison’s original diagnosis and subsequent announcement, a second doctor has opined that he’s not so sure about the original diagnosis and that Dennison might live longer.
As it reads in the Bible, in Luke: “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit ... “
As it reads in Psalms: “Lord, make me to know my end and to what the extent of my days ...”
And now — coincidentally at the end of the Easter season, the Christian celebration of everlasting life over death — Bob Dennison is doing just that.