Love (and Death) in the Time of Covid

It was inevitable. The scent of bitter almonds always reminded Dr. Juvenal Urbino of the fate of unrequited love.”

And thus began the international best-selling novel, “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Nobel Prize winning author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And whereas many people believe this literary classic to be a romantic love story, in fact, the author did a masterful job of hiding the true meaning of the novel in plain sight in the very first line.

Today, we live in a time beset by strife, fear, anxiety, depression and yes, death. Those cruel emotions and feelings rule our days as so many of us only embrace those whose ideals and views on life mirror our own. We internalize, while turning away from a future of uncertainty. The road less traveled is not for us. And in avoiding that road, we are missing the opportunity to explore and discover the great mysteries of life, and yes perhaps death, which are hidden in plain sight.

The past sixty (60) days have seen events transpire which impact not just me, but the lives of so many around me. As I set forth those events, it reads like a cheap Hollywood B-movie, too bizarre and implausible to possibly be true. And yet, that road less traveled was laid before me and I had no choice but to walk that path. So, for simplicity sake, I will set forth the events from the past two (2) months in table format:

09/18/2020My mother, Vera A. Dunn dies alone, in a rehab center where she had been since February. No in person visits had been allowed since March because of Covid-19.
10/24/2020The one year commemoration date of my dad, Richard E. Dunn, passing away from abdominal cancer.
10/30/2020The four year commemoration date of my beloved daughter, Morgan dying after fighting eating disorders for 7 years.
11/05/2020Thursday day, Rebeca, my brilliant daughter-in-law starts to go into labor.  About one week early.
11/05/2020Thursday evening, Something for Kelly has a successful in person and virtual fundraiser with major innovative announcements for SFK. A number of treatment centers agree to collaborate with Cindy Bulik, PhD on her EDGI initiative. This surprise announcement is made that evening.
11/06/2020Friday morning at 7:36 a.m., Rebeca gives birth to beautiful healthy baby girl, Riley Emilia Dunn. My son, Hanford calls me with this joyous news at 7:42 a.m.
11/08/2020Sunday morning, I am invited to attend and address a men’s group consisting of 37 dads whose loved ones are suffering from eating disorders. The hour long session is incredibly upbeat.
11/08/2020Sunday evening, we receive a telephone call from Gayle, the wife of my older brother, Chuck, telling us that Chuck has been rushed to a nearby ER. He was unconscious, apparently had a heart attack at home, just 8 feet away from his wife. He made no outcry.  We have no idea of his condition.
11/09/2020Monday morning, we host Brian Hufford on the Mental Health Moment. Brian and I discuss the latest ruling in the Wit case which will have huge implications in the mental health community. 
11/09/2020Monday drags on with no news of my older brother.  But, that evening, I  receive a call from my son saying that he is rushing his wife to the ER.  My son says her speech is “Not Right,” she has tightness in her right arm and swelling in her legs.  She is in pain.
11/10/2020Tuesday, my son calls and says that his wife is all clear, no issues and is resting comfortably at home.  My son and Rebeca ask me and Patti to come over that afternoon to see the grandbaby for the first time. 
11/10/2020Tuesday afternoon around 2:00 p.m. I am told that my older brother, Chuck had massive heart attack, his brain is not responsive, he is on body support and we need to expedite going to Florida. I am reminded that I am the executor of the Will and the Surrogate on the Living Will.   I start to reflect on the fact that for the second time in 4 years I may have to make the decision to take a loved one off life support.  The first being my daughter, Morgan.
11/10/2020Tuesday afternoon around 3:00 p.m. I receive a text from James Dunn, my younger brother in California.  He is in the ER.  He fell down some steps and possibly injured his neck, shoulder, and upper back.  He is  waiting on the results from X-Rays and CT Scans.
11/10/2020Tuesday afternoon around 4:00 p.m. I arrive to see my granddaughter for first time.  While holding her, a flood of emotion overtakes me, and I find myself shaking as tears flow like a tsunami washing away my heart and soul, my mask covering my anguish … and love. My son is totally confused.  He has no idea yet about his Uncle Chuck.  I hold my granddaughter for what seems like forever and for the perhaps the first time in my life, I experience “love at first sight.”
11/10/2020Tuesday early evening, I receive an unsolicited email from one of the dads in the dad’s group from two days before. He tells me how life changing that session was, how Morgan is doing great work through me, how he is inspired and has renewed strength.  
11/10/2020Tuesday evening, I receive an update on my older brother’s condition:  He was without oxygen for 15 minutes.  Has been without sedation for days and is not responding.  He is not coming out of the induced coma.  Diagnosis is grim. Plans are made to go to Tampa.
11/10/2020Later that evening,  a friend had given a gift card for dinner so we can go out without any care.  Our friend, Dr. Stephanie Setliff who is instrumental in SFK’s work with eating disorders joins us.  She readily sees the whirlpool of emotions dragging me under and quickly shifts into “doctor mode.”  But, she does it in a subtle and nefarious way and shrinks my head while I am not even aware of it. Patti believes she sees me change before her eyes.  I swear revenge for having my head shrunk.
11/11/2020Late morning, we are in an Uber on the way to DFW airport to fly to Tampa on an American Airlines bereavement pass. While in the Uber we get a call from Gayle, Chuck’s wife.  All flights going into the Tampa airport have been cancelled, the Tampa airport is closed and Hurricane Eta is about to hit Tampa.   The flight is rescheduled for the following day.
11/12/2020All siblings, Chuck’s adult twin sons and his wife are finally in Tampa. We meet my brother, James (who can barely move his left arm), his wife and my sister who arrived after us, at a nearby restaurant. (thanks to Don Blackwell for the recommendation). We go to Chuck and Gayle’s house.
11/13/2020Friday the 13th. Yes … Friday the Flippin’ 13th. We go to the hospital. There is no brain activity. It is confirmed that I am the Surrogate. Everyone talks. We discover that Chuck is an organ donor. This will delay things by about a day. The decision is confirmed that when donees are found, the “body support systems” will be disconnected. Disbelief and sorrow permeate and grip us all.
11/14/2020We wait to receive the call from the hospital that it is time for us to return one final time. We continue to tell stories of Chuck’s life. I write a few, brief views on Chuck’s life to be read before the medical devices are disconnected. Gayle comes up with a play list to be played while she and his boys wait for his last breath after the medical equipment has been disconnected.
11/14/2020I talk with the hospice liaison around 7:00 p.m. We are told to be at the hospital no later than 10:00 p.m. Donees have been found. We are reminded that once the medical equipment is disconnected, they will only take organs if Chuck’s life functions end within 60 minutes.
11/14/2020The siblings say our last good-byes. Gayle and his boys will be with him. Patti and I leave the hospital for the last time around 9:45 p.m. and go to a restaurant/bar across the street.
11/14/2020The medical equipment is disconnected at approximately 11:00 p.m. Chuck hangs on for approximately 70 minutes. And peacefully breathes his last.

A person who at the young age of 64 appeared to be the picture of health. A marathon runner. Sailor. Captain of American Airlines flights. I am left to wonder and ponder. I think back to the quote I used in the last article. 

“You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”
― Graham Greene, Brighton Rock

And right now, I am having a very hard time embracing “the mercy of God.” But, I do not have a difficult time remembering the incredible life led by Charles R. Dunn.

Chuck’s twin sons, one a Captain in the Air Force stationed at the Pentagon at the young age of 29 years. The other, a police officer and SWAT team member in the Midwest. Both, outstanding young men placing service to their country over their own wants. And the world is a better place.

He pinned the police officer’s badge on his son for the first time:

When I needed him for support at an eating disorders walk, he was there:

During our childhood, he was the person I followed (sometimes into trouble!):

A proud, loving father:

The man I occasionally tried to get into trouble as we reverted to those yesteryears of being little boys:

I swear, the really good wine is over there!

And of course, a loving husband:

Love’s greatest gift is its ability to make everything it touches sacred.

I could go on for quite some time as musings of life, and death swirl endlessly. Instead, perhaps just simply setting forth the words which flowed through me to be read to the hospital staff will have to suffice:

“There are very few times when you come across a person who personifies “Warrior Mentality.” That larger than life person who goes to battle each day with the mindset of, “I will either come home carrying my shield or will be carried home on my shield.”

That certainly was my brother, Chuck. He sailed fearlessly, he yearned to fly the biggest and fastest planes and he loved owning and driving fast cars. But, he did those things not out of  a superficial sense of self-importance, but because they brought such great joy to his heart.

He loved fiercely … his beloved sons and the person who became the better part of his heart and soul, his loving wife.

And when he left us, I believe he left secure in the knowledge that he left the world a better place than what it was when he came into it … because of his sons and because of the many people whose lives he touched and helped … and with the donation of whatever parts of him may go to others, he will continue to touch and help others in the future.”

You were a man Chuck. You were a great, big man.

One thought on “Love (and Death) in the Time of Covid

  1. I knew Chuck in high school at Warren Central and we dated our Sophmore year. He was my first love. His nickname, back then, was “Sunshine.” I am so happy to see the beautiful family he built. May he rest in peace and let his great smile radiate in your hearts. Love, Karen (Rix) Law


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