in his backyard haven

Saturday, 30 June 2012

SPHS Remembers Dennis

Dear Peggy and Family, 
Please accept my sincere sympathy, prayers and love in the loss of your husband and my friend, Dennis.  He was a true gentleman and it was my honor to have know him.  May our Good Lord bestow his blessings upon you and your family during this most difficult time.  I pray to St. Joseph, The Patron Saint Of Departing Souls and hope it will bring you some comfort.  Besides high school, I really enjoyed conversation with Dennis at all of our reunions.  He will be missed but he will be in spirit at our Big 50th Reunion in September. 
Peggy, you are always invited to our reunions.
Thank you, Henry V.
During our last HS reunion, Dennis and I were sharing a few memories of SPHS.  As we moved into our hobbies over time, we got into railroads and steam locomotives.  The man was absolutely into trains and sold me on the idea of trip to Wales to ride one of the few remaining unique locomotives.  Our reunion is just around the corner and it was that venue that was to serve as a background to share with Dennis the fun of the trip he convinced me to take!  Well Dennis, you’re up there among all the white steam clouds, enjoy your smiling down upon us and know you’ll be missed by all of us from ’62.
Les K. 

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Funeral

On Monday June 18th we celebrated Dad's life with a funeral mass. For those of you not familiar with a mass, it is a Catholic religious ceremony - the same as every other mass. Mass is celebrated daily in nearly every Catholic church around the world.

There are two parts to a mass: Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Word part is when we listen to and reflect on readings from scripture: one from the Old Testament (Pre-Jesus) one from the New Testament (Post-Jesus) and a gospel reading - a teaching from Jesus himself.

After the Word we move on to the Eucharist. This is where the priest leads us in a re-creation of Jesus's last supper before he was crucified. We believe that the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ Jesus and that when we eat it we are receiving the miracle and healing power of Christ himself.

The funeral mass is no different. It just usually has scripture readings chosen that provide thought and reflection on life and death and welcoming into Heaven.

(I'm no priest, so I'm sure someone better trained than me can expand on all of this)

At the conclusion, a family member typically gives a Eulogy - which is a reflection on the deceased person. I represented our family and the Eulogy is posted earlier in this blog.

The great thing about this celebration for Dad is that there were 4 priests and a deacon present to co-celebrate the mass. That's a BIG deal. I haven't seen that many priests since a Confirmation celebration. What's great about it is that it reminded us how involved and committed to the Church Dad was.

The priests also gave wonderful reflections and words about Dad. I wish I could have copy of what they said. It was humbling all the more.

After mass the congregation headed over to the hall to have a luncheon reception. There were about 150 guests and some of his railroad friends had set up a display of trains for the crowd. It was good fun.  My sister headed up creating a video of Dad's life. It was 30 minutes and we let it play during the luncheon. Many people in the crowd could be seen throughout Dad's life in the photos.

I'm unskilled at posting the link to the video - maybe my brother in law Ryan can go in to this blog and help with that....Hint Hint.

When all was said and done, the family headed back to Mom and Dad's house and we all sat around eating leftovers and telling stories until about 9pm. Then we crashed only to be up and ready on Tuesday for the burial. More to come on that....

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Wake

On Father's Day, Sunday June 17th, we had the wake for Dad. It is often referred to as a final "Viewing". For those of you across the world, this is common in Christianity to have family and friends gather at the funeral home and pay their last respects to their loved one. The deceased is dressed in his best. In this case Dad was dressed in his military uniform and the casket is draped with the American Flag because he served his career in the military.

The family gathers first - having alone time with Dad for an hour. Then there is a time period of two hours set aside for visitors to see him and then guests are invited to say a few words in remembrance of Dad. In our Catholic Faith we conclude by praying a set of prayers called the rosary. This takes about 20 minutes. The rosary is a set of prayers where we pray a series of prayers - some that were taught to us by Jesus and others where we ask Mary, Jesus's mother, to pray on behalf of us to Jesus in Heaven. It is common in the catholic faith for us to ask other saints in Heaven to pray on behalf of us. We believe that they have the luxury of time and can pray constantly on our behalf when we are not able to pray.

On this particular evening, many of Dad's friends and our family were able to stand up and share some favorite stories of Dad. His buddies in his model railroading club did a great job of sharing what they thought of Dad as a man and a friend. Others shared about his faith and influence in the church. Our sister Liz shared about what it was like when Dad was in what I would call the "Prime" of Fatherhood - all 5 kids still being raised at home. It helped round out the memories of who Dad is today with how we remember him as we were growing up. Finally, other family members shared what they thought of Dad. I recall one of my uncles sharing a story that exemplified Dad being a true hero in his work with nuclear missiles.

The viewing is the appropriate place to sob. (Of course, you can sob anywhere and anytime, but the viewing is designed for sharing memories and grief). For most of us, with kids in tow, we were a bit too tired to cry some more, so we found ourselves socializing much in the way Dad would have loved to. There were snacks to help us through the 4 hours and our kids had a private room to be kids and play games. It was much like a reunion of sorts and it was good. Dad would have enjoyed it.

Katie and Dad

Me and Katie and Dad

Amy and Dad

Mom and grandson Nathan

Dad in his uniform in his American Flag draped casket. I share this not to be disrespectful, but to show the honor of the setting and to help my non-American friends understand the purpose of this event.

Mom, Dad and us kids: Joe, Amy, Liz, me and Katie

with husbands and grandchildren: Jay, Jay and Ryan and Madison, Nathan, Zoe and Meagan

With some extended family - all from Mom's side. Dad was an only child.
Meagan, saying a pray for Dad

The private rooms, where the kids played games

Eulogy for Dad

For those of you who couldn't be at the funeral mass for Dad or who couldn't hear very well, here is the Eulogy that I wrote and shared:

Eulogy for Dennis V. O’Donnell
June 18, 2012 Funeral Mass

On behalf of our mom, Peggy, my siblings Liz, Joe, Amy & Katie, our spouses and children and all of the extended O’Donnell family, I want to thank each of you for being here, for traveling so far to come and celebrate the life of our BELOVED Dad.

We often reflect at funerals, citing them as celebrations. In my youth I had to come to terms with such an idea by reminding myself that this person is with God now, so therefore we should be celebrating. This is absolutely true. I can say with confidence that Dad is with Jesus, taking rest and dining at a banquet feast with his parents Vern and Betty and with so many others who have gone before him.

But I know now, reflecting on the events of the past few weeks and having known my Dad through many stages of life, that there is so much more to celebrate. Together we can take comfort and joy in the fact that despite whether you have known him for 68 months or for his full 68 years, we have all enjoyed a few special things about Dad regardless of his relationship to us.

First, Dad was a TEACHER. Always full of knowledge, well read and curious about anything and everything, we used to joke that if you asked Dad for the time he would tell you how to build a clock.

As his children, we suffered through this at times. There IS a right way to pick up lawn clippings, straighten your room, wash the car, position a tripod and yes, STORE your ketchup. In the small things, we were often annoyed by this trait. I remember vividly when he forced me to learn about how to care for my first car by labeling every part in the engine with a Sharpie marker and making me touch, smell and even taste some of the liquids that could come out that thing.

Yet, in the larger life issues, each and every one of us can reflect on a time when dad reserved his verbosity and wisdom for a very special conversation that would teach us something. Something about career choices, love and marriage, parenting, social responsibility, suffering, faith and even decisions about life and death.

He might have been the friend who taught you about yard care, car care, steam engines, brick laying, missile launching or even about our faith in God.

He might have been the grandfather who taught you about life in the 50s or the uncle who was your sounding board through difficult life moments.. the neighbor who helped you choose your paint color or the Small Faith Group partner who challenged you to think long and hard about your own beliefs.

For each of us, he was a teacher. This may have come in the form of a story or a pun, but it was always there – his teaching. We learned something from him when we had the patience to sit with him and truly listen.

Secondly, Dad was also a PLAYFUL KID AT HEART. The ultimate prankster, he shared his love for life by playing. Playing with things. Playing with people and playing pranks.

He loved to tinker: rockets, missiles, trains, planes, cars, kites, cameras, woodworking – you name it. He loved to ski, surf, cannon ball a pool, attempt parasailing, canoe, play in the yard and dance. He sprayed a hose through the bathroom window once in order to give mom a cold shower. He tossed firecrackers under her lawn chair to see her jump. He played kick the can with his grandchildren and always was the first in line to want a lollipop or ice cream at an amusement park.....He dressed as a nun at church! He ALWAYS pursued the opportunity to ride a train.

He enjoyed living and playing and being with toys. Even when he came from home the hospital to die, he lit up like a boy on Christmas morning to find his newest model train mounted on the wall. (Thank you, Mitch)

Dad was such a kid and a lover of life, he circumvented death more than most of us can recall. Who survives cancer, heart surgeries, strokes, pneumonia, being hit by a car and God only knows what else and continues to live with such fervor? Dad. 

And finally, Dad was a LOVER of PEOPLE. Scientists, engineers, auto mechanics, truck drivers, railroaders, ship captains, plane pilots. Priest, nun, commander, diplomat, blue collar, white collar, young, old, sinner or saint. Regardless of who you were or what you do, Dad could find the good in you. He could relate. He would engage with you and find some small way of showing interest and love. What amazes me about people like this is that they become the BELOVED. It is in giving that you receive and the people gathered here today are a testament to dad’s love for others.

Dad’s biggest love? MOM. He adored her beauty, her faith in God, her perseverance, and commitment. He loved to outdo her at Christmas, (she always got the most gifts. Always) dance with her and wine and dine her.
He was equally supportive of her family, and her needs. He helped her to help her own mom live and die. For 45 years he loved her and in return she loved him and together they were BELOVED. They loved so much - to the point where she slept holding his hand all night before he died.

So, this Teacher, Playful Kid at Heart and Lover of People and Life has taught us yet again in his dying. Ever hospitable, on his deathbed while hosting visitors he managed to squeak out, “Molly, get them all a drink.”

Dad neither embraced nor denied death. He wanted to live. And he knew when living more meant he needed to go to a different place to continue. He simply listened carefully: to his medical team, his family and God for sure and accepted quite gracefully crossing those train tracks into Heaven.

Scripture tells us:

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1

A very similar photo to their wedding day

Mom shoved her bed right up next to Dad's hospital bed so that she could hold his hand all night. This was June 12th.

Mom, [Dad], Joe, Katie, Liz, Molly and Amy

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Service Information for Dad

Services have been arranged through Bobbitt Memorial Chapel:

Again, Many thanks to everyone who has shared stories of Dad, brought food, called, sent flowers and visited. He was truly loved by so many people.

Love, Mom, Liz, Joe, Molly, Amy & Katie

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Fun Shots

Dad and Katie

Christmas 2011, without Molly & Katie's families: Amy, Liz, Dad and Joe in back; Nathan, Madison and Mom in front

Dad and his Dad, Grandpa Vern

Mom and Dad in their back yard

Dad and Zoe & Meagan at Minnesota Zoo; Sept 2010

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

Dad was welcomed into Heaven last night. At around 10:17 PM Pacific Time.

The angels are rejoicing and Jesus has greeted him, saying "Welcome Home. Good and Faithful Servant. Come and take your rest."

We will share more updates with all of you once we work through the plans today. Please keep your stories coming. They bring us so much joy and comfort.
The O'Donnell Family

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

From Mariclare McCoy

Can’t really remember how old I was when Peggy and Dennis started dating, but do recall thinking how lucky Peggy was to be dating such a handsome Prince Charming!  His dark, wavy hair and bluest of blue eyes that sparkled every time he looked at Peggy!  The sparkle in his eyes on their wedding day when he watched Peggy walk down the aisle could have lit up the whole church!
    After retiring from the Air Force, Dennis was hired as outside sales representative at Walker’s Air Brakes, where I was book-keeper.  I got the biggest kick out of the way he identified some of the air brake valves he picked up at the numerous accounts he called upon.  An R6 relay valve was a “turtle valve”, R8 a “tank valve”, CR Air Dryer a torpedo!  It made filling his orders quite colorful, and sometimes, challenging.  He was very well liked by all our customers.  They all inquired about him when he had to leave Walker’s to fight his first battle with lymphoma.
    He and my husband, Mike, had much in common with their LOVE for trains.  Family get-togethers would always mean their comparing notes on trains, new additions to their collections and train rides, etc.
    Really enjoyed the times in the past couple of years being able to meet him and Peggy at TGIF’s in Victoria Gardens, Rancho Cucamonga, for lunch and visits.  I will always cherish those times.

Mariclare Foxwell McCoy, Peggy's sister

Did you forget you have 5 kids?

Some of us were reminiscing the other day and we recalled that Dad really is a neat freak - when he has the energy for it. He used to be really great about keeping everything orderly and tidy. He almost expected things to be "museum-like" or operating room orderly. This made us proud. Thinking back though, we wondered if sometimes dad forgot that he had 5 children.

Here are some memories that made us wonder:

  • One time Dad was sitting on the sofa watching 60 Minutes. He had a cocktail poured and he apparently had it sitting on the seat cushion next to him. As a little girl I entered the room and saw him, not the cocktail. I wanted to sit by him and cuddle up while he watched TV. I ran to him in order to pounce up next to him and I have this vivid memory that his arms suddenly flailed - as if to stop me - and I missed the signal and launched his cocktail right off the sofa. Who puts their drink on a seat cushion?
  • Dad used to have this model of the Titanic. It was a great model - probably 3 feet long and 2 feet high. He put it all together and placed it on top of his roll-top desk which was positioned near a stairwell. One too many times something would come down the stairs and barely miss hitting that Titanic. The biggest problem is that while Dad had put it all together, for some reason he hadn't glued it permanently in place. Which made it highly susceptible to destruction. Liz paid the ultimate price for that one. She (or Mom) made the mistake of placing her graduation announcements from high school on top of the desk near that model. The result? Model breakage and Dad was so mad he tossed her graduation announcements into the trash compactor. Just as he was about to press the button, Mom came to the rescue and saved those costly things. I'm not sure if she just took the blame or what, but she saved the day.
  • While Dad was stationed in Italy for his service, he purchased a couple of statues of Italian people. One was a lady selling fish and another was of a man - I forget what he was doing. He brought those home and we all admired them. They were from Italy and therefore very cool. Where did Dad choose to display them? On top of some stereo speakers that were about thigh high and placed on a floor near a chair. (Early 80's surround sound I guess). Unfortunately one of  Joe and my secret parties got a little out of hand one time and that stereo got turned up really high. I vividly remember witnessing that statue of that little Italian man spontaneously explode due to the volume of the stereo. I'm not sure which was worse: that Dad could trust putting a statue on an item that was only 2.5 feet off the floor, or that Dad could trust leaving town and letting Joe and I have the place to ourselves for a few weeks. (Recall: Dirt, Rocks and Missiles? The parties were the reason we were behind in packing)
  • Even up until 2 weeks ago, Dad had his most prized newest purchase - an 8 car locomotive collectible - sitting at coffee table height on a track that extended past a doorway. Luckily his neighbor and RR buddy noticed the potential epic fail in that set up and got it mounted to the wall just before he came home from the hospital. Otherwise my two daughters, or husband at worst would have surely knocked that one off it's tracks.
And so, I can't help but wonder sometimes. Was Dad trying in his own way to teach us all to be careful around nice things. Or did he really just forget that he managed to produce 5 children and subsequently 4 grandchildren and that sometimes kids just don't see things in the same way that he does (even though he really is the consummate kid at heart!)

Dad in his Man Cave: May 2012

Here is a great quick video that my sister Katie took of Dad about a month ago:

I love that she's put some Disney music to it. Dad looks so happy in there.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Most Fun Dates

As this blog grows I will be writing more about our dates, but one thing that is special to me is the dancing we did.  Here are two such memories:

Number 1:
I was 19 and Dennis was 21.  He and his best friend, Ken, worked at the college in the kitchen.  They often heard about all the "action" going on around the campus.  One day he said we were going to the campus for a BBQ and there was going to be a lot of partying.  So Den and I, and Ken and his date were at this boring picnic BBQ when one of them announced there was going to be a high school prom at the campus that night.  They said let's crash the prom!

Ever the cautious and obedient rule keeper I was nervous.  But Ken said he had some wedding invitations at home that they could flash as prom tickets and I could go home with (what's her name?) and we would drag out old prom dresses from high school.

Over our swim suits we donned our satin and chiffon; quickly tied our hair into French twist and met thy guys (in flip-flops).  They stole the paper flowers from the decorations and pinned them on us and we slipped into the prom slick as snot!  No one knew us so it was all the more fun!  Since we were older we already knew a few dance routines those younger kids hadn't learned - we swept the floor and we had a ball.  We even had our portraits taken!  The chaperones were baffled and everyone wonder who those older kids were!

When the gig was up, the heat was on, and we escaped into the recesses of the campus and hurried off to Den's house where his father took our portraits.  It was the best party ever!

Number 2:
One thing Dennis always did was to plan amazing dates; the most outrageous, fun or expensive - he was, after all, trying to schmooze me!

On Friday nights Lawrence Welk played his live radio show at the Palladium.  While it was being broadcast they welcomed "audience participation" so for $2 we could go dancing with one of the classiest bands around.  (For our grandchildren - Grandpa learned his dancing at Cotillion and he was very good!)  We went frequently and I was slowly learning all the classic dances.  It was fun to have a reason to wear a new cocktail dress!

One night the whole audience was on their feet as L.W. played one of his famous polkas!  It was very exciting!  L.W. himself came into the audience and "cut in" taking me from Dennis!  Thankfully he moved through the audience after just a few steps.  But... I was so flustered that after I returned to Dennis we were sailing around the floor and my spike high heel caught in the pants cuff of another man - the dominoes fell!  We never laughed so hard!!!

How We Met

OK - the girls are bugging me to start writing.  Katie always used to say: "tell me a story of ..."  So this is my story of how I met the love of my life, my best friend...

I was born in August...(no I'm not going THAT far back).  So in August 1962 I got a phone call from this guy who was a senior (I was a sophomore) and he was inviting me to a party.  The date of the party just happened to be my birthday, Aug 26th.  Ah ha - my friends were up to a surprise! ... I figured, because I didn't really know this guy except from study hall.

My Dad drove me over to La Habra (upscale from our home in Whittier!) and left me at the home of Ken Wendell. Thinking this was all about MOI - I dressed in my newest, pretty black and white sun dress.

I was warmly greeted.  BUT - I didn't recognized one person!!!  what the???  Ken introduced me to this gangly guy with the most piercing blue eyes ever - Dennis.  He was the guy in the band - he played drums.  We spent most of the evening together but some of their friends kept trying to "cut in" on Den's time and he made sure they needed to get lost.

We had a wonderful night dancing, swimming and talking.  He asked if he could drive me home - I was so excited!  "I have to call my Dad!" says I.  Den said, I already did!

All the way home we talked and I learned that Dennis shared the same birthday as my Mom and Dad - January 15th.  (Oh, this guys is sneaky - he had EVERYTHING PLANNED!

We planned our next date for 2 weeks later (because his family was going on vacation).  It was one of the longest 2 weeks in my life....

Now, almost 50 years later, I still find I am waiting for my Dennis - always waiting...
I love you - save me a place up there!


As the youngest of Dad's five children, I was often subjected to more "grown up" things than say a first born child.  Despite Mom and Dad's attempts to send me to bed so the teenagers could watch Dirty Dancing (I watched from the stairs peering through the balusters), or make me Shirley Temples so I'd feel like I had a cocktail (only to sip from their's without them noticing), I managed to absorb all the wrong things.

I can thank Dad for my first profanity.

I believe I was around 4 or 5 years old.  I was standing in the doorway between the kitchen and garage, holding the heavy door open.  I was watching Dad, he was working at his work-bench on his HO scale trains. I can't imagine anyone who knows Dad doesn't know the size of HO scale, but for those who do not know, they are the small ones. He was concentrating pretty hard, and then he fumbled with something.

"Dammit", Dad yelled.

In the next half second, I realized that this was probably not a good moment to bother Dad, yet my curiosity peaked.

"Dammit!" I shouted back.

I knew it was bad, but I did it anyway. I let go of the door and by the time it swung shut I was half-way across the house. He never came after me. I thought I'd get in trouble, but really, he was probably thinking he could get in trouble.

When telling Molly this story, she recalled another situation.  Apparently, the whole family overheard me around the same age use this word in context when I was unable to open the toothpaste tube.

Those ridged caps can be pretty painful when they are stuck.

John Sanford


Thank You for letting me say goodbye to Dennis this afternoon ... 

Do me a favor and put his Farmers Boy's Ketchup Bottle close by his bed ... 

Where he can get to it for the ride home ... 

I am sure St Peter with have a large order of Fries waiting for him ... lol 

Although he may have some explaining to do about some of those train receipts ... lol 

I'm sure they can work things out over some Ketchup & Fries ... !!!

Your a very Strong and Courageous woman ... 

Dennis is very Lucky to have You by his side 

I am truly blessed to say you are my Friend 

Thank You Once Again for letting me in this afternoon & sharing Dennis with me ... 

God Bless You & Your Family 


I Pray for a peaceful transition for Dennis to the Big Roundhouse upstairs 

It will be good to have such a wonderful Friend with connections upstairs with the Big Guy ... !!!

Hanging with Mom and Dad

Here is a glimpse of what it means to have a sign on the door that says, "Please no visitors today."

Every room in the house becomes sleeping space at night. Much of the furniture has been shoved into this room to keep visitors together.

This is for us, not for dad. But he would like some too if he could have some. This is not directly correlated to the photo above.

The table is at full extension. For connectivity and stress eating.

The Man Cave Today

In addition to clearing out the sofa, we added a blow up bed. Those who are on shift duty sleep here with Dad. He has a lovely view of his trains.

On the left we have the TV and one of his favorite trains. The Durango and Rio Grande RR.

Here is a memory from his Air Force days when he was stationed in Italy.

Memories of Uncle Dennis

My earliest memories of Uncle Dennis are from a visit to Wichita, KS. I must have been about 4. At the time, I couldn't distinguish between "Dennis" and "dentist" and it didn't help that he came home from work dressed all in white. I thought he was Uncle Dentist. I remember he put ketchup on everything. In fact, (can anyone else verify this?) I remember sitting on a bar stool and being served a bowl of vanilla ice cream. Uncle Dentist came up next to me with his bowl of ice cream and then squirted ketchup all over it and ate it down with a big smile on his face. It's funny the things that get embedded into your psyche as a little kid.

You know, the other day I was filling out one of those online profiles and one of the questions was "What is your personal philosophy of life?" I wanted a short, one sentence answer and boiled it all down to this. To live life in such a way that most of the time I'm smiling. That's Uncle Dennis.


From John and Laura Hill

Hi O'Donnells

This is Laura your next door neighbor. 
I can totally relate to the yellow pants because I have one horrible Mustard sweat pants that is full of memories (2 of my girlfriends call me mustard because of it). At first it was for basketball practice (my university colors are yellow and green), but as it got old became PJs and to be comfy at home, just like Dennis.

Peggy and Dennis are great neighbors, not only for the last year that Robert and I have been here, but for 4 years while I was Susy's roommate.
We have heard many stories from him, sky trips with his buddies, missiles, Air force, vacations etc., some of them with off color comments that still make me smile or blush.
One story that he often repeated is when Susy, Felicia, me and him planted the San Agustin grass, it was a lot of work but we enjoyed it then and today we enjoy the pretty front yard that he is so proud of.
We miss seeing him seeding, fertilizing, watering and caring for his precious lawn, as well as going around talking to every single neighbor on the block.

It is awesome that all of you have the opportunity to bless him by singing his favorite songs, I bet he is loving the off key or wrong lyrics, walking him slowly into the hand of our God where he will suffer no more.
I know that even with his eyes closed he can listen, so please tell him that Robert and Laura love him.

Please let us know if we can help you with anything.

Robert and Laura Hill

John 15:16 

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

The Bistro - From Susy

I am Susy, Dennis's neighbor for the last 10 years.  I can't begin to thank your dad for everything that he has done for me.  When I first went house shopping, I saw Dennis outside with Peggy and went over to ask him about the neighborhood and he quickly went and described each of his neighbors in detail.  I immediately wanted to move into that house and be part of the community. I have never regretted since. It has been the best neighborhood I have ever lived in.
Since day one, your dad has been like a Dad to me.  When I would go over and ask for anything he would stop what he was doing and help me. I loved him so much that I painted my house the same color as his under his recommendation that we would be the best looking house in the neighborhood.
We would take turns mowing each others lawns and he would boast about his little cute Mexican gardener and I would boast about my Irish handyman. He loved making our grass shine and I was always afraid to walk on my side to ruin his handy work.
We eventually created "the Bistro" and worked on creating on own little haven in there.  I would sit outside and time to see how long it would take your dad to come out and talk to me.  The last time I was there my heart broke to know that he wouldn't be coming out again.
Don't get me wrong...we all know how much your dad I would make sure that when I went out there I was ready for Dennis time.  When I got married, It took a long time for me to want to move...ask my husband I was depressed for many months because I felt I couldn't leave Dennis.  So I agreed that I would still take my turn mowing the lawn just to visit him. (plus he had trained me to mow the lawn just the way he liked it)
I feel bad that I haven't spent as much time with him in the past few years, but I want you to know how much he has meant to me.  As I sit here crying,  my heart aches not for Dennis, for I know he will be with Lord so God better be ready to just sit back and listen to his stories for a while. It aches for me for I am losing such a special person in my life. Your Dad is an amazing, loving, generous, and witty man.  I will miss spending time with him the most and sitting in the Bistro and talking with him.
I felt very loved by your father and I return loved him.

The "Bistro" is located behind the tree, in between the houses

A nice little shady spot for an after work cocktail

This sign actually was from Dad's parent's house originally

Peter Celano

Dearest Peggy, Liz, Joe, Molly, Amy, Katie, and Family;

Thank you very much for the beautiful email, bringing me up-to-date on our beloved Denny. Remaining as technologically-challenged as ever--I have never even attempted blogging--I have determined to place a few, scattered thoughts here as you look to reflect on the powerful impact your husband, father, and my friend had on my life, as well as on that of many, many others instead. Please bear with me as I do so. I am not quite sure where to begin nor how to place my many thoughts into words.

Perhaps most striking to me in Dennis through the years has been his ever-present smile and good humor. I have racked my brain all evening and cannot honestly recall a time when I ever saw Denny without a smile on his face, no matter how serious a situation or weighty a topic of conversation, be it during his tales of working in the defense industry with the power to initiate a nuclear strike, or his seemingly endless patience with me and you, Peggy, as we would spend literally hours on the telephone attempting to solve the problems of school, the world, the Church, The Kingdom, or Life Itself for that matter, only to decide in the end it is all better left "in God's hands" anyway.

I think of our many carpools together to St. Francis meetings, parties, and events when a joke would always seem to break the somber mood at just the right time. I think of a man whose ability to look life in the eye with a gentle assurance that All is always Well granted him the gift of being able to accomplish more here than those of us who take life far too seriously ever could or would.

I think of a man who was always present. Present to you, his family. Present to us, his friends. Present to all: his community, his church, and to the very large chunk of this crazy world God granted him to mold, touch, and love. And mold, touch, and love he did, in the tender yet impacting way only Dennis O'Donnell could.

I think of him chiding me about anything under the sun whenever he could find--or create!--the chance, be it over the sink as he poured me a drink in the kitchen, as he'd meet me or walk me to the door before or after gathering, or over the phone as he'd say in his ever-cheerful, jovial voice, "Well, if it isn't 'Peter's Pence' again..." If I were calling for you, Peg, nine times out of ten I'd forget what I called about in the first place! No matter how gloomy my world would ever seem, a quick chat with Dennis was always the best medicine.

Please know Dennis brings a smile to my heart each and every time I think of him. As you continue to care for him during this very trying and painful time, know that my thoughts, prayers, and love are with you. I am here--and will continue to be so. Do not hesitate to be in touch should any need arise. May God richly bless you, take good care, and always remember that I will ever be

Yours truly,

Maureen Funk

Dear Aunt Peg, Uncle Dennis and Family,

Yours is probably the first blog I have ever read.  Even in its sadness, it is beautiful.  I often wonder how and why people hang on.  This time it seems that it is giving all of us a chance to pass along our love to all of you.  Bob and I were fortunate to visit with you, your Mom and Terry & Shirley a few years ago.  Growing up, I always remember Frank & Jackie saying how the California O'Donnells were the consummate hosts, they loved visiting all of you.

We all share in your sadness but also celebrate the person that we all had a chance to know and will stay in our hearts forever.  Love, Maureen & Bob

Dirt, Rocks and Missiles: Part One

On Sunday Katie and I had a bit of energy to start digging through the garage. This is a 3 stall place that is filled with Dad's hobbies and tools and trains and Christmas decorations - just to scratch the surface.


Katie was crawling around in the rafters. Here are some of the things we found:

  • 1 deflated dinosaur pool flotation device. We don't have a pool and Katie, the youngest is 30 now. Not sure who last used that thing. It was nearby the Slip and Slide that we were never allowed to use because it was too hard on the grass.
  • 1 drafting table. Missing the table part. This had been in Joe's room in Arkansas. Last seen standing in 1989.
  • Bags and Bags of insulation.
  • Wall paper rolls from our kitchen in Arkansas. Circa 1984
  • Rubber molds of rocks - for his train displays
  • More Christmas lights than necessary to light the outside of the White House
  • Reels of movies
  • Photographic slides on glass
  • tripods
  • luggage
  • More tools than a Sears showroom
  • Trains, Train parts, train tracks, miniature trees and train buildings
  • these things just scratch the surface of what is in there.

This moment took me back to the summer of 1989 when we moved from Arkansas to California. Somehow Joe and I found ourselves left alone at our house in Arkansas for a few weeks. Mom had taken Amy and Katie to visit her parents and Dad was working already in California. Joe and I, (19 and 17) were left back at the house and given the task to start packing up the garage until the movers came,

The moment was quite similar. We were sorting through things that belonged to his RR hobby, things from his Air Force days and random things that Dad always seemed to find another use for.

Overwhelmed, we began to just fill the boxes. 

Our favorite box title? Dirt, Rocks and Missiles

and Liz wore yellow pants

This may be irrelevant to most anything, but I liked this part of the day, so I'm going to post it.

Yesterday while we waited for Liz and Joe to come home, the rest of us were pretty "comfortable" in our clothing choices. We are sleep deprived and greatly in need of a spa. I was showered, but in some sort of pajama/yoga clothing outfit.

Liz arrived looking like a fresh lemon.

She had a lovely white shirt and some bright yellow pants.

"Nice pants" I said.

"What?" she declared? "I was already wearing this when you called me!"

"No, I like the pants. They remind me of Dad." I said. I also like the fact that she looked fresh and cheerful. As a result I found myself heading upstairs to put on some lipstick.

Dad would have liked her pants. He also always appreciated when we looked dressed up and cheerful.

Also, Dad had these yellow sweatpants. They were a terrible mustard color, but he always wore them around the house, Christmas morning, underneath his jeans when he was cold. He wore them a lot.

And so, yesterday Liz wore yellow pants and I liked them. They reminded me of Dad.

What's your song?

On Monday morning we had many conversations with the hospice care team. Dad's condition had changed enough during the night that new conversations were to be had. He stopped drinking water and Ensure on Sunday night - unable to swallow without choking. His breathing overnight had become much more labored and he is much less alert.

The hospice staff recommended that we have only our own immediate family with Dad on Monday. So Joe, flew back down from San Francisco (he was here the week prior) and Liz drove over from Irvine. On Monday evening It was just Mom and Dad and the five of us kids hanging out in the house and with Dad.

We thought it would be helpful to be around him all together. We prayed for him and tried to help him know that we were all there. We talked with him and had some one on one conversations.

Then we decided maybe we should sing to him. We tried to sing some Johnny Cash. That only made us laugh because we were so bad at it. We tried a few other things which also turned out badly. Then we turned to Pandora for some help. Ring of Fire? nope. Ghost Riders in the Sky? We found ourselves wondering what it was they were really singing about. Having dialogue over the song rather than just letting Dad enjoy it. We tried Eidle Weiss from the Sound of Music because Dad always enjoyed it when we could sing that. Earlier I had wanted to play some religious songs. Others put a kabosh to that. No more crying. We just can't handle that right now.

So, I came to wonder, if I have the chance to die surrounded by my loving family someday, what would I want to be my song? I'll have to start thinking about that. More importantly, how will I continue to live my life so that the right song is obvious. Either way, we had a good time with Dad last night. Chatting and singing and praying.

It's 5 am on Tuesday morning now. Dad has a fever and Mom and Joe were taking care of him for that. We continue to rotate him in bed every two hours, give him medicine for his pain, check his blood sugar every 4 hours. He is on oxygen for comfort. Today, we continue to wait and pray and love and laugh and cry. We will get crabby and be stressed, but we will love him up to heaven and I'm sure most any beautiful song with do.

Jesus Paparazzi

On Sunday morning me, Mom, Amy and Katie went to church together while our neighbor sat with Dad. We deliberately chose the 7:30 am mass because we wanted to be low profile. Mom was employed at this parish for nearly 20 years and Dad was active in the parish council, RICA and other activities. We knew people would want to have an update about Dad. We also knew we needed to be together in quiet prayer.

We sat in the back for once. Usually Mom and Dad like the front row pew. We kept a low profile. After mass had begun, Mom whispered that she wanted to leave immediately after communion. There were several people she recognized and she didn't have the energy to give all of the updates to each of them after mass.

The Sign of Peace proved challenging. "How is Dennis?" came from several around us rather than the customary "Peace be with you." We watched as Mom had to force out the words, "He is at home. He is in hospice." and hold back tears.

After communion we waited until as late as possible and decided to leave. Amy first, the Mom, then Katie and me. We flanked Mom down the aisle: one on each side and me in the rear. We walked with a good clip so that we could get to the car without a meltdown.

Then, they started coming. It's amazing to see how quickly some senior citizens can clip through a crowd. Mom passed by a group of cronies. "I love you all, but I don't want to talk right now." she declared.

An old man came up to Mom and started holding her hands. I began to physically separate them as if I was her secret service agent while saying, "We are trying to get to the car..."

Mom introduced us, "This is Father Pierre..."

"Oh, I'm so sorry Father, but Mom is about to have a breakdown and we want to get her to the car. Yes, please come by and visit today or tomorrow..."

We rushed away and stuffed her into the backseat as quickly as possible. All of us holding back tears.

As soon as we were all in safely, Katie declared, "Man, Jesus Paparazzi!"

Then we all burst out laughing and headed to Starbucks.

It's comforting to know that so many people love and cherish our parents. They are good and giving. I've found that church can be a very challenging place to grieve and find solace in the Lord. So many of his servants have good intentions to play a role but they can really interrupt the conversations one is having with God.

Every day brings laughter and tears and bickering and conflict. Every day brings us all closer in union of this privilege it is to usher Dad into heaven. I pray the Paparazzi up there are ready and waiting because it will be a grand entrance!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

From Terry & Shirley O'Donnell

Terry O'Donnell is one of Dad's first cousins. "Uncle Terry and Aunt Shirley" are great fun and we have many fond memories with them. Here is what they have to say about Dad:

Molly, I have a couple of favorite recollections of your father that bring a smile to my face during this time of sorrow.
Whenever we had a telephone conversation, I learned that it would never be short, concise or to the point.  Over time I learned that to successfully complete a conversation with Dennis I had to be sufficiently rested, have snack bars at hand, a cup of coffee (with possible refills) and a bladder the size of an elephant's.  At times I wished I had "music on hold" so I could escape to the restroom with some dignity.  All our conversations were memorable and I will miss them.
I also remember that Dennis would eat anything, a true international gastronome, as long as he could smother it in ketchup.  And in the early days of long drives across the country, as long as he had a case of Coke in the car, he could go anywhere non-stop.
Life is beautiful in simple ways, a great family, good friends, a strong faith, and a case of Coke and a case of ketchup in the trunk.

Note from Shirley:  I will always remember your dad and your mom as the consummate hosts.  When we would visit the O'Donnell home we always felt that we were the center of their attention.  That's not easy to do when you have a house full of people.

Also, Terry and I now have an appreciation of what Dennis did as a career.  We recently (two weeks ago) were in Arizona and we visited the Titan Missile Museum in Tucson, Arizona. They took us down into the silo and the whole time we were listening to the presentation we thought of Dennis and what a major responsibility he had in his job.  We are oh so thankful that he never had to activate one of those big boys!!

You are all in our thoughts and prayers as you go through this difficult time.  May the Good Lord take away his suffering.

Terry and Shirley O'Donnell

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Snake Bite Kit

When we lived in Arkansas during the 1980s, there was this river called the Buffalo River.

I've just sorted through some photo albums that reminded me of this place and the adventure we all took one summer canoeing that river with Grandpa Vern and Grandma Betty O'Donnell.

There is Betty [Dad called his parents by their first names]. Sitting in a canoe with wedge sandals looking like a well-aged Betty Draper from Mad Men. Mom is hustling around 5 kids and honestly looks pretty damn good too. Was there any sunscreen in sight? Hell no. Was there a cooler dedicated to the "Snake Bite Kit"? Yes.

The snake bite kit is the liquor cabinet in the woods. I remember vividly as I was maybe 12 or 13 in these photos that Dad and Vern had to take a several hour detour out of Arkansas into some neighboring state to go and purchase some liquor. They called it the snake bite kit. I honestly believed that they were getting medication in the event we got bit by snakes.

This was the trip where we almost lost Katie. She was maybe 3 and bopping around in a yellow life vest. I can't tell who was in charge of her. According to the photos here was the canoe layout:

Liz, Joe and Amy in one canoe
Dad, Betty and me in another.
I guess that leaves Vern, Mom and Katie in a 3rd.

At one point we all noticed Katie was floating down the river on her own, in her life jacket. Oops. Dad rescued her. Good job Dad. Your repayment for that act is that you now have at least one daughter hanging around this week making sure that your back yard is still getting watered and that the recycling is appropriately sorted. Thank you, Katie.

Saturday Afternoon

We've got Pandora radio going on for Dad right now. Old hits from Glen Miller and Dick Gilroy are filling the house, especially since we have a video monitor in the kitchen.  We can hear and see him in his train room.

The dining table is extended like a Thanksgiving day and half of it is set up with laptops as if we were in some sort of computer lab. Blogging and emailing and Face-booking the world beyond this original family of seven.

The kitchen island is cleaned every other hour and even then so, every other hour it is filled with the good wishes of people who want to seem to express themselves through food. Carrot cake cupcakes just arrived. They smell great. I long for a stick of celery, some peanut butter and a hot cup of tea.

Dad is stable today. He can still recognize visitors. He sleeps the entire time - waking only if we ask him to open up for some water or Ensure or medications.

I've seen him smile several times today. He's talked about strange things. I like to keep those strange conversations going. Katie says I'm psyching him out. I say, "Why pull him back from where he's going? Help him along the way."

At one point Dad said, "I thought those holes on the ceiling were leaves. They're not." [Actually, they are knots in the wood].
Apparently Dad used to joke that Grandma Dorothy went to heaven through those holes. Wanting to avoid that reminder, I said to him, "No dad, those are caves on the train track, going round the curve through the Colorado mountains. Ride 'em dad. Ride on through."

Maybe that's good of me, maybe not. I guess if I were in his position, I wouldn't want people dragging my coat tails once I'd made up my mind to take a trip.

So, with that I plan to head off for a nap soon. Just one more story from the past for today. Coming up next.