Dawn’s Story

Site created on February 12, 2019

On February 12, 2019, Dawn was diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. She died on April 21, 2019 (Easter Sunday). Her passion and beauty, amazing strength, her deep faith in Jesus and deep love for her dear daughter, her husband (me), her friends and her family sustained her and kept her grounded in each day she lived as given by God. Her prayer was for a full life and for her many people to be for this world a real community of hope. Thank you for your love, your prayers, your compassion and presence whether near or far.

Newest Update

Journal entry by Daniel Harrell

My beloved Batgirl,

How has it been a whole year? I sit surrounded by my memories of you—your blue eyes and smile shine from your photos and your daughter’s face, your story-telling passion fills the room where I sit and edit at your desk, your clothes that hang in the hallway, your flair, our bed, our life that was so thick and rich and, for me, unfinished.

Your absence no longer overwhelms like it did, but it abides, sadness lingers and waits. The hardest part is the ache of never seeing you again: Never getting to converse again over coffee or wine, never having you press against my evasiveness and fears again, never staring into your steely blue eyes and being seen, never holding you close and hearing you note how we fit, never hearing you speak truth so effortlessly. You were so unashamedly honest. You never flinched as long as you knew the truth. You craved everything be brought to the light. Truth was your sacred ground.

I miss your ferocious passion for all things: for life, for love, for writing, for parenting, for attentive and tender gift-giving (I still can't believe I lost those prayer beads), for a possible future and new adventures, for the few people you deeply cherished, for the unjustly treated, for the weak and the innocent, for the ocean and chocolate and for God and for Scripture, and even for the despair and the dragons that tormented you. I miss your anger and often feel it. Fuck cancer. You died too soon.

Among your very last words were how sorry you were to be leaving me. But you also said you were ready to go--that you’d prepared to die your whole life. How was this possible? I marveled at your tenacity once you knew your doom, your refusal to feed darkness even as you welcomed it, your fearlessness and even your acknowledgement of God’s own awful grace in it. We all must die. So we might as well die well. How can we receive good from the hand of the Lord and not trouble?

I was honored to hold your hand when you breathed your last breath, honored to hold that same gorgeous hand when you gave birth to Violet, those same fingers, entwined, when we promised with tears to love and adore one another “in sickness and in health, in prosperity and want, for better or worse.” We experienced it all. So much happiness, so much sorrow, so much we hoped for, so much lost, so much gained, so much to remember, so much. You feared you were too much. But you were never too much. And now that you’re gone I wish I had more.

There remain words to write, but not here. Our deeper secrets and intimacies we store in our hearts and take to our graves and bury, along with the deeper joys that were ours alone too. We lived under "the threat of resurrection," and now you know whatever there is to know on your shore. I find comfort in imagining your joy complete and your new life incomparable to this life; you forget all I remember because for you it's not worth comparing. The light you enjoy is delightfully warm on your face and at an idyllic slant, the coffee is flawless, your heart full, your sword sheathed and all your dragons slain by that immeasurable love we could only border.

I thank God for every moment of you. Violet and I press forward, together and each in our own way, resolutely with clear eyes and full hearts. But we miss you. As for me, I will parent Violet as best I can by myself, I will edit and write (your own callings), I will drink joy and I will love. I will embrace what I have because this is all I have: this life, this loss, this joy, this sorrow, these fears and failures, this redemption, this hope, this day—even this awful day—especially the awful days since the awful is where the grace appears. I assure Violet over and over how I love her and I love you, and that the more you love the more love you have to give. Love never fails.

We vowed “until we are parted by death,” and now we are. I told you as you were dying how you saved me, healed me and brought me to a wholeness I hardly hoped for. You told me to knock it off, that you weren’t Jesus, for Christ’s sake. But you smiled as you scolded. You gave just as you promised, “all that I am and all that I have.” You died as intensely and intentionally as you lived: your choices and whatever the consequences. Decisions not wishes, you'd say. 

As the poet Jack Gilbert put it, “the Lord gives everything and charges by taking it back. What a bargain.” So be it.

Some of the final words you wrote were inscribed to me in your book. You told me to remember “there is fire in the transitions.” May it burn and refine.

Rest in peace, my love.

Last time,

Your Daniel

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