From an outsider’s perspective, I guess the last few days could certainly qualify as our Worst Week Ever.
Monday, we returned home from Dennis’s father’s funeral in California. Tuesday, Dennis went back to work at the TV station where he’s been employed for 23 years– and was fired. And if you’re shocked and confused about this, well, so were we.
But while the timing was horrendous, the truth was that Dennis was uniquely prepared to handle it– because there’s nothing like the death of a close loved one to remind a person of what matters far more than a fancy career or money or fame…
Our trip to California wasn’t easy, but it was profound. When we arrived at the church on the morning of my father-in-law’s service, we had no idea if anyone would show up besides a few family members– Dennis’s dad was 80 when he died and had been ill for some time.
To our surprise, the church was completely filled by the time the service began– Several of his father’s lifelong friends came, along with a large pack of Dennis and his brother’s high school and college friends, most of whom he hadn’t seen in 35 years. Dennis had been asked to officiate and he was nervous about it, but his anxiety went away when he looked out at the pews and saw so many familiar faces, all radiating love and support. He delivered one of the most beautiful eulogies I’ve ever heard, remembering his father, celebrating his legacy and making everyone in the room feel like a special and valued part of the story.
Afterward, everyone came back to Dennis’s childhood home and stayed for hours, filling the house with laughter and reminiscences about the many good times they’d had there over the years. Surrounded by so many friends, neighbors and family members, Dennis’s mother looked like a tremendous weight had been lifted from her shoulders and I have no doubt Dennis’s father was there in spirit as well, completely thrilled by the reunion of so many of his favorite people. We returned home from California late Monday night, still very sad of course, yet unexpectedly lifted up by the crazy amount of love we’d felt from others.
It was with that mindset that Dennis went back to work the next day. When he called shortly after he’d arrived and broke the news that his Channel 4 days were over, I was surprised and dismayed, obviously — but I was also filled with an inexplicable peace. Between work and his father’s illness, this has been one of the most difficult years of Dennis’s life. Maybe we were finally turning a corner.
“I’m very proud of you,” I told him over the phone. “Let’s make this the best thing that ever happened to us.”
In fact, the only thing I dreaded was the stigma that often comes with losing a job. I tried to brace myself for the inevitability that some would avoid or turn their backs on us, as though being fired might be contagious. ‘I guess we’ll find out who our friends really are,’ I thought more than once that day.
That statement proved to be true– but not in the way I expected. By the next day, the news was out and Dennis’s Facebook feed, phone and inbox were flooded with thousands of messages from friends, fans, and former co-workers, as well as many of the subjects and sources of Dennis’s stories over the years. Neighbors showed up with wine. Friends came by with cookies… and more wine. Dennis’s phone still hasn’t stopped ringing with calls from people wanting to help in any way they can. Dennis and I have gotten teary-eyed too many times to count over the last week– We are completely awed by the amount of support. You will never know how grateful I am to those of you who took the time to stop by or leave a comment or send a card or message– Your words didn’t just lift up Dennis at one of the darkest times of his life, they also reached our children and helped turn something scary and sad into a lovely tribute to their hero.
With the support came words of anger about what’s happened to Dennis and other longtime Channel 4 employees over the last few months and I understand how you feel, but I hope you won’t let the decisions of a few affect how you feel about the many hardworking, loyal, supportive people at Channel 4 who really are working for you, who care deeply about this community and who don’t deserve criticism because of choices they did not make. This is important to me and I know it’s important to Dennis as well. We will not let what happened ruin our many fond memories of Channel 4 over the years, because the past and present employees of Channel 4 are part of our family as well. They’ve supported us in so many ways throughout the best– and worst– times of our lives.
I’m excited now about Dennis’s next chapter and I hope he’ll find a way to keep doing what he’s best at: telling your stories and serving the people of Middle Tennessee. We are moving ahead with no regrets… and we’re so very grateful to have you along for the ride.
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