The unexpected news of my cousin Dennis’ death came as a surprise but it was not a shock.
Late last spring Dennis “went dark”, disappearing except for occasional appearances at the grocery story in the his childhood hometown to which he had returned in hopes of going home again, forgetting Thomas Wolfe’s wisdom.
May 29 – days before his bipolar disorder led him to lock out the world – he wrote on FaceBook. “Today the choir at South Paris Congregational Church will sing an arrangement of the poem ‘In Flanders Field’. It is a very moving arrangement of this well known poem. So proud to be a member of this talented choir.”
Here’s the text of the poem:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
- John McCrae, Canadian physician and poet.
It was at the South Paris Congregational Church that Dennis’ father, my Uncle Bob, had dropped dead of a cerebral hemorrhage while moderating an annual congregational meeting. Dennis and I were in our 30s when it happened; we flew back to South Paris for the funeral. First in his class at Harvard College and Harvard Law and a direct descendent of John Smith of the Mayflower, Bob Smith was also the Choirmaster-Organist at the church when we wasn’t on the bench or discretely institutionalized out of public view for what we now call bipolar disorder.
Dennis had more than his share of tragedy in his life. Dennis’s older brother Alan, locked inside the body by cerebral palsy, was entirely dependent on the family for the most basic needs, although we knew from his eyes and his moans how attuned he was to those he loved. After Dennis and Sandy began their own family, their one-year old son Christopher was found dead in his crib. Many years later their son Sean died in a car accident after Sean’s sophomore year at Colorado College. Death, grief, and sorrow were woven into the warp and woof of the Smith family’s life. But so were faith and hope – the larks, still bravely singing, flying overhead, scarce heard amid the guns below.
Rest in Peace, Dennis.
- Gordon C. Stewart, six-month younger first cousin, kindred flesh and spirit of Dennis Smith of South Paris, Maine, in Memoriam, Feb.13, 2017. Prayers for my all the Smith family – Gwen, Kelly, Stacy, and Sandy, among others – and the dear people of the South Paris Congregational Church and Choir.