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“Dimebag” Darrell Abbott died on December 8, 2004, at the age of 2004.

December 8, 2018

My grandfather, Dennis Dooley, my mother’s father, was an incredible man. He was a military man who fought in World War II and proudly wore his dogtags every day. He was remarkably fit for a man in his 60s, wearing the same flattop his whole life, cropped close and tight by the same Moweaqua, Illinois barber for 50 years. I always remember him wearing a white tanktop — what we used to call a “wife beater,” and it’s truly remarkable we called it that for so long — every time I saw him, dogtags dangling around his neck, a formidable, indestructible man who was a sweet and kind as anybody this 11-year-old kid had ever met. He called me “Willy-o” and my cousin Denny “Denz-O,” and he would throw us pitches in his backyard as long as we would let him. He ran the Shell station in nearby Macon, and everybody loved him. He was also a baseball umpire, and a good one: I wrote about his umpiring a few years ago and always cite him as useful metaphor when I want to hark back to an age of law, order and authority and contrast it with our far more skeptical and suspicious world today. He was the best. He was a rock of a man.

He was also a diabetic who required insulin shots every morning. One of those mornings, in November 1987, he woke up a little groggy. His wife Mary, my grandmother, gave him his shot, and while he spooned out his daily grapefruit for breakfast, he began to complain of a headache. Mary wasn’t used to Dennis feeling ill, so she told him to sit down on the couch. He repeated: His head really, really hurt. He laid down. He closed his eyes, and passed out. He was having a brain aneurysm — more specific, a hemorrhagic stroke. He never woke up, and he died two days later. He was 67 years old. He would have turned 99 years old this past Thursday. He has been gone 31 years.

I was 12 years old and didn’t really understand any of it. I knew my grandfather was gone, and I knew my parents were devastated, and I was sad too, but none of it really sunk in. I didn’t know if 67 was too old or too young to die. I didn’t know if everybody had been worried about him dying or if it took everyone by surprise. I didn’t now what a hemorrhagic stroke was, or an aneurysm was, or even what diabetes was. I didn’t know anything other than that I was sad, and that a week ago he had been there and now he was gone. What does a 12-year-old know about anything?

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Since then, I have lost the other three of my grandparents. My dad’s father, William Franklin Leitch, whom I am named after, died a few years later. Mary, Dennis’ wife, died a little more than a decade ago; Dorothy Leitch, my father’s mother, died just three years ago. She got to meet my older son William. My wife and I told her about his birth just a few months earlier, which was a harrowing, terrifying experience. She looked at us with a bemused smirk. “I did that eight times,” she said. She was 94 years old.

I was prepared for all their deaths, as much as anyone can be. Both Bill and Mary had been ill for a while. Dorothy had been a bull her entire life, but she was, after all, 94. Their deaths affected all of us in dramatic ways — they still do — but we had time to roll the possibility of losing them around in our minds before we actually did. It didn’t make it easier. But it did the grief came with less shock. They were gone. But they were not suddenly, violently gone. All three passed gently. All three had time to try to come to terms with it themselves, though I’d be lying if I said I knew whether they ever did.

I have been extremely fortunate. I have lost loved ones, like we all have. My uncles Mike and Dave, my cousin Scott, close family friends Rosemary and Otis. But I haven’t had that true shock since my grandfather, the idea that one day someone you loved and cared for was there and the next day they just weren’t. (Rosemary, a family friend killed in a car accident 15 years ago, was closest. My mother and I both run past where her accident happened; we call it “Rosemary’s Corner.”) The shock of someone whose loss you simply cannot process. At 43 years old, that I have not had to deal with that yet is pure happenstance — complete luck.

But it is coming. One of the hardest parts of getting older is the idea that people your age are, in fact, capable of dropping at any moment. Too young, to be sure, but not outside the realm of possibility. People my age die all the time. Who knows: Maybe it’s me. In 1900, I would have died 12 years ago. In a disturbingly high number of countries today, I’d be entering my final decade. This is a problem that will of course just get worse, like all problems always do. Roger Angell, the greatest writer about basically everything but especially about aging, wrote how getting old is in large part about watching your friends and family not get old.

We geezers carry about a bulging directory of dead husbands or wives, children, parents, lovers, brothers and sisters, dentists and shrinks, office sidekicks, summer neighbors, classmates, and bosses, all once entirely familiar to us and seen as part of the safe landscape of the day. It’s no wonder we’re a bit bent. The surprise, for me, is that the accruing weight of these departures doesn’t bury us, and that even the pain of an almost unbearable loss gives way quite quickly to something more distant but still stubbornly gleaming. The dead have departed, but gestures and glances and tones of voice of theirs, even scraps of clothing—that pale-yellow Saks scarf—reappear unexpectedly, along with accompanying touches of sweetness or irritation. ... I don’t go there often, but, once I start, the battalion of the dead is on duty, alertly waiting. Why do they sustain me so, cheer me up, remind me of life? I don’t understand this. Why am I not endlessly grieving?

This is all coming: There is thunder in the distance, a truck around every corner, pianos looming ominously overhead. But this doesn’t have to lead to darkness. It can, in fact, be the opposite. It should be. When you do not know what tomorrow holds, you can appreciate what there is, what you have, right now. Hug your kids close. Stare into the eyes of your loved ones. Tell that friend you haven’t seen in a while how important they are to you. Go run naked through the streets if you need to. We do not know when the people we love will be gone. But we know someday they will be. It may even be us someday ... maybe us first. I know it’s a cliche to live every day like it’s your last, to appreciate what you have, to embrace the present and the now. I know I’m not telling you anything you haven’t heard before, anything that hasn’t been said a million different ways by a million different people. But seriously: It can all be gone like that. It probably won’t be. But if it is: You’ll regret not having taken this moment, right now, to reach out, to say something, to take in life in deep gasps and gulps. Life isn’t going to get easier, and there isn’t going to be less loss. So I’m going to take advantage of the now. It is, after all, the only time I can.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

1. The NFL Doesn’t Have a Domestic Violence Problem. It Has an NFL Problem, New York. I hadn’t taken any swings at ole Goodell in a while.

2. The Cardinals Got Paul Goldschmidt! MLB.com. Every once in a while, I get to be a nine-year-old kid just jumping up and down about my favorite team, for my job.

3. Debate Club: Spider-Man Movies, Ranked, SYFY Wire. We definitely got the best one right.

4. The 10 Best Rotations in Baseball, MLB.com. I enjoy reacting to news with a list.

5. The Thirty: Franchise Icons For Each Team, MLB.com. Poor Orioles. Again.

THE WILL LEITCH SHOW

We’re on hiatus until February! Get caught up with the ones you missed on Amazon or on SI TV.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, big mailbag show! Always a blast. Also, “The House That Jack Built” and “The Player.”

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, postgame SEC championship sadness.

Seeing Red, no show this week, taping a new one on Monday.

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

There are a lot of letters! I’m spending this weekend trying to get back to all of them. It is a very enjoyable way to spend a weekend. You all rule. Be a part by sending me letters, about whatever you’d like, at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“Botched Execution,’ Shovels & Rope. This husband-and-wife duo is pretty fantastic: “Little Seeds” is packed with killer songs. (“The Last Hawk” and “The Invisible Man” are great too.) I also enjoy their cover albums: I had no idea Faith No More’s “Epic” — an incredible song on its own — could sound like that.

Have a excellent weekend, all. Also:




Best,
Will

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