Dennis Van Hook has spent the last 40 years as a therapist and teacher. To say he's had a positive impact on many lives, would be a gross understatement.
Unfortunately, Dennis was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. And now, he's been told he has 12 months to live.
"I've got two things going against me. Number one, I don't know how to do the whole dying thing because I've never done it. This is my first time that I know of,” says Van Hook. “And the second thing I've got against me... what we're trying to do here I've never done this either. So I don't know what to expect."
What Dennis is trying to do is simple on paper. He and his friend, Jenna Anderson, are hosting discussions every Tuesday at a local coffee shop to talk about death and loss. But that's just what's on paper. In reality, the topic is much more complicated.
"One thing to realize is this isn't just about death, it's about loss in general,” says Anderson. “And I think people only associate loss with death and dying, and that's the ultimate loss that we experience as human beings. But we experience loss to some extent every day, every month, every year. Whether it’s a pet that's sick, or you have to move somewhere new, or you've graduated school and you're not sure what to do. Or you're homesick. There are little things all the time."
And with the news of his terminal cancer, if anyone can talk about loss it's Dennis.
"I'm not scared of dying. Dying is not a dangerous thing to do. I tell people to treat me the same, I want them to treat me just the way they always do. I had a person come up and say well what do you want us to do with you now? And I said well don't bury me until I'm actually dead. Make sure you jiggle me."
Dennis and Jenna eventually would like to write a book about this experience; Dennis admitting, he's hoping it will be called Journey Worthy, although he says Jenna will probably have the final say.
While he's had his bad days, Dennis is mostly positive about a situation that could put anyone into a tailspin.
"This is the weird part, where I'll have extreme euphoria, where things feel so freeing and kind of wonderful that I can be more of who I am. There's a song that Kris Kristopherson wrote called Me and Bobby McGee. And there's this wonderful line that says ‘freedom means having nothing left to lose.’ That's what I experience in my euphoria."
But Dennis' nothing left to lose mentality is leaving an impact on people's lives that will last far beyond what we can see right now.
Dennis and Jenna can be found near the bookshelves at Electric City Coffee every Tuesday from 10 to 2.