“Donn Atchison, a retired employee of St. Lawrence College, died in a car accident on April 10, 2008 in the state of Pennsylvania. He is survived by his wife and two daughters. Now, on to the weather forecast…”
A brief news item of unembellished facts and statements. Talking heads and headlines capture an unpurged reality and then move on. They tell us, quite simply, that “Donn was, and is no more.” The facts are inescapable and irredeemable, and the truth embedded in these facts is final and unassailable. But we know better; there is no truth or finality here. We cannot-- we must not—allow Donn’s death to be defined by statements! He was a husband, a father, a colleague and a friend, and his life touched every one of us in special ways. But he was also so much more: he was a complex amalgam of values, attitudes, behaviors and insights. Our memories of him are an essential part of who we are, and they will linger. That is the truth we must all confront.
My memories of Donn are a kaleidoscope of personal and unordered impressions. I see him
coming down a ski slope, turning stiff as a board, with his ski poles never touching the
ground; I hear him shout in triumph after hitting a four iron two-hundred and forty yards
down the middle of the fairway; and I observe him looking suspiciously over the top of his
glasses at someone who has exaggerated the truth. I knew the breadth of his intelligence and
the depth of his sensitivity. I have seen his kindness to strangers and his determination in
problem solving. I have observed him make both sound and poor judgments. And I saw him
ecstatic over the birth of his daughters and devastated by the death of his son in a crib. I
shared his elation at his many accomplishments and his apprehension about continuing to live
in the Middle East. I was there when he was joyful, witty, thoughtful and sad. Donn was a
loving, complicated, funny, resourceful human being, and I will not have him diminished by
So please don’t insult my intelligence by reminding me of human mortality. I know that
memories fade and time tamps down sorrow; I have read poetry about Death’s dominion and
the inevitability of reconciliation. I know all that. I do! But I also know this: I was different
before I met Donn, and now I am different again. My emotional and spiritual life has
undergone a seismic shift, and consequently I feel terribly bruised. So keep your
irredeemable facts to yourself: there is no truth in them, no finality. None. None at all….
Dr. Joe Lyons is a former Communications Professor at the Brockville Campus and a very
dear friend of Donn's.