Dan Gisvold at Bear Creek

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Hard Day

I have felt the pain all over again today. I have felt for Smitty and I have felt for me. I feel for all of Dan's friends who do not know that he is gone or who can not share the pain of his loss with anyone. There are trucker friends out there who's names I will never know.

I know that Dan touched their lives. I think about the ladies at the Petco Truck Stop in Corning, California who, when we showed them Dan's picture not only remembered him but had wonderful things to say about him. He was a gentleman to them. He made them feel good about themselves. He always had a smile for them.

He touched the people that he interacted with. He, in that way, was more like his father than Bill or I ever could be. He was truly gregarious.

But he lived his life in parts. No one knew all there was to know about Dan. Some friends knew some things. Some friends knew other things. He compartmentalized because he had to do that to stay sane. To be alone on the road and part of the world at other times.

So I must give myself some room for not knowing all of his friends or where they are. But I hope no one else has to feel the pain that Smitty feels right now.

Smitty, I am so sorry.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Dan talked about Smitty a lot. He was always excited to go to Minnesota because he might get to see Smitty and his wife.

They went to a music festival in Northern California together. They had a ball.

I got to meet Smitty once. I was pregnant with Melodie. That was over 38 years ago.

They didn't talk all the time. Like all kinds of friends, they stayed in touch every couple of months or so. No big deal.

But Smitty hadn't heard from Dan and he couldn't get him on his phone. So he went to the internet and he found this blog. Today. And he called.

He was in shock. He was broken hearted. I didn't know that no one had called him.

How many people have we missed? How many don't know that Dan is not with us anymore? He had friends everywhere.

If you read this and you think there is someone out there that needs to know about Dan, please tell them. Please make it personal. Please. Please.

I know that Smitty is hurting right now. I wish I could help him.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Thanksgiving with our family was always a big thing. Shoot, we had our great-grandmother, our grandmother, my mother's sister, Louise (who is still going strong in her 90's!), Louise's family and all of us. Sometimes mom and Louise's cousins would join us. We would all trek to Sacramento and Auntie Doo (Louise) and Uncle Eddie would make this gynormous dinner. Always with a turkey and always with a Waldorf style salad (yuck!). The kids were regulated to the living room table and the adults were in the dining room.

Dan HATED it. He was constantly being teased about being skinny or lanky or looking like Papa instead of our father (Bill and I are father replicas, sorry to say). It was worse if it was raining and he was stuck indoors with all the grownups. If he took offense he would get teased about being a bad sport. If he said anything smart he was reprimanded. It was a no win situation for him.

So, when we grew up, Bill and I liked big Thanksgivings. Dan didn't. Duh.

The last few years, though, Mel and I had kinda skipped the whole Thanksgiving thing. Our parents had passed on. Melodie might come over but usually not because I didn't like her driving on a holiday and when we lived in Bakersfield it was usually foggy at that time of year. So we would usually order in Chinese or something and forget the whole thing.

But this last year Dan was here with us and we all wanted to do something. Nobody wanted to cook. That was a given. No one would eat what I cooked (not even me, the cats or the dogs, for that matter). Jed needed a vacation (and he was the only good cook in the group). So we made reservations at an Italian restaurant in San Luis Obispo. It was one of a handful of restaurants open on Thanksgiving.

We made the reservation early so that Mel wouldn't have to sit on a hard chair or wait around too long. (Restaurants are murder on people with bad backs!) But we still had to wait. It was Thanksgiving and people were staying at their tables. While we are standing there, I snapped this picture of Dan with Melodie and Jed.

Jed, Dan and Melodie

Just as I took it Dan remarked, "There's always one in the crowd." And I laughed. He hated having his picture taken.

I look at that photo and I realize how tired he was. But it was one of the most enjoyable Thanksgivings I ever had. We laughed and told stories. Mel and Dan had a great conversation about some esoteric thing. We talked about music and singing. We talked about family and how great a family is.

Less than a month later he was gone. I am so thankful for that Thanksgiving.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Walking through it

For some reason that I can't put my finger on, I miss Dan the most in the morning. When I am going to work I miss his outlandish puns and weird sense of humor. It would set me on a course that allowed me to see the absurdity in daily life. I could laugh or scoff as the case may be. I didn't talk it all so seriously.

Lately, everything is very serious. I find that I am not laughing. I think I am smiling at people but internally that is not happening at all.

I am not particularly depressed. My black cloud is someplace else. I just feel like I am walking through jello (can I use a trademarked word??) and that if I take one more arrow I will disappear somehow.

Two friends of mine have suffered the loss of a close family member in the last month. Two more have suffered severe back injury. Another is facing horrible financial problems.

I miss Dan telling me that I can't fix the world. I miss him telling me to take care of myself. I miss him telling me to go to Camp Nelson and turn off the damn cell phone. I miss him telling me to go to the beach with the dogs.

Right now I am watching my dogs happily chew on their nighttime treats. They are content with a person, some food, an occasional treat. That is where I want to get.

I want losing Dan to be ok. I want to be able to accept it as part of life. I am not anywhere near that place. It is gonna take a lot of time, methinks.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


A woman in my singing group lost her brother this last weekend. It was sudden, without warning. In the last year and a half she has lost her mother, her father and now her brother. I can not imagine the depth of her grief. My heart breaks for her and for me.

When I heard the news on Monday, it was as if I had just heard the news about Dan, The hole that I thought had healed a bit was laid wide open again. I was stunned.

I did not know my fellow singer's brother. I know her as a talented singer but I know little of her life outside of rehearsal and performance. But the effect of her loss was profound on me.

This is a journey. Learning about your own grief and living your life in a conscience manner. And it takes twists and turns that are never expected. As I explored the blogging world I met Liz who lost her brother suddenly about one year before Dan died. Her blog is at http://366daysoferic.blogspot.com and helped me find my way.

As I have learned there is a community of us learning how to take this journey. How to share the pain and the hollowness that sometimes wants to swallow us.

If you know someone who is part of this community please let them know that we are here to share.

Dan would really, really like that.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Singing without Dan

Vocal Arts Ensemble of San Luis Obispo

We were invited to Santa Cruz to sing at Holy Cross Church with the Santa Cruz Chorale. It was a big deal. It was a mandatory concert for all spring series singers. The concert was at 4pm last Sunday.

Melodie, Jed and I decided to drive up on Saturday and stay at Bill's house in Los Gatos. The original plan was that brother Bill and his wife Kathy would meet us there on Saturday. But with brother Bill plans are always fluid.

I got a call last week that he and Kathy had to be in Tahoe with grandson Willie but then that changed and they had to cancel because of the storm but there was a great-aunt of Kathy's that passed and they had to be at the funeral. So the final, as it played out was that Bill and Kathy would be at the concert in Santa Cruz and we would have dinner with them.

Which we did. BUT first, Bill stopped by the Los Gatos house while we were getting ready to go. I was so struck by the resemblance to our father. He walks like him, he talks like him--it is a little freaky. But he came by just to say hi and to make sure we had directions to the church in Santa Cruz.

I had some trepidation about this concert. First, it is two weeks before our Spring concert so we hadn't finished memorizing all the music. Second, we didn't know what the venue was like--acoustics etc. And Third, this was the first concert since Dan had died. Dan would not be there.

Santa Cruz was one of Dan's favorite places on earth. Any place that had an institution of higher learning with a sea slug as a mascot was for him! (University of California at Santa Cruz). It was also a haven for hippies and artists, free thinkers, singers, and general avante garde people.

I couldn't help but think how he would have wanted to be with us.

The concert was going well. Our director hadn't made any gestures to indicate otherwise, at least. I came off the risers to introduce the final number of the first half of the program. And the first face I see is Bill's.

I have a brother there. Watching me and hearing my choir sing.

And I almost lost it.

I forgot the first line to my introduction. It is the Ave Maria by Anton Bruckner for god's sake.

I say a quick line or two in supplication myself and I am back on track and I get through the introduction. I don't think I have ever sung that song better.

Dan would have laughed himself silly. And he would have loved it. Cuz he knew:

It was always Bill, Dan and Gael Ann.

It always will be.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The BLACK Cloud

Dan and I shared one thing in common. We talked about it alot to each other but not to other people. It was something that we were both ashamed of but which, we finally figured out, we should not be ashamed.

We both suffered from depression. Dan called it his BLACK cloud. I called mine the same thing long before I knew about his label.

It wasn't until he was in Montana and he had separated from Diana that we talked about it. We both felt like failures for a variety of reasons. We both saw our lives in dark patterns. We both thought the BLACK cloud was our fault.

I began to explore my "dark side" after my divorce from Melodie's father and again while I was in law school. It wasn't called depression then--I just wasn't "thinking right". It was very 1950's you are a woman so you must behave in a certain way kind of thing.

Meanwhile, Dan was trying to do the same thing. But as a male he was told to just get to work and it would take care of itself. He just had to get a good job.

So when we began to talk about it we learned alot. We talked about the family history that must be depression but which no one labeled as such. We had a grandfather who wrote poetry, spent time talking to the railroad bums and would disappear for months at a time. Our parents suffered from alcoholism and severe depression.

The stories that we had heard growing up were of people fighting demons that today would be demolished by Lexipro or the like. And when Dan and I talked we realized that we shared some of those traits. We had both been trying to fight them and didn't know what they were.

I hit the medical centers and finally found a proper medication. Dan kept struggling. He could not get past that men couldn't be suffering from depression. So he worked harder and slept less.

But we talked about his BLACK cloud often. In the last year of his life the cloud was less and less apparent. He seemed to have found an answer but he didn't know what it was yet.

We were talking about it the night he died.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Missing him

Melodie and I were walking in San Luis Obispo after lunch today. Almost simultaneously we said "I miss him".

So much has been going on in Melodie's life and mine hasn't been stagnant that we just hadn't talked about Dan.
But we think about him everyday. We see him everywhere and in everything.

We remember taking him for sushi at our usual lunch hangout.

We remember him in our office.

We remember walking around Thursday evening's Farmer's Market downtown. Boy, did he love that. Food, produce, crafts, music, all there for him to sample and enjoy in a tree lined street.

As we walked down that street today it was just a day of Dan.

I miss him.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Ocean

I was driving home tonight. I went the back way.I just wasn't up to a freeway. Besides, after the recent rain, the back way is green and clean and beautiful.

But it was late. It was dark and I was the only car on the road.

At least I was until I came over the hill into Pismo Beach. The road looks straight down to the ocean. Coming over the ridge I am mesmerized by the waves that are breaking half a mile down the hill on an iridescent white beach. And I want to cry.

Dan would sit and watch those waves. Sometimes he would do it alone. Sometimes he would do it with friends. And sometimes, some very special times, he would do it with me. And a cup of tea.

I can't go to where we use to sit and drink tea but when I come home the back way and I see the ocean, Dan is all I can think about.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Dan snuck into court one time and watched me. Scared the pants off of me as I was walking out.

He was fascinated by what I did. Hell, he was fascinated by a lot of things. It was his basic intellectual curiosity.

We weren't doing anything big that day. I think I had a client sentenced in a misdemeanor and I continued another case. Just the day to day stuff.

He never got to see me in trial. It was something that he wanted to see. He wanted to see me do a voir dire of a jury and deal with DA's and judges under the constraints of the Code of Civil Procedure and the Evidence Code. He couldn't imagine me holding my tongue or not being snide. But in a court room I USUALLY behave.

He would have loved today when the judge handed the DA and I her "Rules of Court" and told us both to follow her rules of comportment. "Have I ever comported myself? I asked. "We can always hope" she answered.

God, Dan would have rolled over laughing!

Yeah, he probably is right now.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


The first thing that I would do when I got in my car on a work morning (well, after I put on my seat belt, plugged in the phone, and started the car...) was call Dan. It was a daily ritual.

He would say, "Oh, it's you..." and I would say, "Where are you?"

Every work day.

He would tell me where he was and where he was going. He would tell me what kind of a load he had. He would tell me what time he started that morning and what time he expected to end.

I would tell him how many appearances I would have that morning. What kind of cases I was dealing with and with what judges and prosecutors.

Some days (rare) he wouldn't want to talk. He would be grumpy about something. I could usually get him to rant about whatever was bothering him. He said that always helped.

If I didn't want to talk he knew I was on that planet called trial preparation and he would leave me alone. Sometime he would go off on a rant just to make me pay attention to something other than what was going on in my brain. Sometimes it worked.

Today wasn't an official work day but I went into the office cuz I have a trial on Monday. I put on my seat belt, I plugged in my phone, I started the car and I started to hit the auto dial button.

Dan's number is still there. I can't take it off and I won't. At least not yet. Not for awhile.

I can't talk to him on the phone but we had a great conversation in my head today.

Thanks, Dan.

Friday, March 11, 2011


My morning routine has me on my computer with a cup of coffee right after the dogs are fed. I get the news, check my email, look up my Facebook account etc.

This morning I stopped with the news. I watched in horror and disbelief as Japan and its people suffered from the power of the earth.

I listened in fear at the words from our local government that began to list areas of evacuation and closure in my town in preparation for the tsunami that was coming this way.

My first thought when the warnings came out was that Dan lived in Pismo Beach. On the beach and that he needed to get out of there.

But he wasn't there. The moment was horrid. I didn't know what to do with my thoughts, my emotions. So I sat and watched and cried.

I cried for Japan and I cried for me.

The tsunami came and went. It was very small here. But what I felt was not.

I watched the news tonight. I didn't cry. But my sadness remains. I am sad for the Japanese people and all who are affected by such devastation. There are so many who are suffering extreme loss.  I can only hope that they can find ways to live through the pain.

They are in my thoughts. I am sure they would be in Dan's as well.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

There are times when I wish I was a "real" writer. That I could describe to you what I see in my mind when I think of Dan.

I can tell you that he walked with a long, loose, lanky stride. His extra long arms always swinging. He never stomped---he kind of walked like you would imagine an elf walking. He barely touched the earth. He had someplace else to go.

When he sat, he slouched. He didn't fit in a chair. He was all corners and angles and a chair had curves and spaces that didn't fit his body. He always looked awkward when he was seated in a chair. But he sat a horse beautifully.

He climbed into a truck with a grace that astounded me. I wanted to say like a monkey but it was smoother than that. It was hours and hours of practice. It was moving only when necessary.

When he would finally sit to watch television or a movie at my home he always chose the couch where he could stretch out. This disturbed the dogs mightily as he took up ALL the space that was normally theirs. I can see his long legs, sans boots, hanging over the end of the couch. His head on a cushion at the opposite end. And as he watched, he would twist his right ear.

Dan twisted his right ear as a child and it was a habit he continued for his whole life. It became his trademark.

Tonight that is how I see him. Sprawled on my couch, twisting his ear, dogs whining at him.

I wish you could see what is in my mind.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Dan loved the Vocal Arts Ensemble concerts. He was in awe of the sound that we produced, the control, the clarity. He was always amazed at the feeling that we all exuded around and over the music that we sang.

When he was in Montana I always sent him a DVD of our performances. He would watch them and even critique them occasionally.

When he saw his first concert in person he was blown away. He had no words to express the difference in feeling from the DVD to the concert itself. Once he was here in California he did not miss a concert. He often served as an usher in order to see peoples faces and interact with them before and after the concert.

On April 20, 2011 VAE will travel to Santa Cruz to sing with the Santa Cruz Chorale. My brother Bill and his wife Kathy plan to be there.

It will be the first concert the Vocal Arts has given since Dan died.

This one is gonna be very hard.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Staying Clean

We have all seen them. Or rather smelled them. Long haul truckers who have only been around only themselves for awhile. The stereotype in our head is that they are overweight, slovenly, dirty, and less than intellectual giants.

Everything that Dan was not.
One of the things that Dan learned in long hauling was that you had to know the GOOD truck stops. It didn't just have diesel. It didn't just have a restaurant. It had to have showers. And good showers at that. Nothing with just lukewarm water.  They had to be clean and well attended. No mold in the corners for Dan.

It constantly amazed me that grimy, moldy showers were the standard fare. I began to understand why Dan would wait a day or two to take a shower because he would have showered a pet snake in most of the places on the road. Actually, some may have been living there already!

So when ever he found a good place he would try to make sure it was on his next pass through the area. If he had to miss it, he would not socialize with people until he could get a shower. He was kind of sensitive about it.

He wouldn't even let me hug him when he came off the road until he had a shower. And he cleaned up really well.

Here is the last picture ever taken of Dan. It was taken in the rest stop where he died. He had just taken a shower and was taking a picture of himself in the mirror. He was really clean.
All Clean.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Happy Place

When I think of Dan I immediately think of two things: trucks and Camp Nelson. Most folk know about big trucks but very few have any idea about Camp Nelson. So here is some background.

Camp Nelson is in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. It is nestled in the Sequoia National Forest (not to be confused with the Sequoia National Park which is also part of the Sequoia National Forest) just above the towns of Porterville and Springville. It sits at an altitude of 4700 feet above sea level.

It is the natural home to scrub oak, ponderosa pine, manzanita, California black bear, dear, mountain lion, ground squirrels, gray tree squirrels, rattlesnakes, king snakes, limestone and granite rock formations, natural mineral water springs and a host of other critters, growths, and outcroppings.

For my family it was a home away from home and it was, and still is, our happy place.

Our cabin was off the beaten path. Turn to the right just past the stables, go over the hill, stay to the right and go to the end of the road. There we were- along with people we had known all our lives.

Our cabin had a fire circle. We had an open space where sparks wouldn't get into the trees and our great-grandmother built a rock fire pit there. It was near a Monterey Pine that she had brought up the mountain in the early 20's and planted and nurtured along with her irises.

It was around that fire pit that our family and the neighbors would gather in the evening for a campfire. We would roast marshmallows and we would sing. My father was a singer. He had a beautiful tenor voice and he would sing "My Wild Irish Rose" and "It's a Long, Long Trail". He insisted that we all sing. And we did. And we loved it.

I remember Dan when I think of all of this. I see his face when he was 10 and Francis Ferguson would chase him around the yard singing "Danny Boy" to him. I have to tell you she was accompanying herself on her accordion. The look on Dan's face was priceless. (It is why I introduce the VAE rendition of Danny Boy to him---I left out Francis Ferguson)

I see his face when he was a teenager just coming back from a fishing foray. I see his face early in the morning with the gray squirrels  would wake us up just as the sun rose. I see his face as he played cribbage with Dad.

Yes, Camp Nelson is my happy place. But right now I can't go there.