You have probably heard the old joke about the man who went to a preacher to arrange a funeral for his brother.  “You must say that my brother was an angel,” he insisted.  The preacher protested that his brother had been notorious as a drunk, a womanizer, and probably the most wicked reprobate in town.  The brother offered $10,000 to the preacher, but only if he agreed to say that the man had been an angel.  The preacher accepted;  and at the funeral he fulfilled his obligation by saying, “This man was a terrible, evil sinner–but compared to his brother, he was an angel!”

We come from a society of pretty obituaries; we were all taught not to speak ill of the dead, and if we “don’t have nothing good to say, don’t say nothing at all.”  But one brave family placed an obituary in our local paper yesterday, and it was the most honest (and tragic) one I have ever seen.  If nothing else, it paints a pretty good picture of what mental illness can look like in the flesh.  As you read it, please remember that this is a man for whom Jesus lived and died; and there, but for the grace of God, go we all.

Dennis W. Trainor (1940 – 2012)

Chenango Forks: Dennis W. Trainor of Chenango Forks, NY (2/23/40-7/10/12) decided to end his life in the place he loved best: his home and sanctuary in the Chenango Forks wood. Born in the Bronx, he spent his early years negotiating difficult circumstances with defiance, energy, and determination: jumping off the docks into the river, visiting Edgewater and smelling the vibrant life there, catching trains and riding the length of Manhattan Island, sleeping on rooftops and trying to find ways to survive. He was always proud to be a Bronx native; one of the family residences on Bruckner Boulevard was razed to make way for the Triboro Bridge. He spent too many of his teen and young adult years bouncing from institution to institution, struggling with his addictions and mental health issues. Sometime in the 1970s, his brother Frank convinced him to try living in Binghamton. After many therapeutic interventions and 12-step meetings, Dennis found life-long sobriety in August 1980. In 1982, he moved to a remarkable retreat and safe place in the woods overlooking the Tioughnioga River. He loved living there; he could listen to and feed the birds, cut firewood with an old-fashioned handsaw, try to find ways to live with his many ghosts, demons, hopes, and his firm moral and spiritual code. Dennis was a bundle of complexity and contradictions: incredibly smart yet often irrational, he was a charming and charismatic child-like spirit who could quickly turn angry and afraid. He possessed a searing intensity and determination yet often couldn’t complete the simplest tasks. He felt that he had a very limited capacity to “be in the world,” as he would say; he characterized himself as a hermit, a cowboy, a spiritual seeker, a rebel, a recluse—but never as a comfortable member of society. No amount of rational conversation or pleas could change his beliefs. He was doggedly determined to live his life on his own terms in the best ways that he could. He lived alone since 1996, although he had a close, long-time friend who tried to help him and care for him, as well as relatives, neighbors, and others with whom he developed superficial but deeply important relationships. Although he depended on minimal social services for his very basic needs, he never wanted to feel indebted to any person, agency, or government. So despite his meager resources, he paid enormous interest to clear an old loan for an aborted semester at BCC circa 1980. Because he knew that cigarettes were destroying his health, he quit smoking forever in 1997. In fact, other than a very rare round of antibiotics and occasional OTC pain-relievers, he shunned all medications. If he had accepted help and used prescription anti-depressants or other medications to help him cope with his mental and emotional illnesses, he might still be alive. But he chose his path carefully and deliberately. He saved enough money to pre-pay for his final arrangements because he did not want to burden us with those details of his death. Dennis loved so much about his life: the full moon, the changing seasons, the river, the birds and rabbits and deer and hawks. Yet he carried on a relentless battle against the flying squirrels who reside in the attic and the rodents who pilfer bird feed. Dennis adored 50s bebop and rock, classic cowboy movies and TV shows; he also venerated series such as The Sopranos and Deadwood. He tilted at too many windmills for too long, and he refused to concede a defeat that would have been enormous if he had lived to the point where he could no longer care for himself. Because he wanted a simple, unencumbered life and wanted to live as frugally as possible, he gave up car ownership many years ago; he rode his bicycle to the Forks—in all weather–for his newspapers, milk, bread, and his mail. For several years until shortly before his death, he depended on the BC County Rural service to take him to a grocery store so he could buy what he needed to survive. Dennis so appreciated the lifeline that the BC Country dispatchers and drivers provided. He came to see them as friends and he valued his interactions with them. When the powers that be decided that BC County routes would be almost eliminated (not “cost-efficient” to provide essential services to the most needy among us), Dennis was shaken and scared because one of his few safety nets had been severed. We will never know why he chose to end his life when he did; we know that a constellation of forces contributed. But he would want folks to know that he did all that he could to live and die on his terms. He often quoted the Bible – “let the dead bury the dead”— so he did not want us to mourn him or memorialize him publically. We hope that he would understand why we are publishing this obituary as a way of honoring and remembering him. Dennis was predeceased by his parents John Trainor (1959) and Helen Trainor (2/19/12), his cherished sister Patty (2/25/97) all of the Bronx, his brother Frank (12/18/11) of Pennsylvania, and his dog Willie. He is survived by his long-time close friend Susan Y Williams of Eastham, MA and formerly of Binghamton and Chenango Forks, by his dear sister Mary Bianco of Holbrook, NY, his sister Joan Meehan of Endicott, NY and many nieces and nephews, all of whom will miss him dearly. Special thanks and deep gratitude to Dennis’ neighbors, Jim and Joyce Thomas, and to the people who helped him survive as long and well as he did, especially the dispatchers and drivers of BC Country. Thanks to the first responders, especially the State Police investigators, and to Tim and Donna of DuMunn Funeral Home, who helped us through these horrible first days. In lieu of flowers, consider donating to the Southern Tier Independence Center, the Broome County Country bus service, or a mental health or suicide-prevention organization. If you cannot contribute, please take time to look up at a full-moon or take a walk in the woods or provide a helping hand to someone who needs it. To forward condolences please visit Arrangements for the family are directed by the DeMunn Funeral Home.
Published in Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin on July 15, 2012