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Lessons of life and its end from 3 brave souls
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When we were children, we played “Mamas and Daddies” or “House.” It was a time when we would act out, in our own way, how grown-ups live within a family.

In my kindergarten class, it was called the “Housekeeping Center,” not the kitchen, although it had a child-size stove, refrigerator, cupboard and table, all made of wood.

It was all a part of learning how to live.

We also watched the families of television. There were the Cleavers of “Leave it to Beaver,” the Andersons of “Father Knows Best,” and the Stones of “The Donna Reed Show.”

We had a few single parents. There was Sheriff Andy Taylor and his son, Opie. There was Steve Douglas and his three sons, Mike, Robbie and Chip. An orphaned boy, Ernie, who was adopted by Steve, later replaced Mike.

All of these shows had the element of a widower. We never heard much about the late wife, but it was good TV.

Playing house and watching TV shows may not have taught us about life, but they gave us a glimpse of living.

As I grow older, I realize watching the lives of others sometimes prepares us for life’s final chapter, death.

Recently, three men I knew completed their battles with cancer. Their passing taught me so much about death. They each fought a heck of a fight, but they each gave a few life lessons about dying.

Wayne Dempsey was a member of an old family in Rome. He was a top administrator at Shorter College, a hometown college and his alma mater. When Ed Schrader came to Brenau University from Shorter, he brought Wayne with him.

Wayne was an accountant by trade, but he was a talented musician with prowess on the piano and French horn.

A few years back, Wayne got the news that he had cancer. He fought and fought again. An example of his determination was in December 2012, when his mouth was tender from chemotherapy. He was determined to play his horn in the church orchestra at the Christmas musical ... and did. He eventually went back to his hometown, where he continued to fight until a few weeks ago.

Dennis Pitts was a county commissioner, who was among the first staff members of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. He traveled all across North Georgia on Cagle’s behalf.

Then came the news of cancer. Cagle, who was at Dennis’ side for many of his difficult treatments, said the procedures were intended to kill the cancer but nearly killed his friend.

I saw him several times throughout the past few years and thought to myself that he would not be with us long. But he rallied and rallied again. He rode his bicycle 55 miles on his 55th birthday. Not bad for a man who had literally brushed death.

Then there was Emmett Holley. Emmett was a builder, who found out he had cancer in his eye, which had to be removed. It didn’t slow him down for long. He found a new zeal for life and then, in time, the cancer was back.

I’m told he encouraged others in the room with his strong faith while sitting in a chair getting chemotherapy. When his only means of exercise was water aerobics, he was the darling of his classmates, a group of older ladies.

TV dads may have shown us how some live. But these three men showed us how to squeeze every drop out of life. In doing so, they taught us that final lesson: how to die.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on

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