Remembering Dennis Ferman 1942 - 2016
by Thomas Riddle
September 14, 2016
I met Dennis Ferman in 1977 when he and I were Peace Corps Volunteers in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific. Since then he and I, until a week or so before he died, were in constant contact.
He had a tremendous influence on my life. Dennis encouraged me to go to my first ten-day meditation retreat in early 1979 and later that year he encouraged me to go to India. I visited him in Oregon in 1998 and he visited me twice in Thailand and then in 2009 we spent two weeks together in New Zealand.
In the last few years he has been my primary health adviser. He wrote most of http://thomasriddle.net/health. He was planning to revise that site one more time, but alas he left the world before he could do that.
Below is his obituary as it appeared in his home-town paper, Dennis wrote it, minus the date of departure. Below that are the last few things Dennis wrote to me followed by a description of his passing written by his sister. This page finishes with a some pictures of Dennis.
Looking back on Dennis's life, a few things stand out. He was a real "what you see is what you get" kind of man. And although he would never have said that he was "proud" to be a meditation teacher in the tradition of U Ba Khin and S. N. Goenka, he took the job very seriously and it fitted his style perfectly in that he was a very generous and caring man who effortlessly kept a standard of morality that was beyond reproach. He was also a very committed meditator and meditation teacher.
As a meditation teacher he traveled all over the world offering his services for free. If any of his former students or old friends want to add anything to the remarks here, you can write me at thomasriddle at gmail.com and I'll post them here.
The newspaper did not print the final few lines as Dennis wrote them:
A Variation on an Epitaph Found on an Old Tombstone
As I was then So you are now.
As I am now So you shall be.
Spend not your life chasing fortune and fame,
But seek liberation diligently.
O mortal, when you were born, you cried while others laughed.
Perform such deeds that when dying, you laugh while others cry.
On JULY 27, 2016 Dennis wrote me:
Here is a rough overview of my treatment situation.
I still take the cesium chloride + potassium chloride to try to counter the BCC that has locally advanced to the bone. I stopped the hydrazine sulfate that is supposed to help this. But because it has an MAO-Inhibitor side-effect of tyramine insensitivity, it destroyed my sense of taste for food. I now eat slowly and have a little taste, and can eat prunes and dried fruit again for potassium even though they have high tyramine levels. I feel light-headed and stagger somewhat. That seems to be what walking does for me -- prove I can still function. Plus it moves lymph and blood through my immune system and airs out the lungs. But the walks are getting harder.
When I went to Baldwin City recently to check out an assisted care facility near the leisure center for the elderly that I have been accepted to, I was not impressed. It was crowded with many elderly people in obviously bad health, plus other issues. I'll have to see if I'm up to moving to the leisure living dorm in September. My friends from Shawnee have offered to help me move. But I need to be able to function fairly normally to live there. Time will tell. I'm very tired tonight. I thought I'd better keep you informed of my health in detail because we don't know where it will lead, and when.
August 2, six days before he died, Dennis wrote the below. I had just updated Thomasriddle.net/health with a detail about stevia:
Do you use much stevia? I find the Now brand organic stevia to taste the best, as far as stevia goes. I ordered a pound of it a while back which is unopened in my refrigerator. Vitaglo.com sells it for about $53 whereas Vitacost.com sells it for about $60. I would be willing to send you half of it when you return from France, assuming my sister would be interested in the other half.
It's interesting that you mentioned my perspective on life. I lack the time and energy right now to delve into it - with all my health rites and rituals each day. But perhaps 15 years ago I wrote somewhat of an obituary for myself that might be given to the small-town Burlington newspaper since I had returned there in 2001 to be with my mother in her last five years. But there are now hardly any friends or relatives there who would remember. A couple of days ago I deleted that draft, but I found it still in my trash. I'll cut out the small-town stuff and will send it. It is brief, and you can cut out what else seems irrelevant.
I find that the suffering of old age, sickness, and dying to be a drag. But I also look forward to experiencing the final moments of life to see where it leads.
Each morning I start the day by listening to doha chants by Mr. Goenka who recorded over 500 of them during his final days. They are sent out by Pariyatti book store. This one came this morning and is relevant to all mindfulness meditations.
Time for my morning shower.
At my request, Dennis's sister, Carolyn, wrote the below. She also gave me permission to print it here. Reading it causes me to think that perhaps Dennis, although we can't know for sure, may have gotten the death that he always wanted. What he wanted to do was to mindfully that is, knowingly, go into death and observe it. If you read between the lines of what his sister wrote me below, I think you will see that is very possibly what happened. He may have succeeded in observing his own death very closely thanks to many years of meditation and because he very carefully monitored everything he ate and drank, his exercise level, and he very carefully, scientifically, managed about 50 supplements. So when the end came, part of his body could not continue, but the rest of it, I imagine, was in excellent condition as was his mind. If he hadn't have been so utterly careful about his health, I believe that he would've died decades ago.
Dennis passed away in his apartment so I am not sure of the circumstances. We had a code where he either emailed me or texted me each day so I knew he was OK. He emailed me Saturday night, 8/6, which I didn't see until Sunday. It was nothing out of the ordinary - just something he researched and thought I might like to read. You probably received many similar emails from him. On Monday morning, I remarked that I hadn't heard from him. I figured I would call when I got home from work but I was informed mid-day that he passed away. The coroner said he died 8/8 so I assume it was very early morning. He didn't want to go to a care facility of any type and I'm glad he didn't have to.
Dennis had things squared away in his usual manner. We got his apartment cleaned out and sold his car. I miss him but know he had no fear of death and I know he appreciated your friendship.
Here are a few Pictures
Above and below is Dennis in 1966. These pictures were sent to me by an an old friend of Dennis', Gerald Jack Chrisman.
Above shows Dennis in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1966
Above is Dennis on the left during a Peace Corps meeting in Tonga in 1977.
The two pictures below were sent to me by Will Keener who taught with Dennis at Atenisi University in Tonga in 1978.
The picture above was undoubtedly taken in the staff house
of Atenisi University in Nuku'alofa, Tonga where Dennis worked,
via the Peace Corps, as a teacher. I worked there as well.
In 2005 Dennis visited me in Bangkok.
In 2005 here we are sitting in a park with friends.
In 2009 Dennis and I met in New Zealand and spent two weeks in the hot springs there.