(from Vassar: You never knew her, but Denise, or PumabyDesign, was one of the principal engines of this veterans site. She managed several other sites, built still others, while locked into a small apartment tending to a wheelchair bound husband. Twitter knew he by her logo:
Dave, who wrote this eulogy, built this website, and has been a friend of mine for years. I introduced Denise to Dave a little more than a year, as she had technical questions I couldn’t manage.
There is a story in there about yet another website manager who passed away about 3-4 years ago all because of VA ineptitude and indifference, which I’ll work up later.
* * *
On June 30th, 2019, after a mercifully-brief and terribly unforgiving illness, Denise passed away in a hospital bed somewhere in Brooklyn New York. I don’t know when she was born, I don’t know where in Brooklyn she lived, I never met her in person… no idea what she looked like… and I never talked to her on the phone. And yet, even as I write this, I feel like I knew her my whole life and am as overwhelmed by sadness and grief as if I had lost a sister.
In many ways I did, I suppose, and in many ways anyone that ever reads this will discover that they, too, lost a sister themselves. We are all brothers and sisters in the eyes of God, after all, and each of us lost a sister we never met on June 30th, 2019 in Brooklyn New York.
Denise was a mother and grandmother and wife and daughter and sister and niece and cousin and best friend. She was caretaker of her wheelchair-bound husband who suffers from MS, she was the island of refuge for her almost-daily visiting grandson (the shining light in her life), and she was a tireless and fierce web designer and operator of two websites. She had a love-hate relationship with her beloved New York that only a native New Yorker could ever fully appreciate. She loved her country and she worried about what was happening to it and how alarmingly numb so many people had become, in recent years, to the mess being made of it by the so-called social and mainstream media oligarchy and by the politicians in Washington DC.
Above all of this, and more important to her than anything else except her family was her relationship with, and faith in, God and His Divine Providence.
In the days leading up to what would become an unsuccessful surgery meant to save her life, she told our mutual friend Vassar that she was afraid. Who wouldn’t be? But, in classic Denise style, she wasn’t afraid of death nearly so much as she was afraid for her husband and her grandson and what would become of them if she didn’t win what was ultimately her last fight.
Puma by Design
[Note:] What follows is a couple thousand more words that tell the longer story about Denise… PumabyDesign around the WWW… from both my personal experience and her own words. If you are still reading along, I encourage you to go with me to the end so that you might get a feel for this amazing lady. Go grab a beverage and put up your feet for what will be, hopefully, a good read.
I went back through all of our electronic correspondence and grabbed a few things that I think will help you know Denise a little better, and appreciate a little more just how much we lost when God called her home.
“Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”
In my younger days, before Al Gore invented the internet, human interaction only took place in person or on the telephone. The written word, of course, had been around since the sunrise of human civilization but that was, and still is, terribly impersonal. To truly understand each other we needed to look at each other in the eye, observe the body language and listen closely to the tone and tenor of another person’s words. This was… And really is, still, to avoid (or at least minimize) misunderstanding and potential conflict.
The big thing people of mine and Denise’s generation gained with the advent of the internet, however, is that we could find and interact with people of like minds that we would have otherwise never known existed. She actually said, in one of her messages below, that:
Because of the internet, email, blogging, etc., the world is a less lonely place.
… and she was exactly right. The younger generations, with their gadgets and social media toys, may use this new technology for a whole host of different reasons but, for us so-called “old” people, it opens a whole new world that we are becoming decreasingly physically able to interact with. Thus, we can sit comfortably at our desks, or with our laptops resting comfortably on our crossed legs in front of the TV, and still be a part of a bigger world we would otherwise never have been able to engage.
In the generation or two elapsing since the WWW first buzzed through Ma Bell’s wires, pretty much everything we thought we knew – and had taken for granted – about human interaction has become little more than an obscure footnote in the history of humankind. Somehow, at least to our generation, the notion of courtesy, basic decency, mutual respect, manners, and civility got kicked to the curb. But let not your hearts be troubled… Our children and grandchildren surgically attaching their I-gadgets to their palms and retinas notwithstanding, there are still pearls that can be found in these rising Seas of technology oysters.
Denise was one of those pearls.
Denise first reached out to me, via what we like to call cold email (unsolicited), back in August of 2018. She introduced herself and mentioned a mutual friend, pen name Vassar, and told me that she had been working with him on several Web projects. He had suggested to her that we connect, thinking I might be able to help her with what she was trying to do to help him.
I immediately liked her in that way you like someone who knocks on your front door, out of the blue, in the middle of the day, and immediately has your undivided attention. That first exchange was all business and I gave her the information she had asked for along with the usual niceties old school grown-ups exchange with one another; we were polite, she was appreciative, and I happily helped a stranger in need to solve a problem. We exchanged a few tidbits of background information on each other’s history in our line of work and that was the end of it.
A few days later, after our initial conversation had helped her solve her immediate problem, she reached out again to tell me that my advice had helped and to give a little more background about what got her in her initial bind. It was our subsequent exchanges that confirmed my initial suspicion that this was a very special lady.
This first email has been altered – some sections removed – in the interest of brevity – but is unedited in content and form from the original.
Denise found the blogging world on her own but learned about the design and administration end of the business from a now-deceased writer that Vassar and I have followed for years. He was talented, prolific, and genuinely what his website was named… Grumpy. If you miss the sad irony at the beginning of Denise’s message here, go back and re-read it:
Good morning Haystack,
Pray this morning finds you well and in good spirits.
For someone that I have never met in person, Phil played a major role in my life. He taught me everything that I know about the back-end of a website and more meaning those lesson that I pretended to listen to. Phil used to say, “You’re going to need to know this stuff when I’m no longer here.” My response was always, “Aw come on Phil, you’re going to live forever.” Although forever the gentleman, I could tell that my response annoyed Phil.
Even up to the week prior to his death when he told me that he was thinking about leaving me his website and I responded as I usually do. I should have known then how close he was to moving on because for the first time, he did not appear annoyed. His passing was a tragedy of red tape and a screw up by the Veterans Administration. Had the VA given this man his much-needed oxygen tank, Phil might be here today.
As for myself, I am a native New Yorker, born raised and still living in the borough of Brooklyn. Yes, we do exist.
My father died when I was a child. I got married young and remain so until this day. My husband has multiple sclerosis and is wheelchair bound. His mother is Cherokee or Seminole (sorry, can’t recall which) and his father, a Black American carpenter from Savannah Georgia. Unfortunately, my family is all that he has since the elders on Jimmy’s side never had children.
My grandmother was first generation American from Barbados and my grandfather and family is from Florence South Carolina.
Unlike far too many Black Americans today, my American roots are important to me. I am brought to tears just by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or by singing the Star-Spangled Banner or the words, “America! America! God shed His grace on thee And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!”
I am also a former Democrat. Now THAT is a long story but the clencher came in 2006 when a former friend and co-worker called to ask if I wanted to get in on the ground floor of a committee being put together for the first Black President. I asked his name and it was at that point that a once good relationship began to like a snowball roll downhill. That is the moment that countless associations, friendships with neighbors, co-workers even family members began to an end. By the end of 2008, I lost track of the many people who blacklisted me, blocked my calls and emails.
When one door closes, another opens. I started blogging two years earlier and even though I could find no like-minded people in New York City or amongst my acquaintances, the internet opened the door enabling me to reach out to fellow patriots and like-minded individuals.
Dave, I suspect that you would understand where I’m coming from since you lived in the northeast. Gosh, it gets no more Liberal, these days Progressive than New Hampshire and probably like living in Brooklyn, New York except for all the gosh darned illegal aliens.
There are so many illegal aliens in New York City that I, an American citizen, is viewed by many here as the outsider, a feisty one at that. It is because of them that I no longer recognize my beloved borough of Brooklyn. It angers me that politically correct “native New Yorkers” allowed elitist Progressives and illegals to turn Brooklyn into a cesspool.
Oh boy, I talk a lot.
Well, I must make second cup of coffee and get some content up before my grandson comes over for the weekend, so I am going to get back to work. Btw, I noticed a post or two of yours over at Unified Patriots. Do you mind if I repost them at my websites which I do with most of UP’s content? My websites are PUMABydesign001’s Blog and Grumpy Opinions. The first blog listed was my primary until Phil passed. I began that Blog back in 2008, maybe earlier but not by much.
I subscribed yesterday to your website, https://www.hermitchronicles.com/ and once Josiah returns home at the end of the weekend, I’ll go in and read some of your treasures. Looks like some good stuff over there.
Time for me to shut up and start typing.
It’s great hearing from you Haystack or Dave which do you prefer? Addressing me as Denise in private and PUMA etc. online is perfect.
I responded to this on Labor Day 2018. The gist of my response was that I agreed wholeheartedly with her on the contrast between how we treat the people that are here illegally and how we treat veterans. I also told her how much I respected and admired the richness of her history and family story and how impressed I was by how similar we were in our feelings about God, country, and family. One particular passage in my response worth sharing here, verbatim, put a finer point on that:
Good morning young lady
I started a response to this email 2 hours ago and had quite a long and flowing series of comments and observations that I was proofreading before wiping all of it out and needing to start over:-) One of the victims of my strokes is what little short-term memory I had left so… Since I don’t remember all of what I said… Let me reconstruct this as best I can.
[…snip] You know, reading about your heritage and my having already shared mine with you, I am struck by… and it warms my heart that… despite the differences in where we come from, you and I are the same people. We believe in God, we do whatever it takes to nurture and care for our families, and we love our country and would do whatever it takes to defend it and keep it safe for our children and our grandchildren and the generations yet to come. And it breaks my heart that’s so many people put so much time money and effort into pointing out all the ways in which we are different rather than celebrating the myriad ways in which we are the same. But this fact is the whole of the reason why this country has gone to hell in a handbasket.
Several days later, Denise came back with a little more about Phil / Grumpy and about the final day of his life. Though matter-of-fact in tone, it was easy to glean how sad she was about Grumpy’s easily-avoidable death and how different things might have been if only the right people had cared the right amount at the right time. A senseless and tragic death under any circumstances, but totally unacceptable that a veteran was allowed to die because of bullshit red tape.
She continued, further down, with a beautiful dissertation on her life and her viewpoint and her perspective about the world around her – both how it was, and how it had come to be over the course of the last 40 years. She could never have known that these words would survive her and be shared with countless people she never met by a person she never met that had grown to admire and respect her more than she would ever know.
Good morning Dave,
I cannot figure out why the federal government is unable to get a handle on the treatment and care of our veterans. After all, when duty called and for the love of country, these men and women came forward. The sacrifices that they and their families made demand that we, as a people, nation, on the federal, state, and local levels take care of our veterans.
Having never met Phil face to face, we communicated with each other often before, after and during hospital stays. He had to travel 50 miles between home and the VA Hospital which he did faithfully, on his own. He spent the last month of his life traveling back and forth three times a week trying to get the approval of and secure an oxygen tank. Five weeks earlier, he had his final hospital visit and from thereon, he had to call EMS who would race against the clock when needed to give oxygen until one day they arrived too late.
Good grief. Why in this day and time are our veterans subject to this sort of neglect? And yes, you are 100% correct, the homeless and illegal aliens receive far better treatment. In fact, illegal aliens have been moved to the front of the line in front of every American. It is shameful.
As for Labor Day, my plans changed at the last moment. My grandson, at the last minute, stayed home this weekend after the arrival of his cousins from Boston. On his mother’s side, the family is from Jamaica and as I am sure you know, Labor Day weekend, heck the whole month of August is party time for people from the Caribbean so much so that this American does not venture into certain neighborhoods during Labor Day weekend. The traffic is a nightmare and for the most part, every flag on display except the American flag.
My son heads over to the parade or into these areas for the good times and the landscape (1/2, may ¾ naked women wearing sparkles and feathers). He stopped by the other day afterwards with the American flag draped over him and donning the colors red, white, and blue. I don’t know how he does it. Traffic is a nightmare for the whole borough Labor Day weekend. A 20 to 30-minute drive morphs into a 2 or 3-hour drive.
Brooklyn has changed. The West Indian Day parade which began somewhere around 1972 is held on Eastern Parkway, a main thoroughfare that goes from downtown BK to what was once the border of Brownsville. This should have been the first warning sign that we were losing New York but socialism comes in drips and drabs.
Up until 1968, we used to have pro-American/military parades on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans’ Day. The parades drew out everyone regardless of ethnicity and religion, we were proud Americans who carried our flags and love of country as the badge of honor that it continues to be until this day. After the parades, we had family BBQ’s and picnics. We even celebrated Brooklyn Day which was a smaller version of the other parades but as heart-warming.
I am saddened and bitter that today’s patriotic parades in NYC are a shell of what they once were. Political correctness is the order of the day.
When we moved to our present location 40 years ago, for several years, I felt home. I live a few miles from the Floyd Bennett Field. We used to enjoy the huge military trucks going back and forth to Floyd Bennett and our soldiers traveling back and forth. Somehow since the area like the rest of the city is now infested with illegals, I don’t see the trucks or the soldiers any more. I’m not even sure that they’re coming and going via Floyd Bennett these days courtesy of the Marxist stupid New Yorkers elected to destroy the city.
I am surrounded by anti-American libs who are always for one reason or another on the warpath against this country. At the same time, I am vocal about where I stand to hell with those who don’t like it. It’s very easy to feel alienated in New York City these days. Most people, even if they feel as I do, will not speak on it and far too many have bought into group think and political correctness.
I only stay because of my grandson and son. My husband refuses to move and I want out in the worst way. The environment here New York has become toxic for retirees. The family elders have passed on. My cousins and I are now that generation, while I love them, I will not tolerate their shaming and guilt-tripping of me for not voting for Obama. I also disapprove of their victim mentality which just drives me nuts. For some strange reason, no one asked me about the 2016 presidential election.
How sad is it that so many families suffer a similar dysfunction across the nation but I stand my ground. Thus, I am thankful for the internet. Because of the internet, email, blogging, etc., the world is a less lonely place. On top it all, I know that God has my back.
I believe that I mentioned that I am a former Democrat. I began to sense that the left wasn’t quite my bag in the early 80’s, then again in the 90’s. Eventually, I gained access to the internet which opened a whole boatload of information to me. Around 2005, 2006 I went out on permanent disability due to health reasons. I was freed up to do hours upon hours of research. I went back on everything that occurred throughout the past few decades and it was at that point that the feeling in the back of my head that the Democratic Party was not my cup of tea was confirmed.
Such revelations left me shocked and outraged. For several months, I was the angriest that I had ever been my whole life and trust me Dave, for a Democrat, that’s a lot. I prayed on it, asked God for forgiveness of certain ideas that I once supported and then declared war. By then I realized that it takes too much energy to be mad all the time. In fact, it was a waste of energy and time and so while my earlier posts reflected my anger, as time went on I mellowed yet the message remained the same.
I remember the first time that I informed my best friend, Selma (God rest her soul) that I was leaving the Democratic Party.
Selma was the only one who understood but she did become unnerved, for a while when I informed her that I would no longer be politically correct and that I would say Merry Christmas whenever I wanted and so on.
We went on to have a few rough years in our friendship as Progressive ideology crept in between us but towards the end, we worked out our differences.
Being angry is too darned time consuming.
There is nothing wrong with the hermit lifestyle. One deserves peace, speaking of which, I have subscribed to your website. Good stuff.
I do not venture out as often as I used to because everyone except myself appears to be fixated on Trump….in a bad way. So yes, Dave, the hermit lifestyle sounds rather welcoming right now. My 5 ½ room apartment is my sanctuary and God has my back.
Well, I would love to keep going but Josiah is scheduled to arrive in the coming hours and he’ll spend the rest of the week here.
Have a blessed day, Dave.
Mine was the last response in this initial introductory thread. I thanked her again for her interest in supporting my non-political website and told her how much I cherished our back and forth about our respective lives… past and present. A snippet worth sharing from that response:
Good morning Denise
I am very impressed with how busy you clearly are given the amount of content you push forward every day. Since subscribing to both of your sites, I get notifications whenever something goes live and I smile as I think – this is a very busy lady – and I am honored to call you a friend Keep it up! Know that, even if it’s only one person whose life or Outlook or attitude or behavior might be changed for the better because of your voice then know you are truly doing God’s work.
May all of your days be filled with God’s blessings and I look forward to talking to you again soon.
Between mid-September 2018, and late February 2019, Denise and I add a number of exchanges that were of a primarily professional nature… website stuff a lot of people don’t know very much about… Or want to. We exchanged lovely Christmas messages and prayers with each other but were otherwise very busy with techno-geek stuff.
In late February of 2019, Vassar reached out to me to let me know that Denise had been hospitalized for what turned out to be almost 3 weeks for a series of tests and observation. I reached out to her to see how she was doing and let her know I was thinking of her and praying for her. She responded that she was still waiting for answers but assured me she was on the mend, trying to get back into her work routine and rebuild her strength and stamina.
I never heard another peep about her health stuff… But over the course of the next 2 months, the normal Denise was sending emails about technical issues, asking for help where needed, or guidance with solutions she had devised to solve problems.
Just normal Denise doing normal Denise stuff.
On May 26th I received a group email from Vassar via Denise:
Since we last communicated, I am feeling better physically wise. The capsules of papaya enzymes subscribed to me by one of my doctors is doing what it must for the digestive system. There are still bumps in the road but better than it was.
It is a good thing, too because I have spent the past five business days running back and forth to my doctors to obtain medical clearances (only 2). This morning I went through pre-surgical testing received preparedness exercises, a kit, etc.
I will have surgery on one week from today, May 30. The anesthesiologists and my oncologist’s assistant informed me that the surgery itself will take hours, procedure of which will be decided once they open me up, look around and then move on from there. They mentioned something about “the whipple procedure” and as I understand it, it is a huge surgery/hours’ long procedure.
Since I will meet with my cardiologist once more (Memorial Day), I do not expect to post anything else online before the surgery. Afterwards, that is a whole different ball of wax, but I will take it one day at a time.
Please update our friends up accordingly. I am asking for their prayers while at the same time keeping each and everyone in mine.
Denise had that surgery and we never heard from her again. She died 30 days to the day after that procedure was performed.
It’s funny, you know, the things you think about when you are told someone you care about has died before you’ve had the chance to say goodbye. And of all the things that have gone through my mind as I have put this mini-biography of Denise’s life together, it is that- even as she was preparing for major surgery, and even as she surely knew her chances for the worst possible outcome-she ends what became her final message to us all by making sure we knew that she was keeping us in her prayers.
And 4000 words later that last sentence says everything you need to know about who Denise was, what she brought to the table of a human race, and what we lost with her passing.
“There’s a brand new star up in heaven tonight, shining down on us, glorious and bright. ” ~ The Oakridge Boys
Rest in peace sister Denise, you were loved and you will be missed but you will not be forgotten by this author.