A Week of Waiting Rooms

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This past Sunday, September 6, 2009, my wonderful mother-in-law, Dawn Kenny, passed away. Last November this upbeat, energetic woman was diagnosed with an exceedingly rare form of cancer, cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) at the age of 48. There has been no shortage of exclamations from friends and family: “It’s so unfair!” “How can it be?!” But rule #1 on the playground is life’s not fair.

Doug and I managed to get back to Ottawa before she died. Doug was in the oilfield when my father-in-law called to say Dawn had been moved to the ICU, and it was a frantic 24 hours trying to arrange flights, get Riker into the kennel, get Doug back home, and cancel our holiday plans (we were booked for a hiking trip in Oregon and Washington). Saturday the 29th we sat waiting for our flights from Rock Springs to Salt Lake, then SLC to Denver, then on to Ottawa in busy concourses filled with people, noise, and light. The whole time we were zombies, emotionally and physically exhausted, worried about what we’d find at the other end.

Sunday we went to the ICU at the Ottawa General (my first time in one) and spent hours in another kind of waiting room: this one with dim lights, chairs clustered together for anxious families, a tv droning in the background in an attempt to distract young children from the fact that a loved one had a 40% chance of leaving the unit alive.

By Tuesday we were up in the fifth floor waiting room – plush leather couches huddled in a small room just outside the oncology wing. There were magazines and newspapers people stared at but didn’t read. There was a desk with a solitary phone because cells were not allowed. From time to time tearful individuals went in to to use it, saying things like “We need to make arrangements.”

The following Sunday we were back in stiff airport chairs, hours after we’d gotten the 4:30am phone call. The wait was over.

This morning I walked the dog past the First Assembly of God Church and noticed they’d changed the sign out front from the last time I’d gone by. Appropriately, it said something along the lines of “Suffering is an education that should not be ignored.” In my short time on this planet, I’ve certainly learned a few things: it should hurt when someone you love dies; we are all capable of withstanding and overcoming great pain; and you really can’t appreciate life’s exquisite moments without sadness.

From Dawn in life, I learned about joy and joie de vivre. In death, she’s still teaching me.


KENNY-PAGNUTTI, Dawn Adele (nee Atkins) (July 10, 1960 – September 6, 2009) Dawn Adele Kenny (nee Atkins) did not live with moderation. She loved fully, laughed loudly, traveled extensively, and was happiest when surrounded by friends, family, good food and wine. Dawn was also an accomplished shopper – whether at snappy boutiques or garage sales – and collected everything from nutcrackers to tea pots to shoes. So much of what she bought or made (she painted, knit, crocheted and refinished furniture) went to loved ones, but she gave most generously of her time and enthusiasm, which she shared with many as a volunteer at local schools, Vintage Wings of Canada, and other places.

She will be remembered for her willingness to try new things (like hip hop dancing in her mid 40’s), her fondness for lipstick, and her seemingly boundless energy. Her sons, husband, sisters, parents, grandfather, nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws (or outlaws as they were often called), friends and cats will all miss her.

In keeping with her personality and as per her wishes, a Funeral will not be held, but rather a celebration of life party will occur at a future date. Friends and family members will be invited and a notice will be sent out by email and posted in this newspaper. The family asks that no food or flowers be sent to the house. People are invited to give a donation in her name to the Canadian Cancer Society and can bring pink flowers when they attend the upcoming party. Thank you to the dedicated and caring staff at the Ottawa General Hospital’s fifth floor, ICU and Cancer Centre
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5 comments


  • Great, now I'm crying at the wellsite again… But I think you really captured the feeling.

    September 9, 2009
  • Cindy

    Condolences to you, your husband and all his family. I hope you can all revel in the spirit she possessed.

    September 9, 2009
  • My condolences Danielle.

    September 11, 2009
  • Just discovered your blog. It was a lovely obit – really sums up the great person Dawn was. She will continue to live in the hearts and memories of many.
    Elaine et al

    September 25, 2009
  • Thanks to all who have sent good wishes and kind words about the obit – although I could never hope capture all that was Dawn, I tried to give a taste of her joie de vivre and generosity.

    September 26, 2009

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