Chris Dixon (1972 – 2007)


(Chris liked this photo I snapped of him after a 503 class so much that he asked me to send it to him for possible use in his wedding album.)

It seems like a cruel joke that I'm in the midst of posting eulogies
I've done for my grandparents and then I get the news that Chris Dixon,
a PhD student at UWO, passed away yesterday morning.  Chris had been dealing
with health issues for awhile but had been doing better so his passing was unexpected.


Shea often says that she spent her childhood going to funerals, mostly for older relatives who had passed but she also had a kindergarten classmate who was killed in a motorbike accident so she experienced the loss of someone her own age very early. 

I, on the other hand, could count the funerals I went to when I was younger on one hand.  I was also unbelievably
fortunate to have not had any friends my own age die until only recently (even given the stupidity that growing up in small town Saskatchewan engenders.  I've had friends drive drunk into semi-trucks and get hit by trains when sober, fall off moving cars and into campfires, get spinal “stingers” that left them temporarily unable to walk while playing sports.  But no one I knew who was my age has died.)  

The first friend I lost who was close to my age was a few years ago – a young writer in Calgary
(who went by the nom de plume of “EatLardFudge” so you can tell why I
liked him!) was in his mid-30's when he had a heart attack and died. I had just turned 30 and this was a shocking development.  “Hmm, people in my decade sometimes die” I remember thinking, surprised at this cosmic revelation.

And now Chris Dixon (who was 34 if I'm doing my math right and which is the same age as I'll be in two weeks) has died as well, earning the dubious distinction of being the first friend of mine who was born within a year of myself to have died.  I know that the older you get, the more this will happen.  But as I said, I've lived in a bit of a bubble and thought it would be sometime in my 50's or 60's when this started happening, not when I was in my early 30's.  So this news hit me harder than you might expect the death of someone who you only crossed paths with briefly during “a year abroad” (as I think of time at FIMS).

[Edit: just to be clear, I have known people a few years older than myself who have died.  And younger people as well.  But no one who I was particularly close to and always in an “acquaintance” rather than a “friend” role.]

There are other reasons besides our common age why this hit me harder than I would've expected.  I attended a writer's conference quite a few years ago. After the AGM, I went up to a well-known
Saskatchewan writer and during the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I looked up to him as a mentor.  He  replied
that he didn't want to be rude but he wasn't sure what I meant – he had
never critiquing my writing and in fact, he didn't really know me
beyond being casual acquaintances.  I said that I thought of it as more
of a “mentorship-at-a-distance” role – I learned a lot from
talking to him, watching how he handled himself in various
situations, how he dealt with people. 

Although we were a bit closer than
I was with that unnamed writer, Chris filled a similar role for me at FIMS.  He was always very level-headed, giving and thoughtful in all of my
interactions with him.  Maybe it was because he was in the PhD program, maybe it was because of his health, maybe it was simply because of who he was as a person.  But he always seemed so much older than me and I was also shocked when I realised that he was my age, first at FIMS and again, hearing this news today. 

I'm rambling all over the place here but I also wanted to mention that I'm fascinated by the idea of people's “Digital Footprints” – the traces we leave, intentionally and otherwise, via our online activities.  I see that Chris' name has appeared on this blog a few times over the past year.  The search engine doesn't find it but Chris also regularly posted comments in response to my threads on librarianship, music and Ontario. 

Another form of your digital footprint is the e-mails you've sent (especially if you're a hoarder like me whose kept pretty much every e-mail I've received over the past ten years! )

One of the last e-mails I got from Chris hints at his struggles with his health but also captures his sense of humour:

Welcome to your Jesus year.
Mine will be ending on Sept 12 and it has been
quite the eventful span of time.
To your health (I am raising my coffee
cup).
Chris


The reference to the raised coffee cup was an ongoing joke between us.  On numerous occasions, I invited Chris to join me at the Grad Club for beer.  And on numerous occasions, he had to remind me that he no longer drank alcohol because of his health issues.

Chris left another digital footprint as well.  He had a Facebook page and it knocked the wind out of me to see that his last “status update” was “Chris is happy that he spent the day with his family.”  This post was made two days ago on Sunday.  I think that single line sums up what kind of a person Chris was, what his priorities were, better than this hastily drawn, semi-lucid, quasi-eulogy ever could.  A follow-up from his wife Sandra on his Facebook wall explains Chris' passing for anyone who may stumble across it and also to advise everyone to live life to the fullest – something I once again tell myself I'll do, even as I know that there will be roadblocks – monotonous work duties, choosing to watch TV instead of watching the sunset, going to sleep instead of going for a walk.)

Last year, at library school, I used to do a recurring feature called “Classmate of the Day” where I cited someone who had helped me out or said something funny or had just been a good person in general.  I believe Chris even “won” the award once or twice himself.  But what better time to bring it out of hiatus than now.

Classmate of the Day:  Chris Dixon

Comments 5

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Received this via e-mail today:
    DIXON DIXON Christopher Mathew. Suddenly, at age of 34 at home in the arms of his beloved wife on July 2, 2007. Predeceased by his paternal grandparents and his maternal grandfather, he leaves treasured memories with his best friend and soul mate Sandra, his grandmother Connie Lou Moore, his parents Janis and Dennis Dixon, and his younger brother Ryan. He will also be sadly missed by extended family and many dear friends. Chris was born in London but grew up all over southwestern Ontario as well as northern Ontario where his parents were both teachers. There, he gained a life-long love of nature and an appreciation of the sense of balance found in nature helped him find peace in his own life. His appetite for life-long learning began early at the Little Red School House in Lambeth and he continued to devour books and absorb knowledge throughout his life as he progressed towards completion of his PhD. His steel-trap memory was legendary and he wielded it to great advantage in such diverse settings as family arguments and trivia contests. Chris passionately loved music and it was here that he was most able to find expression and comfort for all of life's ups and downs. In recent years Chris developed a love of cooking and nurtured a secret dream of going to chef school. He kept family and friends laughing heartily with his brilliantly dry humour. Chris lived his life with quiet fortitude, never wanting pity or hero worship for his kidney failure. His short life was a gift to all those who knew him and he will live on in our hearts forever. Memorial visitation will be held on Thursday from 2:00 – 4:00 and 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. at the Westview Funeral Chapel, 709 Wonderland Road North, where the memorial service will be conducted on Friday, July 6th, 2007 at 11:00 a.m. Special thanks to Andrew House, Jane Ridley, and the entire UH dialysis team for their ongoing support.
    In honour of Christopher, please consider organ donation and discuss your wishes with your family. In lieu of flowers, please give generously to the Kidney Foundation of Canada. Email condolences may be sent to condolences@westviewfuneralchapel.com
    UWO FIMS Faculty Page link for Chris (as of July 4, 2007) – http://www.fims.uwo.ca/whoswho/facultypage.htm?PeopleId=117655

    Posted 05 Jul 2007 at 2:21 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    I'm a damn bitter guy. Too bitter often. I usually don't like people, at least that is my default position. Chris, however, was a genuinely great guy. I only had one class with him but he was always intelligent, friendly, and engaging. It's a sad thing that he died so young. Chris ain't the classmate of the day, he's the classmate of the year!
    I raise my beer stein to Chris, a fine fellow indeed!

    Posted 08 Jul 2007 at 1:09 am
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    I'm the opposite in many ways – I usually am too eager to like people and be friends with them right off the bat which means I sometimes get burned hard by this.
    That's why it's always so rewarding when I make friends with someone like Chris and find out that they're just genuinely good people – the types who would not only give you the shirt off their back if you needed it but take time to tell you the story of how they acquired the shirt or some interesting fact about how it was made or some piece of knowledge about shirt making you never knew.
    In keeping with what I mentioned in my post, I won't raise a beer stein but instead, a coffee cup to the man (and I don't drink coffee usually!)

    Posted 08 Jul 2007 at 4:07 pm
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    Chris' status line struck a chord with me as well. As did the last photo's he added to his facebook profile… some of his favourites as I recall, very symbolic.

    Posted 20 Aug 2007 at 9:12 pm
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    I thought both were very touching things to have as some of his last comments, digital or otherwise. Sometimes you remember the power of the Internet to connect people – across time, distance and even between life and death.

    Posted 26 Aug 2007 at 4:17 pm

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