My Life–Then & Now

“Facing My Own Mortality”

Let me say up front…No, this isn’t a story to evoke letters of support or sympathy from readers!

I’ve put a lot of thought into whether I should reveal what’s going on in my life at this time. My wife is the only other one that knows; I’ve not told other family and friends and at this time have no intensions of doing so but I thought I owed quite a few people in the online world some kind of explanation.

I’m diabetic and have one kidney; I lost the other at age nine and I’m now fifty-five. The first time I heard that I only had so long to live doctors had given me until age seven. The second time was age nine, and the last time was when I was twelve and they said I wouldn’t live beyond twenty…as I said I am now fifty-five so I don’t put a lot of stock into doctors predictions and have not received one of late.

My diabetes was under control, for the most part, until about three weeks ago when my blood sugar started rise and I was unable to control it myself. My single kidney is faltering

I’m weak, tired, sick most of the time, and depressed all of the time so I thought that by putting my feelings down on paper, and on my blog, it may help me sort things out. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the short term and I’m avoiding looking to far forward…in stead I’ve found myself looking back and thinking about how I got here.

So, as I feel well enough and can make myself do it I will be revealing, and shearing with you, some of my life up until now in the days to come.

A Disquieting Passage 

I was born on December 25, 1952 the son of a sailor and a housewife. Within the first four years of my life I had become a burden and an embarrassment to my father.

My father was a proud man, his parents had died when he was eleven years old and he lived on his own in the woods, near where his home had been, in rural North Carolina. By the time he was fifteen years old WW II had begun, and he was on a ship headed to war. Because he had to find his own way to survive and do everything for himself he couldn’t understand, nor tolerate, any form of weakness in someone else; not even his four year old son.


At the age of four I was still wetting myself and my mother was convinced that there was something wrong with me; my father on the other hand, sided with the many doctors who said that the only thing wrong was that I was a spoiled brat.


By that summer, when I was four and a half, my mother had found a urologist at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia who said if there was anything physically wrong with me he would find it. So, as my father held me down, the doctor performed a stethoscopy on me in what looked like a gymnasium on a metal table. I remember it well and the screams of pain that projected from my mouth and echoed through the large room.


Later that month, I was to overhear my first death sentence as I heard the doctor say, “There is nothing that could be done…” and “He is not likely to live beyond the age of seven.”       


A kind of side note that recently entered an email conversation with a dear friend… 08/01/08




When I was a kid my mom used to take us to church sometimes and she believed in God…I thought cool, that gives me something to believe in. 


When I was 7 I had reconstructive bladder surgery and was on the operating table for over 10 hours. During surgery I woke up…everything was blurry but I could make out the doctor and nurses and a bright light. The last thing I remember seeing was a nurse leaning over me with a syringe that had a very long needle and then suddenly I was seeing it all from above and to the side of the bright light which hung over the operating table. It didn’t last but only a couple of seconds and then I woke in the recovery room. From that day on I didn’t think I had anything to believe in. I knew I couldn’t believe in my parents because I had overheard them talking about maybe it would be best for me and everyone else if I did pass away as the doctors predicted I would. I no longer believed in God.


With nothing to believe in and everyone in my life seeming very cruel and uncaring at 8 I tried to jump out of a 7th floor window and was pulled back in by the guy in the bed next to me, he was a sailor…I had told him I was going to jump. Years later I remember seeing on TV people talking about similar experiences except they saw a bright light and knew it was the way to heaven…I knew they were lying! I’ve never believed since. 


That sailor was the only real friend I ever had as a kid. Between the age of 4 and 12 I spent most of my time in the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth in the mens ward….I was the only kid. That sailor and I spent almost every day together for over a year as he slowly died of cancer. Every month or two I would get to go home for a couple of days and I hated it. I was always afraid that when I went back to hospital my friend would be gone. I helped him all I could and he helped me all he could…it seemed that all either of us had was each other and when he died I was 9 and all the steam went out of me along with any hope!


I was not supposed to live beyond the age of 20 and had no plans beyond that. I had never really been to school and never had a tutor. I became a anything goes kinda guy and when I kept living I got madder than I already was…I’ve been pretty mad ever since! Oh well, that’s life and it sucks!!!!



Continued-May 24, 2009-05-24



In August of my fourth year of life we went to visit my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins who lived in Roanoke Rapids, NC; I loved them dearly. This was the place where I received kind words and felt loved.


My cousin Mary who was about five years older than me was so pretty and I would do anything for or with her asked me to go with her back to her house to get something. She got her bicycle and I got on the back finder and we went off the quarter mile through the path in the woods. On the way back she hit some large pine roots that were above groung on the path and the bike jumped to one side and my ankle went into the spokes removing all of the skin from my left ankle.


Scared to death, screaming and crying, Mary ran back to my grandparents to get help. My folks took me to the local hospital where they cleaned and bandaged my foot and we stopped so I could let Mary know that it wasn’t her fault and headed home.


A week later my foot hurt so bad I could not stand on it and my folks took me to the closes Military hospital in Newport News, Va. There they determined that my wound was full of gangrene and admitted me to the hospital.


They hooked me up with an I.V. gave me antibiotics and put me in what seemed to me a very large room full of injured and sick kids. There was constant screaming and crying and as I looked around the room it was easy for even a four year old to see that there was plenty of reason for it.


One child, a black boy about my age was burned all over his body and they kept him naked and in a crib and I rarely saw anyone give him much attention. He was the worse as far as I could and I cried for him, his loneliness, his pain, and the kinship I felt with him by being there and never know what was going to happen to you next…I cried for me too.


I remember there was some talk of amputating my foot and once I found out what that meant it seemed unimaginable. I don’t know how long it was but eventually they cut all of the gangrenous meat out of my ankle and foot and after a month in hospital when I was healing they grafted skin from my upper left leg to use on my ankle. I would spent the next year on crutches.


When I was released from the army hospital I began spending three days out of every week on the urology ward at the navy hospital in Portsmouth. Test after test and every week a stethoscopy twice a week to try and stretch my bladder.        




This will be continued as my mood permits.

43 responses to “My Life–Then & Now

  1. Hey Dennis,
    I’m so sorry to hear about your health. I just want you to know I think about you all the time and constantly look for your pictures. I think you already know I consider you a close friend, even though we’ve never met. It’s not the same on flickr without you. You were one of my bright spots every morning before work. I’m not on as much anymore myself. I’ve gotten busy doing other things in the house. Oh well, I guess things change. You hang in there and keep us updated on your progress, and remember there are people everywhere thinking of you and your wife.
    Your friend Don

  2. Hi, Dennis! I keep checking back for news as I continue to wish for your full recovery. Your photos are so inspirational to me. Just not the same on flickr without you. Take care! Debbie

  3. Wow! We share a birthday! I was born on Dec. 25, 1955!

    This is a great start to your memoirs. It is captivating and makes us want to hear more. I hope you feel well enough to write some more soon.

  4. DL…
    Just wanted you to know that Bless the Light, quite literally took my breath away! What a moving shot….The forest is my cathedral, and this took me back to the times that I would walk in the forests of West Virginia.
    Have you ever thought about publishing a book of your life in photos? As Corina stated, this is a great start to your memoirs, and with the photography to go along with it, would be utterly amazing! Something to think about, if you haven’t already!
    As always, you are in my thoughts and prayers my friend!

  5. Just found your blog page. Your photos are great!!!! Life is not fair but what you give will be returned to you. Bless your journey. Jeanne

  6. Pingback: Wesak greeting from Buddhist Maha Vihara Temple « Visuallens

  7. As a young adult – I would love to hear more about you. I am already in shock about what I have read about you and I think you deserve to write a book, you deserve to be heard. Already I do not know you but I know you’ve had quite the life, and I think you need to know that some one you don’t even know cares.

    I know what its like in life to not always get what you expect, but God has blessed you with the life that doctors could not garuntee.

    I will pray for you, and hopefully when you get better you can write more.

    -Amber – A child of God and a new friend

  8. Oh my ! It is the first time I have visited here, and I wish only the best for you, your beautiful work and talent, and the strength to write your story.

  9. I just wanted to let you know that I have never seen more beautiful photos in all of my life! God intended you to live a long and blessed life. You have blessed me with the chance to even view your photos! When I saw your photos they took my breath away! I am a writer so I appreciate beautiful art! But words cannot adequately even describe your work!! Just know that you are a blessing to many and for that you are truly blessed!!! I want to purchase one of your photos. I need to wait until after I move on July 1st. Ironically…i am moving to the Blue Ridge Mountains to a small town called Mineral Bluff. I am a single mom so money is tight, but as soon as I get settled I will contact you so I can buy one of your magnificent pieces of work!! God Bless to you and your family!!

  10. If you need a good writer I would be willing to help you or even just help you get started!! I think a memroire is an excellent idea!!!!

  11. Hi Dennis,
    It’s me Garry from the old Poplar Hall Drive apartments we all used to live in. I’ve been traveling up to Va Beach lately and you’ve been on my mind so I started looking for you and came to your blog. You have a beautiful web site and it just shows that your talents have no limits.
    You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Hello Dennis,

      I, like Garry, believe that your talents are limitless! You can do anything you set your mind to. You have demonstrated this over and over in your blessed life…

      Those that know you, understand they are in the presence of greatness!

      Oh, and “hello” Garry, I was your neighbor at Poplar Halls Apts. back in the day!

  12. Pingback: Update to “My Life Then & Now” « Visual Thoughts

  13. Love your honesty, love your blog, wishing you health and happiness, this world is a better place with people lke you in it….

  14. Admire your photography, your resilience and resourcefulness. Hope all goes well. You’ve been through so much already, would only be fair….
    Take care.
    Greetings from Berlin, Germany

  15. This story is important. It teaches so many things. Life does suck. I haven’t the life that you have, and you know not of my story… it is important to share our stories… it is all we have. This story is one I shall not forget… you see… we all live the same lifetime… we simply are blind…

    your life then and now… I do not know you, yet there is something in your photography and thoughts which hold a wisdom… and i believe your life then and now is captured here… simultaneously

    Enjoyed my visit. Thank You

  16. I saw your photos on flickr and decided to look at your site. I was moved by your story and can relate to some things. I do want to tell you that when I look at your beautiful photos, I see your gift for seeing like an artist. The beauty you capture in Nature just reeks of God’s hand. I am at peace at the moment with God and my faith in Him has gotten me through some really rough times. I wish you only the best and hope you are able to continue your awesome work.

  17. wow you have moved me… reading this made me learn to value myself and my life a lot… your strength is an enduring one… reading this and your works inspired me… i am on my lowest point now, emotionally and have been struggling to be more alive and positive… and yet by reading your words it made me think that there is more to life than just feeling empty and useless…thanks for sharing your inspiring works here.

    God bless you and your family


  18. Mr. Dennis,
    I don’t understand…when you look through the camera lens and capture the beauty “How can you not believe in God?!”

    : )

  19. Your photography is so beautiful and clear. It reveals a deep understanding of nature and humanity. Thank you for sharing your passion and talent, your photos brighten my day. I hope that you do feel better.

  20. Good morning, Dennis.

    Only yesterday I stumbled onto your work and at once I was captivated…by your talent, by the photographs. Now I read this account and I am stunned. But how at my age can I continue to be shocked at the lives people live, at the depth of their pain, and then how a few (or is it many?) dig and press and from their muck of torrid and dank scribe beauty so that others almost literally have their breath taken away as they contemplate mere marks on paper or canvas or screen that speak infinitely to the soul? How?

    Thank you. I will follow your work…and I do wish you well.

  21. Pingback: My Life–Then & Now-Update « Visual Thoughts Photography

  22. Hi there, I stumbled across your blog and started reading… I like your writing style, the openness with which you share your story, even if you are probably writing it down more for yourself than for anybody else. For someone who has been through a lot of pain, both physical and mental, starting in childhood, your photos are exquisite and uplifting. Good stuff – I will check back frequently to see how your writing and photography are progressing.

  23. Your photography is awesome and your story is quite moving. I was going to watch Letterman but decided to view your creation instead. It was time well spent.

  24. dear dl,
    i am a diabetic too on insulin. Irecently got a by- pass surgery done.diabetic is not a disease. take care of your food and walk a lot. i am sure you willbe doing it walking up the mountains. i pray for your health. god has a purpose in your life.

  25. Hi,
    Firstly your photography is greatly moving, I am an A level photography student and I have used your work as inspiration in both years of my studing.

    Your work is truly beautiful, and im sure many people have told you this. I would love to be able to photograph like you one day.

    Reading about your life has moved me, I have quite a few health problems myself and yet I can only begin to understand what you must have gone through.

    My thoughts are with you, you are an inspirational person through your stories and your photography.

    And although i am a stranger to you, your work has helped me so much.

    Thank you,
    Amy xxx

  26. DL,
    I LOVE your photos and I love how honest and down to Earth you are. Do you mind my asking: What type of diabetes do you have -Type 1 or Type 2? If it’s Type 2, that kind of diabetes has been known to be cured through diet. Here’s a link and I’m a vegan so that’s why I know about it:

    I’m really curious what type of diabetes you have, if it’s not too personal. If you are Type 2 and hate the thought of going vegan, I can send you a lot of recipes. If you’re not Type 2, it’s still beneficial to your health to eat well, which you probably already do, but just in case. 😉

    PS: People make it with one kidney all the time so why can’t you? (I have a diabetick cat and give him Lantus insulin twice a day so I know a little about diabetes. I monitor his blood glucose with a meter, too.)

    (((( sending vibes of peace ))))

  27. Dennis,
    I hope that you have reviewed these letters recently? Today, I read your blog for the first time… and I am amazed.
    I am so sad that your dad sent you such a strong message of rejection when you were just a small child. The pain that he put in your heart at such an early age has placed a huge impression of unworthiness in your whole life… among other things. I too had many sad experiences as a child, not to compare to yours, but very hard and challenging…. However, when I was five I heard the story of Jesus in Bible school and understood it and accepted it as truth. From that point on, no matter what life threw at me, I knew that my friend Jesus would help me through. I learned that God hears our prayers and cares about us… and will help us if we wait for His answers. Oh, I can tell you so many stories of this truth! ~ I have a daughter who is 38 now, and she was diagnosed with diabetes when she was only 8 . My husband has many health problems, and has only one kidney. I almost lost him twice this past year…. There are things in your life and mine that are similar. I tell you this only to say…. It’s not too late to take another look at the offer that God is making to you…. His love …His help… His care for you. As a little boy, you couldn’t understand that it wasn’t God failing, it is people who get in the way of His plan and His will that muck it all up. Many, many, many people have created pain and sadness in my life who have claimed to know God. Not so. Don’t place your trust in people ever….ever. Your life is an example of people failing you, not God. God has not failed you…. people got in His way. God is still there…He never left.
    Here is an example of this truth. Back in 1986 I was pregnant with my sixth child. I was very, very sad and felt that I could not go through another day living with the rejection that I felt from a person. I sat on the edge of my bed with a loaded 357 revolver next to me and reached for it to end my life. When my hand rested on that cold metal for a moment, the softest, sweetest “voice” came to me and entreated me to wait. ~ “Linda, I know that you don’t want to give up. Tomorrow will be a better day. I love you, and I promise to help you through this time, just trust me.” ~ I knew that God was reaching out to me, and I put the gun away. Today, my beautiful daughter is a constant reminder that God will help us through life with his loving gifts to enjoy while life’s storms rage around us. If I had ended my life I would have ended hers also ! How tragic !
    God’s way and His plan are so simple that it is hard for many to believe or accept. It is free. It is a gift to recieve or reject… But if we accept it, we hold the key that will take us through the darkest and most dangerous paths that life puts before us. I have personally tested this plan for 52 years, and I am a living testimony to it’s truth. Accepting the gift does not give us a guarante to the perfect life here in this world… It gives us a strong-hold to run to when the storms become too fierce and dangerous to stand alone. It is a spiritual gift… a light of love and life to keep us as we travel through this world. If that seems so out of reason to belive , that is because there is a “sprit of darkness” that does not want you to have the gift that God offers you. The gift is redemption. Jesus Christ is God’s gift to you. And before his life on this earth was finished, he suffered more pain and rejection than you or I could ever imagine. He was without fault, a perfect example of love and goodness. He came to this world to live in it to understand and experience the paths that we walk here every day…He never did a thing to earn or deserve rejection, but yet to this day people will not accept him. However, to accept his gift, you accept “the key”, the piece of the puzzle that will carry you through life’s journey. And then, eternity in Heaven in the presense of God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.” …. And also, “I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice, and will open the door, I will come in.” What that means is, the only way to God is to accept his gift, Jesus. If you hear him entreating you, calling you, and you answer and accept his gift, He will give you the key. That is all there is to it. That simple. That gift will carry you through life’s hardest trial, most fierce storm, most horrible nightmare …. I know. It has worked throughout my life. That gift is Jesus Christ. He will never, never fail you. I know that this is a long letter…. maybe it seems “too much to swallow”…. but it is the truth. I wish that I could sit down next to you and tell you all that my heart holds to say. I wish that I could look you in the eye and tell you and let you see my conviction personally. Just know, God is there with you right now. He sent me to you through this media….to tell you….it’s not time for you to quit. Not yet.
    With love,
    Linda Lu

  28. Hi Denis,

    I lost touch with you on Flickr and was so glad to see a comment from you yesterday. Your story touched my heart for I, too, was given a ‘death sentence of two years (that was five years ago!). Those of us being told this conjure up ideal situations for ourselves and continue to move forward…albeit slowly most of the time, but forward nonetheless.
    So glad to have found you once again, and I hope I am spelling your name correctly.

  29. DL, I am sorry about your health problems. Discouraging to be sure. I pray you will be filled with the Lord’s peace and joy and your life with love and supernaturally sent health.
    May your life be a testament to the Lord’s miraculous healing power. Let him use you to make liars out of those doctors and nay sayers. My mom has done it a couple times.
    Always remember if you haven’t thought this thru already…… renal transplant is a treatment…. not a cure. Where I work they tout it as a ‘cure’ when it is not.
    Like Hemodialysis… it is a mere treatment option. Much love and big hugs! xox Dana Beezer

  30. Mr. Ennis, I sent two earlier emails to you wanting permissiont o use one of your photographs on my book – and only now have read your blog posts revealing your struggles. In light of those circumstances, my request seems trite. It has also been quite a while since this blog was tended to, so I’m sure what has happened since June or 2013. I will check back occasionally. My prayers are with you.

  31. I also am just reading this blog. I tried to contact you via email to purchase some of your wonderful pictures. I was hoping to put together a booklet of beautiful scenes around the region.
    I haven’t seen any recent postings. I hope you are able to continue to take photographs because you are so talented. My thoughts are with you. What a gift you have given to all of us!

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