You Know Gary, Don’t You?

Dr. Al Danenberg Nutritional Periodontist

January 24, 2021 [printfriendly]



My friend’s death over 20 years ago still affects me today.



My Friend’s Death

In 2000, I learned of my buddy’s death. The circumstances surrounding his death caused me great sadness and made me reflect on my own life. After I learned of his untimely death, I felt the need to write about his life’s tragedy. So in that year, I put my thoughts together and published his story in a print newsletter I created, The Personal Report.



The Personal Report

From January 1990 through December 2001, I wrote and published The Personal Report.


In 1987, I created the concept of this 8-page print newsletter, which centered around clinical practice information for periodontists. In addition to my articles, I offered well-known authors in the dental arena to contribute their ideas.


To finance my publication, I enrolled major dental companies (who sold their products to periodontists) to pay for the placement of their 8×10 advertising flyers within my newsletter. I inserted this free newsletter along with the inserts into an oversized envelope and then mailed it to every periodontist in the United States quarterly.


The Personal Report was unique in its day and was a great success.




Recently, I was rummaging through some old issues of The Personal Report. I rediscovered the article I wrote about my friend way back then. It stirred up emotions in me again.


With my current cancer journey at the forefront of my thoughts, I want to share it with you in its original text. It’s about my buddy, Gary. I called the article, “You Know Gary, Don’t You”.


I think you will be moved by this, just as I was. Review the life you are living. You may want to make some changes before it’s too late.



You Know Gary, Don’t You?

There is always one more call to make, or one more treatment plan to write, one more patient to squeeze in after hours. When Gary finally does leave the office, there’s always one more meeting to attend. My friend Gary puts in a lot of hours.


Gary and I played through our college days, struggled through our dental education, and side-by-side, searched for answers in periodontics. In school, Gary was always there to console a friend or just listen. When we were sophomores in dental college, Gary met Shelly. They cared so much for one another – writing little notes to each other and planning little surprises almost weekly. They finally got married, started their beautiful life together, and eventually had three wonderful boys. The American dream.


Gary went onto perio graduate school as did I, but we attended different programs. So, I lost close touch with him. Gary ultimately settled in the Midwest with his practice while I settled in South Carolina. But once a year, our families would get together to reminisce and catch up with each other.  As the years went by, a concerned Shelly began telling us how much time Gary spent at his office and how things “just weren’t the same” as they used to be. My friend Gary was becoming increasingly focused and aggressive and was making a lot of money, but he was also slowly drifting away from his family.


Last Sunday, July 16, 2000, Shelly called, her voice cracking. Gary was dead.


My friend Gary had a heart of gold. You had to know him. And if you did, you had to love him. But Gary took for granted the joys and the beauty that was his family. Shelly and his three boys became small shadows in an obscure corner of his life. They should have been the light in the center of his room.


Marc, David and Ted grew up hardly knowing their dad. They never met the Gary who was always there to console a friend or just listen. He was seldom there in the house, seldom at softball games to cheer them on or at school plays to take the snapshots. He was never there to compliment them on jobs well done.


Why am I telling you about my friend Gary? Because I think that maybe you know him, too.


My only regret is that I never grabbed Gary by the shoulders, looked into his eyes and told him to wake up every morning and give Shelley a kiss. I never told him to hug and be hugged. I never reminded him that life is all about loving and being loved.


Will you tell your family how much you care? Will you do it today? Will you do it right now? Show your kids all the human emotions you can. Take the time to make memories. Take family vacations; have family discussions; make decisions together. Laugh; create; sing out loud. Take photographs; write poems; tell stories. Show them that they mean more to you than anything else in the world because when it comes down to the nitty gritty, they are the light in the center of your room.



The Here & Now

Even 20 years after penning this piece about Gary, I still get emotional. And my heart still breaks. At this point in my life, making loving memories and living a quality life outstrip everything else I do.


I’ve learned so many lessons during my personal cancer journey. Gary’s story just punctuates the importance of a life well-loved. I am not ashamed to say that I had to wipe my eyes several times while rereading You Know Gary, Don’t You?


How did Gary’s story affect you?




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  1. Thank you so much for sharing this with us today. It changed the way I was looking at my day ahead. God bless.

  2. Thank you for sharing this, dr. Al. I don’t think we can be reminded enough to love and be loved every day.❤️❤️

  3. Thank you Dr Al. This message is one we all should be reminded of. It is a true statement. Loss is a great teacher. Don’t take life for granted. I have learned many lessons having gone through my cancer journey also. 2020. Thank you Dr Al.

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