BROOKSVILLE — Next to the kitchen bar in his small, wood-paneled home, Laverne Dennison sat on a stool Tuesday and talked about dying.
As he lifted his head, Dennison's blue eyes drifted up to the fluorescent light that wouldn't turn on just moments earlier. The malignant tumor doctors found at the base of his spine earlier this month makes him move a bit slower.
"I look up at the Ol' Man and I say, ' I know you ain't forgotten me,' " the 88-year-old said, talking to God. "You've been taking care of me for a long time."
The light flicked on. He smiled.
Doctors have told him he won't survive the cancer. They've given him six months to a year.
His daughter-in-law, Jennifer Dennison, is accused of gambling away he and his wife's life savings — more than $500,000. For years, he has cared for his 73-year-old wife, Janet, who suffers from advanced-stage dementia. The money Jennifer Dennison is accused of stealing from the couple was intended to take care of Janet when her husband is gone.
Dennison admits he worries for his wife now, but he knows his six kids will be there for her.
"I'm very proud of my children," he said. "I really don't have no fear of them abandoning her."
His health may also affect the criminal case the State Attorney's Office has against Jennifer Dennison. Because his wife is unable to testify, Dennison's testimony is essential to the prosecution.
Assistant State Attorney Jeremy Powers just learned of the cancer Monday. He said depending on how quickly Dennison's health deteriorates, he may request that the court allow him and the defense to collect Dennison's testimony before the trial.
Dennison has never obsessed over what authorities say his daughter-in-law did to him, and he thinks even less about what she did now.
With what the family says they've recovered from the Internal Revenue Service combined with Dennison's Social Security and his wife's retirement income, they've hired nurses to care for the couple 24 hours a day.
He's fallen twice in the past few weeks, so he now shuffles through the house with help of a walker that has two tennis balls stuck to its back legs. A sticker on the front reads: "Caution: Does not Play well with others." His nurse, Maria Applauso, disagrees.
When asked if he's in pain, Dennison shakes his head, no. Sitting behind him, his daughter, Vera Cannon, nods her head, yes.
He lost 15 pounds after a five-day stint in the hospital. He has to hike his pants any time he moves too much, and his handshake isn't quite as firm as it used to be. But his smile is just the same.
As Janet sat at the kitchen table and heard her husband was ill, she looked shocked. She'd forgotten. Again.
"Dad has cancer, mom," Cannon said. "We told you yesterday, but you don't remember."
Dennison turned to his wife and, just like every time he talks to her, his tone softened.
"They ain't going to run off and leave you," he said of his children. "Everything's going to work out."
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432.