Van Hook, local man who hosted weekly discussions on loss, has died

Dennis Van Hook, 70, passed away on Sept. 22.

The military veteran and retired licensed clinical social worker said in February that he’d been given about 12 months to live. He’d been diagnosed with cancer two years prior and at the time, it wasn’t terminal, but after chemotherapy and radiation, the cancer returned.

Terminally ill, retired social worker hosting weekly discussions on loss at cafe

In February, he told The Electric that with the time he had left, he wanted to do something good and so he started sitting at a table in the back of Electric City Coffee on Tuesdays, talking to anyone who wanted to join about loss, death and dying, “things that have become taboo.”

In a weekend post, Thad and Heidi Reiste said they had known Van Hook since their days stationed at Malmstrom and “we will truly miss you. We are going to miss your Vespa pulling up outside. Hugs to his family and friends.

Van Hook’s weekly conversations were halted when the COVID-19 pandemic came to Great Falls in the interest of his health and then restaurants closed for a time.

But, while they were able to, Van Hook and others met weekly for genuine connection.

He modeled the conversations after the Death Cafe movement that began in 2011 in London and since spread across the globe.

“Throughout our life, we have lots of issues of loss,” Van Hook told The Electric in February. “That’s how we learn to deal with disappointment in life. I’ve always believed how you deal with that lifetime of loss issues, that’s going to train you to deal with the biggest loss issue in the end. I want to do this because I’m not through teaching yet,” he said. After 30 years of teaching at Park University at Malmstrom Air Force Base. I’ve got things I still want to share.”

Van Hook’s full obituary is here.

An informal celebration of life will be held Oct. 3 at the Holiday Inn Convention Center from 1-4 p.m. Due to Covid-19, the number of people allowed in the convention center at one time is limited and masks will be required. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Benefis Peace Hospice in Dennis’ name.