November 29, 2022 at 3:03 p.m.
Finding small gifts
As Nancy Primus looked to Thanksgiving Day, she did so with gratitude despite the challenges she faced this year. Her husband of almost 29 years, Dale, passed away June 4 from injuries received in an accident on their farm near Sauk Centre. Even though her pain runs deep, Primus has found the strength to remain grateful in her life when it would be easier to sink into darkness.
“When you wake up in the morning, it’s a choice,” Primus said. “Do you have to like what’s going on in your life? No, but if you can have a good perspective, it makes it easier.”
She also credits others for keeping her strong.
“The support we have received from our family, friends, coworkers and this community has been incredible,” Primus said. “People complain about living in a small town sometimes, but when you go through something like this, you appreciate it,” Primus said.
She often breaks down in tears when talking about Dale, but she is thankful for her life with him and all the joy it gave her. The biggest joys are their children – Krista, Andrew and Riley – now grown.
“I’m so grateful that Dale gave me those three beautiful kids because they are my world,” Primus said.
She credits Dale with teaching them through words and by his example.
“He’d tell them to be honest, hard-working and good people because you have to earn respect,” Primus said. “That was him in a nutshell, and I see that in our kids.”
Primus, who is from the Grey Eagle area, met Dale, from Melrose, through community sports in the late 1980s, and they continued to play on volleyball and softball teams after marrying in 1993.
“We loved it,” Primus said. “That was date night for us.”
Small moments are what she misses most.
“I miss his conversation,” Primus said. “Evenings are the hardest. It’s so quiet.”
However, she has felt his presence.
“It happened right away,” Primus said. “Dale always loved lights and would decorate the yard for Christmas. After the funeral, when we were moving turkeys, we grabbed the trailer and some gates, and then our porch light started blinking.”
The light had never done that before.
“Well, we had grabbed the wrong gates,” Primus said. “I’m sure Dale was saying, ‘You guys have the wrong ones.’ Every so often now, my porch light will flash, and I know he’s here.”
The flashing light fits Dale’s sense of humor.
“He was a prankster,” Primus said. “He would be sitting in the recliner and take off his dirty sock and chuck it at us when we weren’t looking. Then he’d laugh. He did that to all of us, so we put a sock in his casket, but we put in a clean one.”
Most of all, Dale valued talking with people one to one.
“He was kind, and he listened,” Primus said. “He would sit with a person and talk for hours.”
He enjoyed treating people to a boat ride at their cabin.
“He just loved taking people around on the pontoon,” Primus said. “I’m sure we had the oldest pontoon on the lake, but it was a 28-footer, so you could have lots of people on it.”
She said it was almost as if someone put some things into place leading up to Dale’s accident to help her through her loss.
“I can’t help but think that all of this has been in the works for how long already,” Primus said. “... Andrew and (his girlfriend) Mara moved back to Sauk Centre the Thursday before Dale’s accident.”
It has turned out to be a blessing. Since Krista lives in Washington and Riley in the Twin Cities metro area, it has been nice to have one child living nearby. Another unexpected blessing came in the form of her daughter’s dog, Koda. Primus is glad she and Dale decided to take care of him for Krista while she balanced two jobs and took classes to be a dental hygienist. Koda has become a comfort.
“Most of the summer, I’d visit the cemetery every day,” Primus said. “That’s where I would take Koda for walks.”
Primus was in the Twin Cities, helping Riley move when she received a call from a neighbor, telling her that Dale had been hurt. She was in her vehicle with Riley following behind her when her colleague at CentraCare called, asking her to call back when she could get to a safe spot. She turned off at an exit ramp. Riley followed and went to his mom’s car. They received the sad news together.
“We sat there for quite a while and just cried,” Primus said.
Somehow even then, she noticed small gifts.
“I was thankful that Riley was with me,” she said.
Her daughter was in Nashville at a bachelorette party.
“I’m thankful that Krista was with friends,” Primus said. “Those girls took such good care of her. I’m also glad that Andrew and Mara were together, so we all had somebody with us when we found out.”
Primus wanted Dale’s father, Joe, to walk with her at the front of the funeral procession.
“I needed him as much as he needed me,” she said. “He loved Dale first.”
In the days after Dale’s funeral, there was not much time for Primus to grieve. The farm had 20,000 turkeys, 110 acres of cropland, 47 beef cattle and cow/calf pairs to take care of.
“We had 3-week-old baby turkeys, and I had to get them to market,” Primus said. “The hay also had to be cut.”
Life was a whirlwind all summer. Family, neighbors and friends kept helping in many ways. The whole crew at Munson Feed Co., Inc., helped her with the turkeys as well.
As Thanksgiving approached, she has finally had more time to grieve.
“I miss him as a husband, a friend and a soulmate,” Primus said.
She knows that her children and, someday, her grandchildren will lose out on years they might have still had with Dale. He was only 58.
On Father’s Day, just a few weeks after Dale’s passing, Andrew wrote a post about that loss.
“(Your grandchildren) would love their grandpa, and you could have watched as I passed on the same things you taught me. … I’ll still be wearing your hats, trying to be just like you.”
Primus remains thankful for the many kindnesses her family has received, including from her CentraCare colleagues. Even some of the patients she had tended to sent cards or attended the wake.
“From every department of CentraCare, the support I received was unreal,” she said.
When she stopped for coffee in town one day, the workers would not allow her to pay for it. People from the sports teams she and Dale had played on or against joined together to buy them a bench with a family photo on it. These are just a few of the many acts of kindness she received.
“I’m really glad I live in a community like this,” Primus said. “It’s amazing.”
She hopes others are noticing the gifts in their own lives.
“Tell your family you love them,” Primus said. “Don’t put things off because tomorrow is never guaranteed.”
Mark Klaphake contributed to this article.