California Dreaming: Reflections on Family, Football, and Mental Health Awareness - Newsletter #6

Feb 22, 2024
Maven Musings with Heather Cook Newsletter Cover

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California Dreaming. That was my Uncle Dennis. He traveled from Michigan to Southern California and all over the US to play football in the NFL around the time I was born in the early 70s. He lived here in California for a bit and then went back to where my family grew up in Bay City, Michigan. Back home in Michigan, during my childhood, he would take us for ice cream in his purple sparkly ‘surfs up dude’ beach street-ready dune buggy. Much of my fashion sense and aesthetic comes from him and his friends from my early childhood disco era - sparkles, flowers in ladies' hair, and bell-bottom pants. He and my Aunt Beth lived by the beach of Lake Huron, and the house was full of sunsets, surfing, and beach living décor. He would talk about it all the time, sharing memories of the beach and surf culture. It is wild for me to now live in California in Venice Beach, a place he waxed on about when I was a kid.


With the Super Bowl just over, people get excited leading up to it and ask me what team I root for. It is a tricky question for me as there is great pride in having two Uncles who played football and were All-American at Purdue University and my California-loving Uncle Dennis, who played in the NFL. But then there is the heartbreak of my same Uncle Dennis' suicide at the age of 66, ten years ago, and that keeps me only interested in the halftime show and commercials.


My Uncle Dennis was diagnosed posthumously with Stage 2-3 (of 4) Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) at the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank. He is one of at least 345 NFL players to be diagnosed after death with this disease, which is caused by repeated hits to the head.


Sharing that piece of information after being asked about my favorite team usually changes the conversation. CTE is a reality that, unfortunately, has affected many players and their families. 


Being from the Midwest in the US, I was an athlete and enjoy watching college basketball. And I did check out the last six minutes of the Super Bowl, the halftime show, and some commercials, but I also cringe at the hits and always think about my Uncle and if that next hit that one of the players takes would be the one that sends them to the place he went later in their life.


I'm sending big love to my Wirgo family and Aunt Beth, one of the strongest people I know, as the anniversary of his death was a couple of weeks ago. A day like that never leaves you, and I always miss my Uncle. 

My Aunt Beth shared her and my uncle's stories in the article below and has more information about CTE and what happened with my Uncle leading up to his suicide. 


Dennis Wirgowski | Concussion Legacy Foundation (


Suicide is preventable, and help is available. If you are concerned that someone in your life may be suicidal, the five #BeThe1To steps are simple actions anyone can take to help someone in crisis.


If you are struggling to cope and would like some emotional support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to connect with a trained counselor. It’s free, confidential, and available to everyone in the United States. You do not have to be suicidal to call. If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, consider using the Lifeline Crisis Chat. 

Also you can call or text 988 to get to a counselor 24/7.


If you or someone you know is struggling with lingering concussion symptoms, ask for help through the CLF HelpLine.


And friends, my door, text, and phone are always open.



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