When our young friend Dan died in November it sent a seismic shock through our village. It was the second death of a child within three weeks. Understandably it affected many, with hundreds coming to see him off. I have met some mothers who told me that as they passed the church that day, knowing the sad scene being enacted within, they instinctively reached for their children and held them close.
As the days, weeks and months have passed it is clear to see that for many the impact of his loss continues. While I would expect his parents and family and those adults who knew him to mourn him, I would have imagined that his friends and the children who played soccer, GAA, and basketball with him would have moved on a bit faster and begun to live a life happily without him.
I was wrong.
Shortly after Dan died a bunch of his thirteen year old friends got active on twitter and between them decided to do the Christmas Day swim in his honour. They raised over €6,000. An amazing achievement in itself from such young children, but to my mind so many coming together to show they were thinking of Dan Christmas Day was even more wonderful. All their parents must have been so proud of them.
Then out of the blue a few weeks ago there was a piece in the paper featuring Dan. It told the story of a group of nineteen year old boys who play in a league. They were school friends of Dan’s brother, and had met Dan a few times at his home. They remembered his love of sport and how he played with them when they visited, despite the age difference. These boys had decided to charge a fee for the sixteen teams to enter the league and this fee would be donated to the Leukemia Association in memory of Dan.
Once again we were all amazed at the fact that these boys would even find time to think about Danny, not to mention actively doing something so wonderful to remember him by.
We began to see that many of Dans young friends were not moving on quickly without him, and were in fact still missing him greatly. Their way of dealing with it was to actively “do something”.
Today we had another example of these young people “doing”. A group of his friends from his primary school had moved on to secondary school together. They approached their principle and asked could they do a sponsored walk in his name. Of course he agreed and “The Mercy Hospital” is €5,000 better off as a result.
This wonderful group of fourteen year olds, ( the age Dan would be now) and their 190 classmates, all left the school today at 11.15am. Accompanied by their teachers, the local police and the coastguards who stopped the traffic along the way as necessary, they walked just over five miles with Dan. Each one of the organisers wore a Dicky bow, (as well as a special t shirt, shorts and even some colourful wigs and face paints), in other words they dressed “Dan style”.
Why the dicky bows I hear you ask?
When Dan was being confirmed he was not too impressed he’d have to wear his school uniform. Dan being Dan tried every angle to get around it. Eventually he asked, did they really have to wear their school tie? He was told emphatically “Yes”. When he got home he began to think about it, and he asked his God mother could she make the school tie into a Dicky bow. She could and did. On the day he proudly arrived with the school tie in place, but worn as a dicky bow, although unknown to his teacher he had a back up “normal” tie ready just in case! It was such a typical Danny thing to do that everyone just smiled and he was allowed wear it. Obviously his classmates had not forgotten and so today they wore their own Dicky bows and Dan style.
It was a wonderful sight to see so many young people walk in memory of Danny. So many people have been affected by his leaving, and the ripples have continued to spread far beyond his own family. We speak of grief, but personally I don’t believe we have begun to grieve. How can you grieve when you still forget he has gone? I think for now we are all experiencing loss. His loss from our lives, and the impact of that loss on those we love. In some small measure, today we managed to find him in his friends and the occasion. We saw Dan in their happy faces. We remembered Dan in their running and jostling for position at the front. We heard Dan in their rowdy singing, and we felt Dan walking along enjoying the fun.
But as I saw his beautiful, smiling face looking out from a giant poster photograph held up by his friends I felt his loss all over again.