(I will be touching on a bit of a touchy topic here. I only ask that you please don’t let it overshadow, or take away from, the whole of this writing)
Last night, the world became a darker, and less entertaining, place. We received word out of Wichita KS, where he had been hospitalized since before Christmas, that our friend Dan had finally passed away. I’ll touch on the source of his issues later. We’d learned earlier in the day that things had taken a further turn for the worse, but surely weren’t prepared to lose him as quickly as we did. One moment, Amy and I were holding each other and wiping away tears trying to cope with the loss. A few moments later, we were sharing fits of giggles recalling various antics and memories of our times with him. We went back and forth between those for a while last night. That’s a definitive statement of the kind of guy Dan was.
As soon as the news began to get out of his passing just after 8pm last night, my Facebook feed almost immediately began flooding with posts dedicated to him, and sharing memories of various times people had with him. I hope he knows how widespread of an impact he made during his all-too-short time with us. To have known him was a pleasure – either during his work at car dealerships, in the insurance or mortgage businesses, or just as a friend. He was affectionately known as “Dan the yes man” because he always went out of his way whenever he could to help people out, and rarely ever did you hear him refuse or decline.
My first time meeting Dan was several years ago at the indoor dodge ball court of Perceptive Software, for their annual “Dodge For A Cause” charity dodge ball tournament. He and I clicked instantly, as did he and Amy. We’ve had so many great memories with him since then, including some unforgettable karaoke and a line dance to the Cupid Shuffle shortly before Jennah was born.
Dan had been having his mix of good days and bad days, physically speaking. On some days, he was up and ready to dance, and would be going out for a run. On others, he admitted it was a struggle for him to even get up out of bed. The last time we saw Dan was a couple of months ago. He came over to our place to visit for a little while along with our friend Jean (who is due to give birth to her son, and Dan’s godson, any time now – sadly, Dan wasn’t able to hang on long enough to meet him), and it was on one of his physically not-so-good days. He walked with a cane, and was slow-going. If you just listened to him talk, and paid no attention to his movements, you wouldn’t know the pain and discomfort he was dealing with. At that time, I still wouldn’t have believed that he’d no longer be with us just a matter of months later.
Dan’s final couple of months saw him deal with an ongoing double case of pneumonia, and over time he ended up with one lung completely full of fluid. Early yesterday, we were told that his kidneys were in the process of shutting down, and they were exploring the options of dialysis. That was shortly before 5pm. Less than four hours later, he was gone. His immune system simply couldn’t keep up the battle. My heart aches at the thought of no longer having any great times spent together with him. However, I smile knowing that he’s finally 100% at peace. No more pain. No more suffering. The fight is over. This is definitely a reminder that nothing, and nobody, can be taken for granted in life. Life is short – sometimes entirely too short – and tomorrow is never guaranteed.
My first eye-opener to AIDS was season 3 of MTV’s “The Real World” (San Francisco), back when the show was actually… real. It debuted on MTV on June 30th, 1994 – I was 15, and while I was familiar with the concept of AIDS, this would be the first time something would really get me to pay attention. Pedro Zamora was one of the seven individuals selected to enter the house on Lombard and share their lives, and he had a story to tell. Pedro was very active in the HIV/AIDS and LGBT communities, previously traveling around the country and giving speeches – mostly in schools – emphasizing safe sex and offering education on the disease. Through the five months of the show’s airing, Pedro’s story was both eye-opening, and heart-breaking. His condition turned for the worse very quickly, but his spirit never faltered. He finally lost his fight on November 11th, 1994 – mere hours after the season’s finale aired on MTV. His appearance on the show shared his story and spread his message far more than his previous touring ever could have.
While I was educated by Pedro Zamora’s life and story, I only knew him from tv and media. Dan was the first person who I got to know, firsthand, in-person, who was living with AIDS. It didn’t matter to me that he had AIDS. It didn’t matter to me that he was gay. He was my friend, close enough to us to be considered family within our home, and that’s all that mattered. However, for as much as kept up on his various health issues and later battles, it’s hard for me to not feel a bit of guilt or regret that I didn’t discuss it with him more than I did. It was his story to tell, and I easily could have inquired more often. Not only to further educate myself, but to consistently be a shoulder to lean on and an ear to speak to anytime he needed it for something serious. Instead, our conversations and our times together were overshadowed by smiles and laughter, shenanigans and innappropriate comments in just the right places and times. Not that that’s a bad thing, because that’s how many of us will forever remember Dan, but I do wish that I would have talked with him more about the disease itself, and the complications resulting from it. That “what if” will always linger in my mind, wondering how much different, longer, and easier his life would have been if he’d never had contracted the virus/disease, or had to deal with any complications as a result of it.
Sleep peacefully, my friend. Rest assured that anytime I think of you, I’ll do so with a smile (and quite possibly a good chuckle as well), and you’ll continue to inspire me to be a better person. I love you, and I’ll see you later.