14 years ago, my college classmate and junior year roommate Dave Connors died after battling a long illness. It was tough for us to see someone so young die at 25. We all were afraid and confused and frankly angry.
I was a producer at a NYC radio station and upon hearing the news of Dave’s death I promptly took an old school reel of tape and chucked it across the studio. I was angry at God, at death, at heart disease and at the fact that I didn’t get to say goodbye to Dave.
But time provides reflection after tragedy and when I look back at the time I shared with Dave I’m not filled with sadness but with joy. Dave provided us with much laughter during his stand up comedy routines. It was his way of disarming people. His sickly body would make people treat him differently. People would pity his situation and Dave hated that beyond belief. He knew that he was probably not going to live very long and he wanted to spend that time having fun and not being sad. He’d cheat death with what he called sick humor. He’d offer to play the “dead pool” where you draft famous people who you’d expect to die within the year for points. Dave would always draft himself.
“I guess I’ll have the last laugh if I win, sorta.” he said to me. We’d all cringe but it made us more sensitive to the fact that Dave was conscious of his limited time.
That was a huge awakening for me. It’s easy for me to immerse myself in busyness and ignore the needs of those around me. In college I was driven to be a successful broadcaster but I was missing spending time with friends, family and other mentors who engaged my passions that i misdirected towards radio instead of ministry.
Dave’s illness got me on track. And I hate that. Why did it take tragedy to wake me up? I nearly wasted friendships like Dave’s and when I look back at our time in college together, I don’t remember feeling sorry for Dave but rather, I see all of our friends rallying around Dave and his family and a young man rallying us not towards death but towards a greater appreciation of life itself.
Dave was not particularly religious. He struggled a lot with his faith and with God. A seminarian had a big influence on him towards the end of his life and helped him gain a greater awareness of God in his life. For me, God was always around Dave for like Jesus, Dave gave us all of Himself and held nothing back. His parents gave their very lives to him, supporting their only child all the way to his death, a tragedy that no parent should ever have to live through. And lastly, Dave gave us a reminder that we all really need to support one another in those dark hours. Despite his illness Dave was one of the most giving people I ever met. He always had time for people and for helping and serving others. He loves his family and reveled in bringing joy to others.
It is no surprise to me that Dave died on December 8…the feast of the Immaculate conception. Like Mary, he accepted his lot in life despite knowing that pain was on the other side. Today I hope he is able to not merely be free from his pain but also to be free to laugh with great abandon and understand how much he was loved by all those he touched.