Dan spoiled many a “serious” team picture with his ear-to-ear grin. His teammates would have on their intimidating game faces, and then Dan would stand out flashing his pearly whites and looking as if he was having the time of his life. When teased by Coach Moxim about it, Dan replied, “But coach, I just like to smile.” Not only did Dan like to smile, but he also loved to give big hugs. Unfortunately, because he was so tall, it sometimes took a few tries to get a “good fit”. It seemed like there was already a skinny elbow sticking out of place, or he bent too far down, or didn’t bend down far enough.
Last September, Dan was sent home from school for a few days because he had come down with bronchitis. While I felt bad that he was feeling so unwell, it was great to have him home to watch the dog when I had a late night at work and to be able to spoil him for a few days after he had been at school for a little over a month. I knew he was really sick when he was home, because one night we were sitting on the couch watching “Vikings” and he started inching over to put his head on my shoulder. So we sat there on the loveseat, the 6’3 baby hunched over for a cuddle with his mom and the dog jumping all over us, arms and legs awkwardly jutting out all over the place.
A few days later, one year ago today, he was feeling better and I drove him back to Emerson for the last time. He was fully loaded with clean laundry, about 3 pounds of baked ziti I had made for him, medication, candy, a bottle of “medicinal” Irish whiskey, and some halloween decorations for his dorm room. I couldn’t believe my luck as there was an empty spot outside his dorm on Boylston Street. We pulled over, I put my hazards on, and I got my last awkward hug. True to form, elbow jutting out, awkward head placement, and not nearly enough room we hugged for what would be the last time. He gave me his classic goofy smile, told me he loved me, and began to unload his stuff onto the sidewalk. I held on to the dog who was desperately trying to get out and be with him, then he waved goodbye, hunched over with all of his bags and two precariously perched pumpkins on his arm, and told me to call him when I got home so he knew I was ok.
A week later I would receive the phone call that changed our lives completely. After I dropped him off on September 21st, I spoke to Dan a few times throughout the week, however, one year ago today was the last time I saw my baby conscious. He was smiling, he was happy to be back at school, he was looking forward to sharing a glass of whiskey with his friends, and he was excited for whatever lay ahead. I’d give just about anything to have one more awkward hug and see that goofy smile and him struggling with way too many bags on a busy sidewalk in downtown Boston.
I know the coming days are going to be difficult for all of us who knew and loved Dan. It seems almost inconceivable that a year has passed, and yet, here we are. There are a lot of images and memories of what transpired a year ago that I’m sure many of us would like to erase permanently from our memory. Dan would not want us to dwell on the sadness, but to remember the good times. So go give someone an awkward hug and tell them you love them. You’ll never know how much you will miss it when it’s gone.