My cousin, Danny, passed away on Thursday, July 25, 2013. He was 18 years old and had just graduated high school from Bucks County Technical High School as a cabinetmaking major. His biggest dream in life was to open his own karate studio, and, as a third-degree black belt, he had just been hired full-time to the studio where he had trained for over 10 years.
Danny drowned in the Neshaminy creek with his best friend Perry, after they had decided to go for a swim. The current proved too strong, and Danny and Perry died, while their friend was able to get out and call for help.I am not good about speaking about sad things, especially when they have to do with my family or myself. I have had such conflicting emotions over the past few weeks, coming to terms with the death of a family member so young and with so much potential. I wrote Danny a letter to say the things I have been having such a hard time verbalizing:
What can I say? When I think of you, I think of the last Christmas everyone spent together before Mom Mom got sick. She gave me the first bowl of pudding, and you sat on the stairs in the living room and sulked because you wanted to be first. I remember when you had your hair cut into a mullet, and you thought it was the coolest thing ever. I remember when I was mad at you for cheating at hide and seek that one time in the basement. Mom Mom told us we couldn’t hide in the dryer, and you did it anyway. I remember piling on the couch and watching cartoons, and finding the not-so-secret stash of papers and crayons under Mom Mom and Pop Pop's T.V.
I don’t remember you growing up. I think of the little boy who ran around in his karate outfit and tried to tackle everyone. Almost everyone from your karate studio came to your viewing on Wednesday. I didn’t know that you had reached a third degree black belt or that you taught classes now. My heart broke when I saw dozens of little kids lined up to say goodbye to you, dressed in baggy uniforms as they cried for Mr. Dan. Did you know they granted you the title of “Master”? I’m sorry you won’t have the chance to open your own studio, like you had planned. I know you would have been an excellent instructor.Did you know that over 800 people came to your viewing? You and Perry were so loved, by so many people.
I’m sorry, Danny, because there is nothing anyone can do to take away the pain of your loss. I saw how loved you were in the community. The day of your funeral, some businesses in Bensalem changed their signs to honor your memory. Someone donated a luncheon in your name. Thousands of dollars have been raised in your and Perry’s names. That kind of stuff doesn’t happen for ordinary people.
You have a big job ahead of you now. You have to watch out for your mom and dad, and your three brothers and their kids. They are hurting over you. Watch out for Pop Pop; it breaks his heart to have to bury another grandchild. Watch out for all your cousins, and aunts and uncles; we miss you an incredible amount too. Take care of all your little kids in karate, and pay special attention to all those kids who may think it’s a good idea to go swimming in the Neshaminy. I saw the promise ring you gave to Sarah, and it is beautiful. Watch out for her and when she’s ready, help her find someone else who can love her like you did. Let your friend Nick know that no one blames him for getting out of the creek. He’s a hero, and his call for help helped everyone find you and Perry so we could have peace. Say hello to Mom Mom and uncle Danny, and Jen for the rest of us.
No one should have to die when they are 18 years old, and I am sorry I will miss the chance to see you grow into someone who promised to be a terrific man. I am glad that I was able to be your cousin for the past 18 years, and I am honored to have known you based on all the stories I have heard over the past few weeks. I don’t know when you started going by “Dan”, but you will always be “little Danny” in my memories. Rest easy and fly high until we meet again.