Dan came into the world in a dramatic way. He was born on January 25th, 1987 in New York City, and our oldest child and his Mother nearly died during his birth. Fortunately children have the blessing not to remember such things and he went on to be very much to focus of our family.
Dan ended his journey after a long, tangled struggle with illness, endless medications and treatments, and many complications. This pain he couldn’t forget or escape. Yet he loved life and though death was always near, he never intended to leave the stage willingly. He fought in every way he could.
Dan was unforgettable. He was blessed with talent, intelligence and great intuition. He was a beautiful person. It was a complex and challenging beauty, and from his stormy birth to his death he was in many ways the center of our family. He touched and changed many people throughout his life, and he leaves a huge hole in our lives. He will stay with us forever, unforgettable.
As a child in New York City Dan was magnetic— a beautiful blonde, blue eyed cool kid. I can see him when he was very young, his head tilted to the side, straight blond hair, lounging in his stroller one hand draped over the edge. Or with his babysitter, Ida, a tall stylish blonde for whom Dan was the perfect accessory for her walks to the park or the café. In the neighborhood school he had good friends whose parents were artists, poets, architects, jazz musicians, teachers, actors in the east village of the 90’s. In this artistic environment he took his first music lessons and public performance at the 3rd street settlement school.
When we moved to Upper Darby in 1994 Dan loved the freedom of being able to play outside. He said this was a great place to grow up. As he grew up, he played trumpet and guitar. He started to draw and make artwork. He had girlfriends, got in trouble and tested the limits. He often did things in a big way and he had an easy charisma. I remember one day he went to the pool with us and remarkably in a few minutes he was literally surrounded by teenage girls. He was in some ways a celebrity and at the same time reticent and shy.
In his last years of High School, he found his place in the creative world with music and visual art. He joined Rock School in Philadelphia and had a new group of friends and a new self esteem. He became an “all star” at Rock School and toured all over the US, and even went to Germany to play the Zappanale festival to a crowd of thousands.
The day Dan graduated from HS he moved into Philadelphia, got a job at Sylvan Learning proctoring tests and also taught at Rock School. With some of his Rock School friends he formed a band called Flamingo and played original music at venues around Philadelphia and New York City. He enrolled in community college to get some credits in while focusing on music with the band. But he began to be very tired when coming home from work. He had no appetite. He went to bed early. One day he confessed that each day after climbing the steps to his 2nd floor apartment he had to lay down for a while to recover. And after several months and hospital and doctor visits, his blood work finally told a clear story. Leukemia. That was 5 years ago.
But that is not the end of the story by any means.
Between and during months of cancer treatments he decided to become a visual artist in earnest. He hatched a plan to apply for Cooper Union in New York and worked incredibly hard making artwork and building a portfolio for applying there.
He started a relationship with an amazing girl, going to NYC frequently.
He worked for his friends the Roberts managing their apartments and moved into one of them.
He kept playing with the band as much as he could.
The bone marrow transplant hit him hard but he came back.
A few month after he was able to go to Europe again as a guest of the Roberts in Spain for three months. Emily was studying in Italy and they met in Sienna and had a wonderful time.
Then it got worse. Graft versus host disease laid him low.. After a while a severe and crippling scleroderma stopped him from playing guitar. His left hand was now a useless claw, his right hand weak. He couldn’t work, couldn’t keep up in school. His arms stiffened and frozen at 90 degree angles, his internal organs hardening and functioning poorly. He fought still to make artwork, and attend classes at Temple University and Fleisher Art Memorial. He fought depression, lack of appetite, fears of never getting better, and yet, he kept on. His frail body took a punishment no one should have to bear.
He fought on and in the last year he had seemed to make some improvements. Slow but hopeful signs of some kind of reversal of the crippling scleroderma could be seen. His strength and digestion seemed improved. His skin was softening a bit. It was a fragile and risky recovery process, and he was afraid to admit any hope. He would never be whole again, but we started to think that he might slowly find a life.
Last Wed as we drove to Dan’s daily doctor visit and treatment, he was feeling particularly ill, and nauseous. We drove in silence. We passed in traffic a young person on a tiny motorbike with a huge guitar strapped to his back. Dan said “that’s really poetic”.
He was such a beautiful person.