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Friday, September 26, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Dan

Jodi Fisher's portrait of Dainty Dan
Later today I’m going to my friend Dan’s memorial service. He died last Wednesday, September 17th.

To say that we were friends seems a mite presumptuous. When we worked for the same printing company, lo these 15-20 years ago, we were aware of each other’s existence but I doubt we exchanged more than a coupla words outside of the orientation classes I ran.

No, we connected on Facebook. I saw that we had a whole mess of mutual friends so I took a chance and sent a “friend request.” Happily, thankfully, wonderfully, he accepted.

It was here that I learned he’d been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I also discovered his tremendous élan, his humor in the face of a horror show prognosis. Though neurofibromatosis type 2, my case anyway, isn’t quite as dire as multiple myeloma, it’s def up there in the pantheon of Things-That-Really-Truly-Wickedly-Suck-Giant-Mothra-Wang. (oh wait, I think Mothra's a girl. Alright, Godzilla wang then)

Dan felt like a fellow traveler. He inspired me. I didn’t feel so alone with my whack take on the family curse I’m rockin’.

He spoke, on Facebook, of a spinal tap he had which reminded me of my own tap. It was a Pedro Almodóvar by way of Guillermo del Toro experience. Hilarious, surreal and, yes, scary as hell for my 23 year old self. This was before MRIs were invented (yes, I AM that old, thenkyew). Diagnosing Nf2 was a much more complicated endeavor involving test upon test, procedure after procedure. My future's trajectory was riding on the results of this poke and pull.

Solemnity would be the thing — right? Eh, that’s just not how me and my vida loca rolls. This Is Spinal Tap — go read if you haven’t already.

Comedy leavens the horrors of this world.

To paraphrase Emma Goldman, If I can't laugh, I don't want to be part of my own nasty-ass disease. (sorry Emma)

Dan West was a comrade warrior in the con brio, con risate struggle against our respective afflictions. And now he’s gone.

Life’s short — dance while you can. Dammit!

Here’s the beautiful obit Dan’s employers, Harvard Business Publishing, sent out to his co-workers:

To the HBP Family
From: David Wan & Adi Ignatius
We lost a great friend and colleague yesterday: Dan West, a senior production specialist in the HBR Group.
Dan was an amazing man. He was brilliant, talented, funny, charismatic, and always did things his own way. He was a founding member of one of our nicest traditions: the lunch crew that regularly takes up a big table in the 1st-floor cafeteria. The group routinely plays cribbage during their break, and Dan created a special board for the games, replete with a variation of the Harvard shield. He was the founder, after all, of what he called the "Harvard Gun & Cribbage Club."

Dan had a zest for life. He was a regular, for example, at Hell Night at the East Coast Grill, where the restaurant would serve unconscionably spicy dishes to fearless eaters like Dan. (If you tried to order the pasta made with "ghost chili," the waiter would actually try to dissuade you from doing so, which was only a greater temptation to diners like Dan.) He was a serious music fan with eclectic tastes, and his favorite band was Mission of Burma, a brainy and loud post-punk indie band from Boston.
Dan was only 50 when he died, having been battered at an unfairly young age by a string of health problems. He endured a rough couple of years, but fought tenaciously throughout. Dan was refreshingly and disarmingly frank about his illness and the possibility of his dying. But he handled it all with a clarity and dignity that has inspired us all. In everything he did, he acted like it mattered.

His motto was to do things right, or not at all.

Dan is survived by a loving and caring wife, Kelly Myers West, who was with him at the hospice when he died last night. And he is remembered fondly by a long list of devoted friends and family members, including so many colleagues here at HBP.

We don't have any information yet on funeral plans, but we'll pass them on as soon as we do. Until then, crank up some Mission of Burma and think about Dan West.

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