Losing a Young Loved One

About two weeks ago, my nephew Troy passed away at 33. He was too young in human years, but as a wise soul, his mission was accomplished. Troy was born with Neurofibromatosis 2 – an insidious disease that produces tumors throughout the body robbing the person of mobility, sight, hearing, speech, and ultimately life. People with this disease often die younger than Troy, but he defied the odds and perhaps did so to share a message.

Humans must understand what is seemingly senseless when someone we love dies young. To honor Troy is to acknowledge his life and, more profoundly, acknowledge the lessons he taught us about death.

As I listened to speakers at his memorial, I marveled at many aspects of his life. Despite the many physical difficulties he confronted, Troy lived. His list of accomplishments is too long for a blog, but suffice; he did more with his life than most non-disabled individuals who live longer. Imagine being blind and deaf and still determined to earn a college degree, write for Apple, go river rafting, horse backing riding, and probably a host of other adventures better left unspoken. Not reckless but fearless.

In a world where most of us complain about inane things and broadcast it on social media – Troy did not complain about the unfairness of his circumstances. He accepted what was his destiny with grace, an open heart, and wisdom beyond his years. Perhaps in knowing that he would die young, he understood that we shouldn’t waste precious time on things that don’t affirm life. Where many of us talk about what we are going to do one day – Troy went ahead and did them. I guess when you genuinely accept that your time is limited, as Tim McGraw would say, you live like you are dying. Most of us can’t possibly think like this and take for granted that the sun will be up tomorrow. It is difficult for us to conceive of our mortality, let alone stare it in the face and embrace it.

Everyone who came into contact with Troy marveled at his joy, empathy, unyielding faith, and writing ability. He had a wickedly good sense of humor and an infectious laugh. We would take our text message signoffs to each other to new heights. If I loved him like peanut butter loves chocolates, he’d love me like sprinkles on ice cream. Silly but meaningful. He learned to play piano at a young age and, when totally deaf – continued to play. His childhood friends became his lifelong ones. Using his tablet as his senses – he debated, managed websites, blogged, and listened to others with an open mind and heart.

His freshman teacher in high school spoke at his service. She candidly shared her annoyance at dealing with a special needs child against the backdrop of all her other duties. Over time, she understood that Troy did not step into her life as her student – but as her teacher. There is a certain mysticism in the age of 33. In numerology, it is a master number and indicates teacher. Perhaps no coincidence that Jesus was 33 when he died.

Maybe coming in close contact with someone burdened by physical maladies from birth gives you a front-row seat to witness something spiritual. It is as if these children and, subsequently adults have a closer connection with the Divine. Their lack of complaint at life’s unfairness seems to say they understand more about life, its purpose, and their role in it. These individuals seem to hover above us, connecting with a higher plane that we, without these challenges, cannot see. They bear witness that while life is filled with imperfections and unfairness, it can still be beautiful and something to be enjoyed, despite limitations. Their physical imperfections foster their perfect heart – showing us that, above all else, we are here to love in whatever time we have.

Troy often assured family and friends that we were all only passing through. His confidence in this was contagious and comforting. He possessed a wisdom that maybe those on the other side of the veil possess, and his joyful and loving nature came from his certainty of what lies ahead.

Superman by Five for Fighting was Troy’s anthem. It is a song that he identified with and perhaps was a summation of how he saw life. The song’s lyric, “Looking for special things inside of me…” is a bold statement and reminder that what resides within us is what matters. Troy found those special things inside of him, and those who love him also found them.

Life in all its forms is precious. Each day a gift. Chase your dreams. Be kind, and remember to love like a jar of peanut butter. Spread it around.



  1. Judith Gwathmey says:

    This is beautiful. The reference to Tim McCraw resonates deeply within. I wish I had gotten to meet this exceptional young man and human being. Many others I am sure missed seeing and learning about this cosmic comet. A new star resides in the heavens. Look for it!

  2. Momaqueen says:

    Please accept My Condolence. I feel I know him from the brief history of his productive and Joyful life in spite of the challenges. May he rest with the angels wispering encouraging words to discouraged people on the other side. Thanks for sharing his Beautiful Soul with me.

  3. Jane Flood says:

    Thank you for sharing this.

  4. LindaB says:

    So very sorry to hear of your loss. Troy was truly a gift to you and now to all of us. Thank you for the reminder, through Troy, that we each have immense blessings in our lives and that life itself needs to be made full by actually living! Peace and love envelop you.

  5. Darlene Smith says:

    I love hearing about someone that is truly amazing in this life with so much against him, but still brought so much love and joy and determination to his life. So sorry for your loss but happy that you was part of his amazing life, thanks for sharing your story

  6. Mary says:

    So sorry for your loss. Apparently, all of our loss to not have known him and bren inspired by his life motto

    • Thank you so much, Mary. He was pretty special. Sometimes when I want to complain about something – I think about him and realize I have very little to complain about. <3

  7. David Winegar says:

    Wow… that was an incredible tribute! You combined the many years of your relationship and observation of Troy’s life into an amazing teaching moment for us all. Troy was an incredible person, and I am very sorry for your loss. He taught us a lot, and thanks to you for memorializing and sharing his journey and the lessons he wanted us to learn about his life while “passing through.”

    • David – thank you so much for your kind words. It is a huge loss to our family and his larger community. I think about our ripple effect – in his short life, Troy left a large one. <3

  8. Robert says:

    As you know our son was killed serving our country in one of the many wars that are fought by young men and women for political or persevered threats that are later proven false. He was a hero to us and to many. Before his last deployment I asked him maybe you should think about getting out. He said I cannot think of anything I want to do more than what I am doing. His first war time deployment was brutally hard attached to the 1st Marines on the ground. He is, was and ever will be a Marine. Since his earliest days all he wanted to do was be a pilot. He earned a degree and immediately was commissioned. He accomplished more in 32 years than most in a long lifetime. I thought hard about responding here or in your boob The Bench as I have some very interesting thoughts on that subject. Some times it is providence that opens.

    • Although some of our citizens who enjoy the freedoms won by our valiant service men and women do not understand the sacrifice your son and, by extension, your family has made, our nation is indebted to his service and his ultimate commitment to keep our country free. I am reminded of a Biblical quote – John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for a friend.” To offer one’s life for one’s country and its citizens within is this greatest love. We must never forget these sacrifices nor lose sight that some, despite their youth, have a higher and more noble calling than most. May his memory be a blessing.

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