Game Boy

On February 19, 2017, our Jester, Neil Fachon, crossed over into another realm. The first condolence letter to arrive was from Neil’s friend Trey, whose mother, Gail, was our home care nurse. Trey captured memories of Neil’s love of game play in a long letter. He placed the letter inside a note card. On the face of the card was an original photograph Trey had taken of flowering dogwood. The image was fitting, as every spring a dogwood tree would bloom outside the bedroom window where Neil sat at his computer.

Although Neil and Trey grew up in different towns and attended different schools, they had a friendship that began with recreational soccer when they were grade-school age and continued on into their college years.

So, what does one say or write to a bereaved family? How does one find the right words? Trey just allowed the words to flow and filled two folded sheets of lined paper, with his neat all-caps style of handwriting. His thoughts and memories poured out onto the pages in a fluid stream of consciousness…

DEAR MR. FACHON, MRS. FACHON, AND EVIE,

I WOKE UP THIS MORNING AT ABOUT 7:45 A.M. AND JUST LIKE ANY OTHER DAY, I CHECKED MY EMAILS, LOOKED AT THE NEWS, AND PEEKED AT MY FACEBOOK ACCOUNT. I STARTED SCROLLING DOWN MY HOME PAGE, STOPPED SCROLLING ABRUPTLY, AND SAW “A WISE OLD SOUL HAS RETURNED HOME… NEIL PASSED AWAY JUST AFTER 7 P.M. LAST NIGHT.” OVER THE PAST 6 MONTHS OR SO, I HAVE BEEN GETTING CONSISTENT REPORTS ON NEIL’S WELL-BEING (NEIL WAS THE FIRST ONE I STARTED CHECKING IN WITH, AND THEN LATER MY PARENTS WERE UPDATING ME)…WHEN I SAW THAT FACEBOOK POST (HAVING ALREADY KNOWN NEIL WAS NOT DOING WELL AND WAS IN HOSPICE CARE), I DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO REACT. I WAS SAD, DISTRAUGHT, PERPLEXED, AND FRUSTRATED WITH MYSELF (FOR NOT HAVING BEEN ABLE TO HELP, BEING HERE IN PENNSYLVANIA). HOWEVER, IN THE MOMENT, I DECIDED TO BE CONSTRUCTIVE AND TO BROWSE OVER MY HISTORY WITH NEIL. FOLLOWING IS A LIST OF SOME OF THE BIG THINGS THAT HAVE STUCK WITH ME: PLAYING DODGEBALL WITH NEIL’S FRIENDS AND NEIL IN THE BASEMENT OF THEIR HOUSE ON ASHBROOK RUN, PLAYING H-O-R-S-E WITH THE BASKETBALL HOOP OUTSIDE YOUR HOUSE (NEIL WAS ALWAYS VERY TALENTED AT IT; I WOULD SOMETIMES TELL HIM IT WAS LUCK, BUT HE’D KEEP MAKING THE SHOTS), PLAYING RECREATIONAL AND COMPETITIVE SOCCER WITH NEIL (INDOOR/OUTDOOR) THROUGHOUT MY YOUTH (NEIL WAS ALWAYS A TEAM PLAYER; ALWAYS ONE TO PASS THE BALL AND GIVE SOMEONE ELSE A CHANCE), PLAYING SOCCER FOR PRACTICE IN OUR BACKYARDS, GOING OUT FOR SOME SAILING ADVENTURES ON “QUANTUM LEAP” IN POINT JUDITH POND (NEIL WOULD ALWAYS LOVE TO PLAY HEARTS (AND OTHER CARD GAMES WITH ME IN THE CABIN AND SEE IF HE COULD “SHOOT THE MOON” AGAINST ME), PLAYING “BACKYARD SOCCER’ WITH ME ON HIS COMPUTER (WE WOULD ALWAYS BE OVERJOYED AND OVERCOME WITH LAUGHTER WHENEVER WE SCORED SOME ‘IMPOSSIBLE’ GOALS), PLAYING POOL IN MY BASEMENT (WITH LIMITED ROOM TO MAKE A SHOT AND WITH SOME BENT POOL STICKS – NEIL DIDN’T WORRY ABOUT THOSE SMALL THINGS; HE WAS JUST GLAD TO BE DOING SOMETHING FUN FOR BOTH OF US). THOSE ARE SOME, BUT NOT ALL, OF THE MEMORIES THAT HAVE DEFINED MY FRIENDSHIP WITH NEIL. HE WAS ALWAYS A LEADER, ALWAYS AN ACTIVIST, ALWAYS ATHLETIC, ALWAYS A TEAM PLAYER, ALWAYS THOUGHTFUL, ALWAYS BOLD AND ADVENTUROUS, ALWAYS STRONG, ALWAYS PASSIONATE, ALWAYS FORGIVING, ALWAYS CHEERFUL, ALWAYS CLEVER, ALWAYS ABLE, ALWAYS WELL-READ, ALWAYS A FIGHTER, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY TO ME, ALWAYS A FRIEND. EVEN THOUGH THERE WAS A TIME WHERE ADVENTURES LED US IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS, THERE HAS NEVER BEEN AND NEVER WILL BE A TIME WHERE I HAVE FORGOTTEN OR WILL FORGET NEIL, AND ALL THE JOY AND HAPPINESS HE HAS BROUGHT TO MY LIFE THROUGH OUR FRIENDSHIP. NEIL WILL FOREVER BE WITH ME IN SPIRIT. I WOULD LIKE TO SINCERELY THANK ALL OF YOU FOR LETTING ME KNOW AND BECOME FRIENDS WITH SUCH A CARING AND GENUINE MAN. I WOULD LIKE TO GIVE THE MOST SINCERE OF CONDOLENCES TO EACH OF YOU. WHAT GIVES ME COMFORT IS KNOWING THAT NEIL’S LIFE AND EVERYONE’S MEMORIES OF NEIL SHALL NEVER FADE. EACH PERSON WHOM NEIL HAS TOUCHED IN HIS LIFE WILL BRING NEIL IN SPIRIT WITH THEM IN THEIR EXPERIENCES AROUND THE WORLD. NEIL WILL BE LIVING VICARIOUSLY THROUGH EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US. JUST BECAUSE NEIL HAS PASSED DOES NOT MEAN THE CELEBRATION OF HIS LIFE IS OVER. RATHER, THE CELEBRATION OF HIS LIFE HAS MERELY HIT A NEW PHASE, ONE IN WHICH MEMORIES OF HIM AND WITH HIM WILL LIVE ON FOREVER.

BY YOUR SIDE IN THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS,

TREY 20 FEBRUARY, 2017

This letter brought immediate comfort and some laughter. Trey mentions “SHOOT THE MOON” and ‘IMPOSSIBLE’ GOALS. Shooting the moon is what one tries to do when dealt a really lousy hand of cards in the game of Hearts. It’s risky, yet fun. One plays to win all the hearts and the queen of spades. He who successfully shoots the moon is the biggest winner. If Neil’s life was just a game, shooting the moon was the best metaphor to describe his approach to that game.

Neil was named, in part, for Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to step on the moon. At the time of his naming, we were unaware that the name Neil means champion. He had a strategic mind, which he used to his advantage in competitive chess and tennis, however, he was game for any game.

Neil’s playful spirit reflected the rhyme from a favorite story book, The Jester Has Lost His Jingle: “But one was still happy and bubbled with joy, for he played with life as you play with a toy.” We continue to honor Neil, by raising funds in his memory to The Jester & Pharley Phund. which delivers Jester books, dolls and joy to pediatric cancer patients and other children facing a wide range of other serious life challenges.

Dear Me

     Back in January 2011, Neil’s science teacher asked each of his freshman students to write a letter to themselves, to be delivered upon college graduation. Little did Neil know he would not live to read the letter he’d written. In May 2018, Mr. Rath contacted us, told us about the letter and asked if we would like to have it. At first, he had hesitated doing so, fearing the letter might contain something we might find painful, but on balance he thought we should make the decision about whether or not to read it. The following Sunday, Mother’s Day, Dean carefully slit open the envelope and handed it to me. I read it aloud:

“Dear Me,

“By the time I read this I better be a billionaire mechanic top class with a chauffeur and lots of nice stuff. JKJK. But seriously. It better be better than where I am right now though, cause where I am now is seems to be no friends, only Starcraft 2, Chess, in the fall soccer and whatever else I decide to do. My niche which is apparently the main thing I am supposed to be writing about, according to Mr. Rath, is small. I don’t have much of a niche at school. I go I learn take notes take tests, move from group to group, talk from person to person without any real close friends. Sept Andrew, but you probably don’t even remember him where you are somewhere in the future, Plus he changed schools to Hendricken so we can’t hang much anymore. My niche at home is fairly small. I help with yard work; raking, shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, picking up sticks, minny stuff nothing big. I just sit around playing Starcraft 2 all day. Which is probably going to cost me a bit, but hopefully it doesn’t cost you wherever you are. Hopefully you actually got a girlfriend and a group of friends you hang with on Friday nights. People call you regularly and chat. I know I don’t have it as bad as many others, but it would be nice to have friends to hang with after school that aren’t complete morons. I hope whenever you open this letter you find it of interest and not a peculiar annoyance, because if you found this to be an annoyance that would kinda be sad to me. It would mean you’d fallen farther into a slump than you are now. Well enough of this riff raff. You probably gunna think you were crazy back when you was me.

“Sincerely,

“You”

      I had to pause to wipe away my tears every time the text blurred before my eyes. We were aware Neil’s first semester of high school was a tough one, between soccer team hazing and disappointing friendships. When Neil chose to confide in us about his social challenges, he did so because he needed us to listen, yet refrain from becoming directly involved, and we learned to respect that.

     Dear Me. Ironically, the opening words are suggestive of an exclamation expressing surprise or distress, as in “Dear Me, how do I answer this question?” Describing one’s niche can be an intimidating writing assignment for a young person. A niche is a position, role, career or activity that suits somebody’s talents, personality and interests. How many kids struggle to figure out where they belong… how they fit in among their peers or how they find their special place in the world?

     Daunting as this may seem, questioning one’s niche is a tremendously valuable exercise in and of itself, because quite simply, it provokes deep thought. I sensed that, for Neil, this particular question sparked an urgent search for answers… Eventually, Neil’s niche became “friendship.”

If you were to write a letter to yourself, what would you write?

What do you think about Writing?

Estudiantes de ESL, corte y pegue el siguiente texto en “google translate” para convertirlo a su idioma principal.

One year, Neil’s first assignment for English class was to write a letter to the teacher, about English and writing, so he wrote:

  I like to be treated with respect. It’s nice when teachers tell funny stories about their past related to a subject we’re discussing. I find that it makes classes more interesting and keeps students from dozing off. I really dislike it when a teacher gets overly strict and starts to yell at the class or when one student is goofing off and the whole class gets blamed.

  As a writer I can write pretty strong and vividly, but it’s definitely not my strongest subject. I’d like to get better at using quotation marks and conversations in my writing. I like to write about my memories and past experiences and hate writing “how to” procedures. I’m best at voice in my writing and worst at spelling and grammar (But please, please, please don’t do to many grammar lessons, they bore me to death. Probably why I’m worst at it).

  My favorite book series is the “Alex Rider” series. It’s about a teenage spy who does James Bond kind of stuff. My favorite book type definitly, positivly is fiction/fantasy/Science Fiction. In past classes I’ve hated doing picture narative and have loved doing personal naratives.

Some people like to write science fiction of fantasy stories, while others may prefer composing poetry or keeping a personal journal. Some people dream of publishing a book, while others just enjoy writing and receiving letters. Imagine writing a letter to a teacher and sharing your opinions and preferences with regards to writing

What would you like the teacher to know about you?

What do you like and dislike about English class?

What are your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing?

How would you like to improve your writing?

What kind of writing do you enjoy doing?

What genre of books do you like to read?

What are your favorite activities outside of school or work?

Do you participate in activities you might like to write about?

January 28, I begin facilitating a high school Writing Club and am looking forward to conversing with the students about their personal goals – what kinds of pieces they wish to write, what they want to learn and how they hope to improve their skills. Beyond that, I look forward to guiding them, reading their words and learning more about them. So, what do YOU think about writing?