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.

Be a Difference Maker!

Student Leadership Training Program (SLTP) founder, Jim Fitzgerald emphasized service, “A big part of everyday is spent building character and those efforts culminate on Friday with our service project. For the last few years that project has been to decorate hats to provide to hospitals to give to kids.” The service project centered around David Saltzman’s magical children’s book, The Jester Has Lost His Jingle. which has been a part of the SLTP program since it’s publication in 1995.

Saltzman was an English and art major at Yale University, diagnosed with cancer during his senior year. For the next year-and-a-half, he kept a journal of his thoughts and drawings while completing The Jester Lost His Jingle and other stories. David Saltzman died 11 days before his 23rd birthday. Five years later, his parents published The Jester Has Lost His Jingle and printed 10,000 copies to give to hospitalized children. The book imparts lessons of hope, humor, encouragement and charity. David’s parents also established the Jester & Pharley Phund, a non-profit dedicated “to bringing the joy of laughter and the love of learning to all children, especially those who may be ill or have special needs.”

Regarding the SLTP service project, Jim explains, “It is a defining time for our kids,and we celebrate their feelings by sharing David’s wonderful story about choices and the meaning of love. The group explores the concept of service and how to make it more meaningful and less of a chore.” At the end of the difference maker workshop, each student receives a large, decorative safety pin with a jingle bell to wear at future SLTP events. “We tell them,” says Fitzgerald, ‘When you hear the bell jingle, you need to remember: It’s up to YOU to make a difference. It’s up to YOU to care.’”

Many SLTP students returned to their high schools and implemented The Jester & Pharley Phund’s Reading To Give program in their local elementary schools. Neil Fachon volunteered to lead the program in East Greenwich. He teamed up with other SLTP alumni, planned meetings, coordinated the paperwork, helped present dramatic readings of the book to elementary classrooms and enrolled the younger students in read-a-thons to raise money for giving Jester books and dolls to pediatric cancer patients at nearby hospitals. He also helped thread beaded jingle bells to give out as a reminder of the Jester and his joyful spirit.

Four years later, when Neil was hospitalized for brain surgery and later pneumonia, I wore the jingle pin he had made everyday. One unforgettable character in The Jester Has Lost His Jingle is a little girl lying in a hospital bed with her head wrapped in a bandage. The jester visits her room, talks with her and tries to cheer her up. It is the most precious moment of the story. It is where the Jester discovers he still has his jingle – his ability to bring joy to others.

Many people are unaware that when a child has a serious illness, his or her life can become depressingly isolated. Some children are so sick they are unable to go to school and be with their friends. It is easy for the kids at school to forget about the friend who is not present. While siblings, parents and caregivers do their best to tend to the well-being of a pediatric cancer patient, that patient sorely misses the company of friends. Friends are special! Friends are the jesters of life!

Since Neil’s passing on February 19, 2017 from DIPG brain cancer, $20,401 in cash and in-kind contributions have been given in Neil’s memory to The Jester & Pharley Phund to help bring joy and laughter to hospitalized children. These kind gifts have resulted in the donation of 577 Jester books and 448 Jester dolls and 4 Jester Educator Enrichment Manuals to hospitals, as well as the donation of a Smile Cart to Camp Sunshine, along with 36 Jester books, 2 Jester dolls and 2 PhunBooks.

The Jester Has Lost His Jingle is Dream Visions 7 Radio’s February Kids Book-of-the-Month. For every $10 donation in Neil’s memory, The Phund will be honored to donate a copy of “The Jester Has Lost His Jingle.” The donor and Neil will be acknowledged in a bookplate. You may want to order a copy for a special child in your life; this book is inspirational for students or for anyone of any age who could use a mood booster. Donations and personal orders can be made online at www.thejester.org or checks may be mailed to The Jester & Pharley Phund, P.O. Box 817, Palos Verdes Estates, CA 90274. Donors may also contribute by calling 310-544-4733. Be a difference maker, give the gift of joy and laughter to someone in need.