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The Legacy of a Young Man

At first, we think our loved one who has died is gone from us forever. His absence seems all that is left behind, and it occupies all the space around us. Because we can no longer touch him or hear his voice, we fear that his influence on us and on the world is gone.

But then, with every day, with every conversation, every reminder of what he loved – a sunset, a joke he used to tell, his favorite song – some of his absence turns back to presence. We settle into an uncertain hope that he is still here, but in a new way.

And then, after a while, we start to notice that those reminders cause us more comfort than pain. We hope that others will mention his name, share a memory, show us that he is still with them too in this new way. We begin to recall what mattered most to him, and we ask ourselves how we can act to enlarge his presence. We decide to honor him in some way, so that he will be remembered and that his values will continue to make the world a better place.

At the age of 26, Daniel Koutsis was making the world a better place. An exuberant teacher, coach and sports nut, part of a close extended family, he was living his dream. He then learned that he had cancer. He underwent aggressive treatment, and happily returned to his busy life. When he was almost 35, he wrote a memoir of his journey from symptoms to diagnosis through treatment to regaining his health. Just months later, the cancer returned and he did not survive. He died just before his beloved Cubs finally won the World Series.

His parents Angela and Gus have taken on the task of carrying on Daniel’s legacy. They formed the Daniel C. Koutsis Foundation which is dedicated to scholarship, athletics and finding a cure for Lymphoma. They published his memoir, 90 Feet to Home: A Story of Courage and Perseverance, keeping Daniel’s influence in the world. He has lessons to teach still, about never letting anyone feel the outsider, about helping others embrace their dreams, about rabid fandom. He also knew that how you meet challenges will define how you are remembered.

Maybe you’d like to get to know Daniel by reading his book and by learning about the other aims of the foundation at Maybe you’d like to notice what exists in your community to carry on the legacy of other wonderful people who have died but who still influence the world. In my community, there are a basketball tournaments, a miniature safety village, a railroad safety board, a wellness organization for families facing cancer, and numerous other projects. I guarantee that there are where you live too. It is a natural and healing impulse, once we are ready, to take the searing power of grief and apply it to the new unwanted world that loss creates. It doesn’t bring our loved one back, but it brings him forward with us.

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