Kids are like a litmus test. If someone is a good person, they know it instantly. If someone is a bad person, they know it even quicker. My children got to meet Dan Olmsted a few years ago. They knew immediately that he was more than just a good person; he was a fine and noble man.
My children were as upset as my husband and I were when we got the news that a friend passed away. My youngest cried and cried. I did, too. I have a few pictures of Dan at conferences and advocacy events, but the one I have of him with some of my crew is one of my favorites. In it, my oldest is beaming. She’s smiling because she knew just how amazing a human being Dan Olmsted was.
Dan always made himself available, even when I had kids in tow. I love that my children enjoyed Dan's company just as much as I did. Their favorite memory is of us having breakfast with him at a little diner. Full of excitement because they were finally going to meet Mommy's writing friend, the kids were beyond goofy that morning. Not only that, they were excessively chatty, too. I kept trying to hush them as we prepared to eat, but Dan was not bothered by their excitement nor by their extra chattiness. He smiled so kindly enjoying the kids and their happiness.
While listening to them be so silly that morning, I smiled back at a man who exuded only peace. Letting myself relax so I could soak in the moment, I realized just how big this moment was for my children - they were meeting one of my heroes live and in person...and were getting to eat breakfast with him, too! It’s something that they won’t forget. It's something that I'll never forget either.
I'm honored that Dan generously gave so much of himself to me over the years - the helpful emails, the hopeful private messages, the countless positive and uplifting comments - he was so generous. What struck me this week as I reread all of those exchanges is that no matter what we were talking about--be it Ronan, my family, autism, advocacy, upcoming legislation, or just life in general--Dan was always present. In each and every communication we had, both in person and online, he was present. He connected with me as if I were the most important person in the world to him.
I am a better person because of my friend, and I know that my children are as well. Always calm, always encouraging, and always so very thoughtful, Dan was, and will forever remain, a big part of our family's life. I know that to be true for countless other families. Dan opened a door. He set the stage. Then he gave us the platform. He started a conversation about autism, even though he didn’t have to, he continued it. Not only that, he gave us confidence to chime in and to always bravely speak our minds.
Dan inspired. He believed. And he created community. I hate that we have some last words from him, but those last words were*:
Rebel Alliance, unite!
Unite. How fitting.
It will be hard, but my hope is that our community will find comfort together. Today, we mourn what has been an unexpected and deeply profound loss. In time, we carry on and do so in Dan’s honor. Even though his time with us was brief, I promise you that he will be remembered for many years to come. Peace, love, and prayers to those of whom my dear friend leaves behind.
To Dan, you were truly one of a kind, and you will be greatly missed.
To Dan’s family, especially to Mark and to Rosie, I wish I could, but I simply cannot put into words just how much of an impact Dan had on my life as well as the lives of so many others. Thank you for sharing him with us.
To Dan’s friends, as difficult as it is now to imagine life without him, he brought many of us together. That happened for a reason. Let us never forget that.
With only love and respect,
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.