Wednesday, September 8, 2010

An Unlikely Friendship


Almost 7 years ago my husband purchased an online computer game called Jedi Academy for our then 12 year old Star Wars obsessed son. It was his first online game, and I was a nervous wreck about letting him play on the internet with all the news stories I had read about children being manipulated or even lured by strangers they met on the web. I was also keenly aware of the amount of bad language, drug talk, etc. used online, and how unattended children, teens, or even adults would often use online gaming to bully people and be something they weren’t in real life.


So being the paranoid, overprotective mother that I was/am, I used to sit behind our son as he played and I would make him leave a server if the language was bad. Now, what you might not know about me is that I’m very competitive…as in SUPER competitive!


It’s a trait I’ve had all my life, and it’s what allowed me to play college level tennis. So not only did I sit behind my son to prevent him from being exposed to things I didn’t like, but I also used to give him helpful hints about how to play! I’m sure you can only imagine how well that went over with a 12 year old boy…his mom saying “watch out, bad guy,” or “why don’t you try swinging the lightsaber this way?”…


My son quickly suggested that I “try” the game and that it wasn’t as easy as it looked. I just laughed, after all I was the mom who couldn’t even cross the street in Frogger, and I never knew which controls to use on the Playstation, so how on earth would I be able to learn this complicated Star Wars computer game which had characters I had never heard of and really could care less about?! But instead of saying no, I decided that maybe this would be a great way to bond with my son as he entered into the teenage years. I had happily shopped for dance dresses, talked about hair and makeup, watched chick flicks, gone to tea, and shared all things girlie with my daughter, but I was entering unknown territory with a boy and thought maybe this would be a wonderful way for us to stay connected.


True to form I dove headlong into the game, quickly moving from the game type known as “siege” into the ranked lightsaber dueling servers. It was less hectic there, and seemed to have a more mature crowd, 16 and above as opposed to the 13 year olds, and there were even a few old timers like myself! I became sort of an anomaly in the game, a 40 year old “mom” wielding a pretty mean staff saber, and I began to rank up. It was really an amazing thing in many ways, I would log into the game and people (mostly teenagers) would come in and tell me about how they had gotten a good grade on a test I had told them to study for, or when I would enter a server they would reprimand one another for using bad language in front of me and even kick them from the server if they didn’t straighten up! Eventually I became one of the top ranked duelers in the world, which means I basically played too much, but it did give me an added layer of respect both inside and outside of the game… It wasn’t a title I mentioned to my friends in real life who most wouldn’t have understood, but trust me when your son’s teenage friends or your daughter’s prom date find out this bit of trivia about you, you gain instant street cred! (That means you are seen as “slightly” cool!)

In most online games, you have to select a game name, and I was at a complete loss when I started playing JKA, as the game is commonly called. We had recently visited England and I had seen Les Miserables in London so I chose Les Mis as my game name. I was always shocked at how many of these so called geeky gamers knew exactly what my name stood for, even quoting lines from the play from time to time! And even those few who chose to use online gaming as a way to gain power or notoriety they lacked in real life, the bottom line was these were real people with real feelings on the other side of my screen, something I as a 40 year old mom could understand.


A few months after I began playing, I met one person in particular that seemed a bit different than the rest. His game name was Downey and we met one afternoon in an empty server over a few fun duels. We instantly struck up a “gaming” friendship and would agree to meet to duel on a certain day or time. We chatted via typing in the game about our lives, how he was an IT professional at a hospital outside of London, and how I was a freelance writer. He was 26, happily married and an only child for his mother who he adored. He would call me “mom” in the game and joked about how a 40 year old soccer mom could be playing an online computer game!

All of this was during a time when I was helping care for my own mother following her stroke, so having a bit of geeky fun and an escape was truly a godsend! Downey and another dear friend named Mogul, would laugh at my complete and utter lack of knowledge about Star Wars and how I didn’t know a jedi from a jackrabbit, or a sith from a sloth! And as time passed the friendship I developed with Downey would spill over to emails and instant message chats. One evening he explained to me that he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor a year or so before, but that it was non-malignant so not to worry! Although the tumor wasn’t cancerous it had still caused him problems and it was located in a part of his brain that was inoperable. I was shocked and saddened by the news and hopeful that this young man would live a long and full life despite the evidence I found online to the contrary.


In the fall of 2004, Downey, whose real name is Dan, planned a trip to the states with his mom, Sandra, and wife Sue. They had planned to go to NYC and Memphis (his mom is a huge Elvis fan), but he wondered if they took a side trip to Washington DC if I would be willing to meet them. We had often joked about meeting in person, and since we had just been to England the year before, this looked like the most promising chance for us to meet, so we began to make plans to meet for dinner near where they would be staying. Although this went against everything I had ever learned about meeting strangers, somehow it just seemed like the right thing to do! We had exchanged pictures, and I had even seen both Sue and him waving happily to me from a webcam once or twice during the year, so surely these are the people they say they are right?! About a week before we were to meet, I got a lovely email from Dan asking me if I truly wasn’t an axe murderer and I had to chuckle to myself that clearly we were both a bit apprehensive about doing something which seemed so completely crazy…we didn’t even know one another’s last names or home addresses at this point!

But off we went, Mr. Tide, my son Bugs, and me (our daughter wasn’t feeling well and stayed home) to meet this stranger who we met as a character in a game where we slashed one another with lightsabers! The moment he walked in I knew it was him, and we had each brought gifts to exchange with one another. I gave him a mug and he gave me tea which he knew I would love! Within minutes the miles and barriers that had once separated us melted away and it was as though we had known one another forever. We had spoken to one another nearly every day for the past year, so in many ways he knew more about me and my family than people I had known in real life for years, and vice versa!


We found it awkward calling one another by our “real” names and joked about this unlikely friendship we had struck up! And when it came time to part ways we took pictures, hugged, and found it difficult to say goodbye. Like when any two friends have to say goodbye it was hard, and it was made harder by the fact that we didn’t really know if we would see one another again! The reality of our physical distance was one thing, but his illness was always there in the back of our minds.

Thankfully over the years we were able to see one another in person again, and our daughter saw Dan and his family more than any of us when she lived in France. With each passing year we all grew closer, these two families brought together by a silly game. A few years ago I met my daughter in Yorkshire in the north of England for a girls getaway. As soon as I told Dan we would be there he and his family made plans to drive the long way to come see us. We spent a few glorious days with Dan, Sue, Sandra, and his stepfather Del touring the sites of York. The first night we decided to meet at the Minster in York, a beautiful old cathedral with so much history and meaning. As we stood on the steps eagerly anticipating their arrival we met a woman who was also waiting to meet someone she had befriended through the internet. She seemed so relieved that there were other crazy people in the world willing to do this! She told us she had traveled from Canada to meet someone from a book club.

She didn’t realize that I had already met Dan and his family before, and I failed to mention that we had met while slicing and dicing one another in a Star Wars game. When Dan arrived, I turned to him and said “she is meeting a friend from the internet too!,” to which he grinned and said “we met killing one another with lightsabers!” You could see the woman quickly begin to re-think this decision to travel halfway around the world to meet her internet acquaintance, and I think she actually considered running at that point!


Tomorrow, Downey will be laid to rest after a long and brave fight with cancer, his tumor eventually became malignant and he fought with all his might, but the cancer was stronger. I will smile whenever I think of him and his infectious laugh, his keen wit, and his wonderful sense of humor. He loved so many things like the Lord of The Rings, Armani, movies, Robert Downey Jr., Haagen-Dazs, all sorts of music, Superman, but most of all he loved his family and friends. And in turn, he was loved by so many, I am just one person who was lucky enough to call him friend!

I know he is free from pain, and he has already sent a few signs to me in the form of shooting stars, a song, or favorite movies, that he is ok and is watching over all of us! I will forever treasure the last night we were together, when we walked down the street in York to get something I forgot from the bed and breakfast where my daughter and I were staying, just the two of us, walking arm in arm talking about life, dreams, and everything we hold so dear to us. I wish I had one more chance to show him that I was better than him at swinging a lightsaber, to share a cup of redbush tea, and to just chat about anything and nothing at all like we always did. He brought more love, kindness, and generosity into the world in almost 33 years than many people who live much longer ever could hope to. We were an unlikely pair, he and I, but I will thank God each and everyday for bringing our families together!

Tomorrow will be a day filled with all sorts of emotions for his beloved family and friends, and to them I send all my love and strength as they honor this wonderful man, son, husband, grandson, brother, and friend. Rest in Peace my dear friend, you will be greatly missed!!!

Thank you Katee for reminding me of one of his favorite songs!!


  1. How blessed you are to have such wonderful memories of a loving friendship
    This really is a small world and already planned out by God!
    Thanks for sharing this touching part of your life.

  2. What a wonderful friendship that you have shared with this young man. I know that you must be feeling a sharp loss. I will be praying for you and his family!

  3. Through your words I can feel your pain -- and your joy -- I know you will have this friend to hold in your heart forever - and that is your blessing .... sincere sympathy ...

  4. Kat, what a wonderful story of how y'all met and what a wonderful friend you made. Great tribute to your overseas friend. I will be thinking about you tomorrow, my friend.

    xo Kim

  5. What a lovely tribute, Kathy. You are such a tremendous those far away, and those close by.

  6. sorry for your loss of a good friend I,too,with much trepidation made friends with a stranger from England And we didn't even play games We came together over a race horse and neither of us are bettors just lovers of all tings horses One of the first things I did after becoming friendly was recommend Low Tide High Style and se loves you as much as I do and we cat about your latest This one will prob be discussed quite a bit Mostly we hope to meet sometime either here or there How wonderful that would be And your story just sows that it may be possible I hope so

  7. I'm so sorry for your loss. It doesn't matter how we meet someone. Or whether we meet them in real life. We form relationships that sustain us through the good and the bad. And loss is very hard to swallow. But it is part of life and loving fully.

  8. What a wonderful tribute to your friend. It is remarkable how the Internet has made our world not quite so vast.

    My condolences on the loss of your friend.

  9. Beautiful tribute. Feel as if I know both of you and your families personally now. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  10. God bless this poor man and his family.

  11. Kat,truly charming how you met Dan and this unique friendship developed. My thoughts and prayers are going out to his family and to you. olive

  12. What a beautiful tribute you have written for your friend. I am so sorry to hear this sad news but I am so happy to learn of your wonderful friendship. My thoughts and prayers are with you and his family.

  13. How sad....I'm so sorry for your loss Kat. Dan sounded like a wonderful man and a good friend. My thoughts and prayers are with you, your family and his too. He sleeps with the angels now....

  14. I'm so sorry, Sweetheart. I know how much Dan means so you. Now everyone sees why you love him. This thing we call the Internet has great power to bring people together.

    Here's a hug,

  15. I read this with such a lump in my are such a talented writer and this painted a lovely portrait of a man who lived his life to the fullest and truly knew the meaning of friendship. I am so sorry for your loss. My thought and prayers are with you and your family and it will be a long time before I forget this story.


  16. I am so sorry for your loss. I also lost a dear friend myself this past Sunday from cancer so your post was especially helpful to me to stop and think about all the wonderful times we spent together.

  17. Kat, this made me cry and that's not easy to do.
    I have a handful of friends that I met from a chat room back in our 20's that I'm still great friends with today, 20 years later. I used to be embarased to tell anyone that but they've been the dearest group of girls. We've traveled together, been through marriages, divorces, births, deaths...friendship is defined by people's hearts connecting and I can't imagine the loss of any of them.
    My sincere condolences to you for your loss. I'll think about this all day tomorrow...Love to you and everyone he touched.

  18. Tears for Dan,
    today....for you,
    Kat...for the unfairness
    of a beautiful life
    cut short at such a
    young age. As I
    jet off tomorrow to
    be with my friend
    Kathleen as she starts
    chemo, I will hold
    you, Dan and his family
    close to my heart.
    @#$% this cancer.
    Big hugs,
    xx Suzanne

  19. Kat, thank you so much for sharing Downey with us...we just never know the unlikely friendships we will make when we are open to them...I am so sorry for your loss and know he will be deeply missed in this world...XO

  20. There is only one thing which makes a friend, and you had that in great abundance with your dear friend Dan. Terribly sad to lose his life so young.

  21. I'm so very sorry for your loss but I am also so very happy that you were fortunate enough to have become friends and welcome him into your life. My thoughts are with you and Dan's family.

  22. Kathy thank you so much for this. I have bought some white roses to throw in the grave today, there is an extra one from you to him. Sandra

  23. What a beautiful frienship... you explain it with such detail that I couldn't help but feel your sorrow too and cried when I found that he had died. I'm so glad that you opened up to letting that relationship happen and then were able to share it with us. I'm glad that he will always have a place in your heart.

  24. What a beautiful tribute...the quote at the end of the video is so true.

    So sorry for your loss.

  25. Oh Kat, I am so very sorry...I am so glad that you took the chance to meet him and have made so many wonderful memories with him and his family. It is such a wonderful story. You have blessed each other lives and he will live on in you and his family. Thank you so much for sharing your story and may God comfort you during this time.
    Hugs to you my friend....

  26. What a wonderful tribute to someone who touched your heart and your family. I hope Dan's family at some point will have the opportunity to read the lovely words you have written. I am truly sorry for your loss of a dear friend.

  27. Kat, I am so sorry for your loss! What a wonderful friendship you had with the remarkable young man. I am sure there is a special place in your heart and there always will be. Rest in peace, Dan.

  28. This is such an amazing and powerful post. I began thinking it would be about one thing - as my son grows older I am having a harder time finding common ground...I see more gaming in my future - and then it took a turn.

    This is an amazing story about how and why people connect and how people come into our lives for reasons. I am so sorry for your loss. What a remarkable story. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. How lucky you are to have had this experience.

  29. Kat - I'm so very sorry for your loss. How special to have such a good friend. You and his family have my deepest sympathy. God Bless you all.

  30. Thinking of you - what a summer of loss you've had.
    Thank you for writing about this lovely friendship. I can't help but be sure that friendship like this makes the world a better, more peaceful place.

  31. Kat, My heart just sank while I was reading this realizing your dear friend has just passed and as I read your beautiful tribute to him I was moved to tears. Your post was filled with such powerful emotions and what a treasure to have received those comforting signs from him. I hope that helps to ease the pain of your loss. Sending you a warm embrace dear Kat, and my heartfelt sympathy to both you and the family he leaves behind. ~Lili

  32. Kat,
    My sincere sympathy to you, your family and Dan's family. What an amazing and remarkable story. Thank you for sharing it with the rest of us.

  33. Kat, What a lovely tribute to your friend and Star Wars buddy, Dan. I am sincerely sorry for your loss. Your story was so beautifully and lovingly told.
    God bless all of you!

  34. So poignant. I wondered how you had met your friend from the UK who had a brain tumour and never guessed it was connected with your light saber days. I'm so sorry for your loss, but happy for you that you took the chance of getting to know him. He sounded like a gem.

  35. As I read your post, it is 11:00 p.m. and I'm in the hospital sitting with my mom and the tears are streaming down. Mom is gravely ill and it's just a matter of time, and it breaks my heart. I'm sorry for your loss, and I'm thinking of my good friend's mom who just passed away at 93 after a long and feisty life. Downey and Alma will both be missed, and their families world's with be foreign with out them. I will say a prayer for your friend Downey.

  36. what a beautiful story and tribute to your friend. i'm very sorry for your loss ~ but you know he will probably pop in to check on you every now and then :) thinking of you and sending positive thoughts your way.

  37. What a GREAT story of friendship!! Simply Beautiful!!!

  38. Oh Kat! I am so sorry to hear this sad news. You have written such a beautiful account of yours and Downey's friendship, such a beautiful tribute. My heart is so heavy for Downey's family and for you, as I know that you had hoped that you would have been able to see him in person. Thinking of you my dear friend and sending you all my love across the seas. ~ Txx

  39. Kat, This is a beautiful and touching tribute to your friend and a wonderful story of friendship. I am so sorry for your loss.
    Hugs, Sherry

  40. I didn't read this post at first glance, thinking it was about computer games. I'm so glad I came back and took the time to read it through. It is a wonderful tribute, thank you for sharing it with us!

  41. Kat! Thank you so much for emailing me this link. It's very different from my internet friendship story, but also very much the same. Your story is very touching and special and a wonderful way to remember your friend. Thanks for sharing.


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