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Dying young...

Today, I wrote an article about a student at Gardner-Webb who died after a battle with cancer, Jer "Skip" Thao.

Jer loved music. In fact, it sounds like music was an inseparable part of his life. I spoke with his roommate, Mark Houser.

"He would take naps in the afternoon," Mark said. "He'd wake up, sing a song, and then go back to sleep."

"He heard music in everything, he said. In conversations and traffic. Everything had musical quality for him," Mark said. "He had so much music in him. He was part of the music."


Writing the article brought up a lot of difficult emotions for me. During my time at Gardner-Webb, I was privelaged to know Pamela Darnell. During the summer between my junior and senior year, Pamela passed away from cancer.

Early in her illness, she was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. We lived in the same dorm during that time. I was part of the small fellowship group Pamela led. I was dealing with a very bad time of Rhuematoid Arthritis flare-ups that semester. Like Pam, I was in a lot of pain, I couldn't eat very much and I was on a lot of meds that often made me sicker. Unlike Pam, I was often moody and self-pitying. Pam handled her illness with grace and poise and knowing her taught me about the simple virtue in that.

We'd go on "bland-dates" and "plain-dates" in the caf. Our diets were very similiar and very, very limited. We had to be creative or suffer the consequences later. We'd joke that while we may have not been born with "old souls" we definitely were born with "old bodies." But the most important things Pam ever taught me were during the times we'd talk at length about what being sick meant and how it could affect one's faith.

As my illness shook my faith like a brass cage, Pam's illness allowed her to soar and become an even greater testament to her faith and her God. As the illness took it's toll Pam's friends got to see something truly amazing: a beautiful soul. Because even as her cheeks lost their color and her already petite frame lost another 5 pounds, Pam's inner-beauty and strength became visible in ways I would have never imagined.

Pam's death still seems terribly unfair to me. Did she fulfill all that God had planned for her? Was that why her body passed away? How could the world possibly be better withOUT her? Did we need her death to teach us a lesson? Perhaps. Had she been just another sweet, smiling face -- of which there were many during my time at GWU -- I would have known her, loved her and then let her slip away as we both went on about our lives. But her death...her death taught me as much as her life ever did.

Pam crosses my mind often and I find myself searching my memories of times with her for every bit of wisdom she gave me. God knows I was too immature at the time to understand everything knowing her offered me.

Jer touched many lives, too. I hope those that knew him best will know him better than ever as they catalog every memory and remember what made Jer who he was and what will ultimately make him so unforgettable.

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