Today we honor the life of my brother-in-law, Christopher Reilly. Chris passed away last Saturday at the University of Maryland Medical Center from complications due to stomach cancer. Chris was just shy of 51 when he died, technically no longer a “young adult,” but still very young at heart.
Chris was no stranger to adversity, having struggled the majority of his young adult life with profound mental illness. I came to know Chris when I began dating his younger brother, Tom, in the late ’90s. At that point Chris was generally mellow, a calmness brought on by the long elusive correct cocktail of medicines and a stability in his personal life. Chris sometimes talked to himself, wrote lots and lots of “sentences” in spiral notebooks that didn’t hold too much clarity for the rest of us, and went off on tangents at the most unexpected time.
A favorite tangent was the story of being in Central Park during the New York City Blackout. The Blackout really happened and Chris was really there with his older brother, but he would bring this up at the most bizarre times. In the last week of Chris’ life I was coincidentally in New York City at a training and Chris had just been transferred to UMMC. It frustrated me to not be able to welcome him to the hospital and Cancer Center, to be there with the doctors and nurses, and ensure that Chris was getting the extra special attention he deserved.
I spent many hours after the training days walking and walking around Central Park thinking about everything Chris saw there and in his life. He certainly saw things that the rest of us did not, and that was mostly just fine with him.
Chris brought many people together in his life and it was no surprise to me to witness how his family and friends came together in the last few weeks of his time on Earth.
We have shared stories, laughed and cried, and rejoiced in the two beautiful and talented daughters he leaves behind. Christina turns 20 today and is in college, studying liberal arts but with a pre-law focus. Nicole is in her junior year of high school thinking about college and potentially majoring in psychology.
Chris’ brothers, sister, parents, and friends will celebrate him today and continue to miss him in the months and years ahead. Unlike them, I will now go back most days of the week to the place where Chris died. I will think about him and all of the souls I have met in my work at the Cancer Center. I will think less though about the ways in which they passed but more about how each of them brought their own unique gift to our world.