Sam and Danny never met but shared a passion for music, constantly playing guitar and singing by themselves and with friends and family. Diagnosed on the same fateful day- December 8, 2004- but on different continents, they both died of dance in 2007- Sam in June in Somerset, England, and Danny in late October in Santa Barbara, California. Their love of music became a way to express themselves and cope with the challenges that cancer presented.

While these two talented teenagers never met, their parents did! It started with an email to Sam's mother, Jane, sent to Jack Johnson's website to let Jack know how his music was a constant companion to Sam in his final days. Her message was forwarded to Danny's parents and a correspondence between the families about their sons began. In June 2015, Jane and Kevin McDonald visited Danny's parents for a few days. Many emotions were shared over those days, but the main theme was the love of their sons and the gifts that they were and will always be. On the last evening of their stay, Jane read a reflection she had written over the course of several months prior to their visit entitled "Our Boys."

Click above to read Jane's poem "Our Boys".

Frank Riley

The first time I heard the term “actively dying” was from the Hospice nurse attending my 19- year- old son Danny, whose life was being cut short due to brain cancer. It struck me then, and still does, because it seemed to connote action in the context of the loss of vital activities. I know the Hospice meaning is that the person is in the last days, moments of life. However, when you hear it referring to a loved one, the words almost have a reverence/mystery due to the seeming contradiction in terms. As difficult as it was, I acknowledged that my wonderful son was going to die. Hearing that he was “actively dying” made every moment more precious, and almost gave me the cues to say to him: “It’s okay, you can take your journey now’- to let him go, even at 19.

While I shared Danny’s almost twenty years in every way that I could, I never felt as alive with him as when he was “actively dying.” As sad as it was, the intensity of those days by his side, with very close family and friends, seemed to create sacred space in which I felt fully alive to the depth of life, especially the gift of my son’s life.

Danny died on October 31, 2007, Halloween, a day when we celebrate, mock, and disguise death, which is maybe as it should be because in some sense we are all “actively dying.” From the moment of birth, we are vulnerable to what gives as well as takes life. We should celebrate all the meaningful moments of our lives, because someday we may die suddenly or be “actively dying.” Either way, the gifts of our life and the lives of those we love and/or who love us will end. This does not have to be a maudlin preoccupation but a simple acceptance that leads us to appreciate each person and opportunity that comes our way. During the almost three years that Danny had brain cancer, he tried to continue his normal activities and, in the midst of these activities, he wrote songs, poems, sang, and played his guitar: http://www.dannyriley.com. One of his poems seems to share his awareness of dying:

when im dead
and they write about me in retrospect
i dont want the writing to be about
my acomplishments
but rather
my loves.
all those i have loved
and all those who have loved me. –Danny

Frank Riley
October 28, 2014

Frank Riley

Alive to the day
Death silenced his song.
Yet, he sings in the breath of other voices.
Music’s memory creates new songs.
Sing with him the songs
Grateful hearts create.
Sing with him in sadness and in joy!

--Frank Riley

Frank Riley

In the Beatles song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” written by George Harrison, the repeated words “Still my guitar gently weeps” echo as we recall musicians whose guitars were silenced by lives cut short. Their guitars almost weep as we hear them played on recordings left as treasures to grace the sounds of our lives.

Well-known guitar players such as Hank Williams, Jimmy Hendrix, Bob Marley Emily Remler, and so many others live on in the melodies, chords, riffs, and notes their talent and love of the guitar brought to life.

Each one of us could add names to a long list that unfortunately keeps growing. Mine would include Danny, who lived long enough to master the guitar and write meaningful songs, too. One of Danny’s favorite songs was the late Jeff Buckley’s rendition of “Hallelujah” (Grace album).

Whether they played acoustic or electric guitars, the music of artists who died too soon will always touch us. We hear their guitars gently weep for their loss but also lift our spirits as we graciously receive their musical gifts.

Frank Riley

Reflections on Danny Boy Picture

Frank Riley

Danny Riley’s father Frank Riley has written a book about Danny’s experiences living with brain cancer. Sit and Listen: Reflections of a Father and Son combines Frank’s storytelling with Danny’s own thoughts, poems and words. Click here to read more.

Frank Riley

My feelings about the Class of 2010 are colored by the absence of my son Danny who should be among those graduating.

Frank Riley

On December 12, 1987, I stood by my new born son as he struggled for almost eight minutes to take his first breath. On October 31, 2007, I was by his side when he took his last.

Frank Riley

October sings of birth and death, the melodious happy sounds recalling my daughter Alicia’s birth on October 25, 1985, and the harsh discords of my son Danny’s death on October 31, 2007.

Frank Riley

Playing basketball in our driveway was Danny’s main athletic activity through his treatments his junior and senior years of high school. Making a long jump shot seemed to validate that he was okay, strong, and healing.