Daniel Kennedy was born in Barham NSW, second child to Pam and Peter, on the 18th of October 1983. 1983. The 80s weren’t that long ago— I’ve still got shirts from then. I think I’m wearing one now. Normally at a funeral the person you’ve come to farewell was usually born in the 1920s or 30s. There is a whole life that has been lived that we can celebrate. Dan’s life was only just beginning. This shouldn’t have been the whole story. It just seems so wrong.
Dan Kennedy was a remarkable person. Now I’m only a second cousin and probably most of you here knew him a hell of a lot better than I did. But even though I rarely saw Dan more than a couple of times a year there are few people that have made a bigger impression on me.
Over the past few days talking to those who loved him, it dawned on me that I wasn’t the only one to feel this way. And I am not the only one who feels so ripped off that Dan has gone. But this is not the sort of attitude that he lived his life by. I’m sure he had his moments of despair and self-pity like the rest of us but the Dan Kennedy that we all knew wouldn’t have dwelled on the negative stuff for too long; he would be out there trying to make the best of things, to make the most out of what we’ve got. Dan took whatever life threw at him head on; he didn’t have time for making a fuss. He didn’t want fanfares, he never asked for anyone’s pity. He just wanted to get on with living.
And he was always this way. As a baby Dan basically skipped walking. By the age of 9 months the family had moved to Tarra Valley and later, Toora, and Dan went from crawling straight to running. At first it was chasing after his big sister Melissa, and then later, running from his little sister Amanda. And he didn’t really stop running, as was evident by the number of accidents he had as kid: running into a fence and damaging his front teeth, running through another fence—barbed wire this time— and straight into a dam where he almost drowned himself. It was amazing he even made it to Toora Primary school at all.
But he didn’t stop running then. Pam would send Dan off with his lunch every morning and every afternoon it would come home in his bag untouched. Not that he didn’t like the sandwiches she made, just that he was so busy running around at lunchtime that he never had time to eat it. Pam soon learned not to make tuna sandwiches, or anything that would go off after sitting in a school bag all day.
For those of you who knew Dan only in the last few years when the leukemia and the complications of the treatment had ravaged his body, it may come as a surprise that Dan was an outstanding junior sportsman. Following the influence of Pam and Peter, Dan was into virtually every sport going. Little Athletics was his first competitive sport, but he also excelled at basketball, footy, cricket and word is he had the strongest throwing arm in the district. He won a number of athletic events at regional competitions and placed in a few at state level. Dan represented the Alberton Football League in the under 13 & 15 teams, made the representative sides for basketball and cricket and in 1998-99 won the “Dean Jones Alberton Junior Cricket Association Player of the Year.”
He not only played with the Toora Under 16s cricket team for seven years, but being a small town, often the adult teams were a few blokes short and Dan was more than willing to fill the breach. Pam remembers Dan filling in for the senior team when he was eleven. The ground was a cow paddock in the off season and the mongrels made him field down at fine leg amongst all the divots and everything else. Not the easiest surface to pick which way the ball would bounce. By the end of the days play Dan had more divots in him than the cow paddock. It was around this time that at a game played at Tarwin when they were again short of numbers. Dan trotted out onto the field to fill in and following was his six-year-old, three-foot-high sister, Amanda. It was a scorcher of a day and a number of the older boys were feeling the heat and had to leave the field. Not those two idiot Kennedy kids, they stayed out under the blazing sun the entire day.
In February 1999 the family moved to Leongatha as all the kids were attending Mary McKillop College. Dan joined the Leongatha Football Club and commenced playing on the U16 team. During a match towards the end of June he kicked a goal as the half-time siren sounded. As the huddle formed it was realised that Daniel was nowhere to be found. He was still lying where he had kicked the goal, unable to move as he had torn his hamstring. Little did anyone know that this would be the last time Dan would play footy.
In August 1999 Dan didn’t seem himself. A trip to the doctor ensued. Blood tests were taken and results came through at 10pm that night. Midnight saw Dan at the Royal Children’s Hospital which was to become his second home for the next six years particularly Ward 6 East. Dan’s footy and cricket days were over. But he didn’t let that get him down, merely turning the same tenacity he showed on the sporting field to dealing with his disease. At times the treatment seemed worse than the cancer but Dan never allowed his spirit to remain unbowed for very long. The horror of what he went through never changed who he was. For instance, he hated using his mopep. A mopep is a small blower that he needed for clearing the gunk from his lungs. Dan didn’t think he needed to use it but the physios insisted. He usually managed to wangle his way out of it by distracting the physios—chatting with them, cracking as many jokes as he could so that by the end of the session he hadn’t got around to doing his exercises.
For six years Dan was in and out of hospital and it’s just impossible to imagine what he had to go through. And as strong and resolute as Dan was he wouldn’t have been able to fight as well as he did without the unbelievable support of his family. Pam, Peter, Melissa, Amanda, his grandparents Jan and Tarz and I’m sure many others that I don’t know about provided the most sensational support crew and were the strength Dan needed when he’d used up his own reserves. Amanda even went the extra step when in 2003 Dan relapsed and it became apparent that he needed a bone marrow transplant and she volunteered to be the donor. Some families would break under such strain, not this one. They not only continued to love and support each other but were able to help Dan live as normal and productive a life as possible in the times he was out of the hospital.
The leukemia didn’t totally spell the end of Dan’s sporting days. In remission he was well enough to take up lawn bowls and was soon playing pennant at Toora and actually skipped a Division 5 rink at Corinella soon after. The highlight for him was making it into the final of the ‘100 up’, which he played against his father, Peter. He was unsuccessful at his first attempt but turned the tables 3 yrs later at Leongatha when he got to beat Peter in the 100 up final. Now his old man might try and claim he was playing dead that day but I wouldn’t be believing it.
With treatment started in preparation for his bone marrow transplant, the bowls pennant finals were nearing and Dan was hoping he would be well enough on the day to play. As it turned out he was too sick to compete but someone up there must have been in his corner because that day the rain and hail came down by the bucket load and with the green underwater the match was postponed to the next Saturday, by which time Dan was fit enough to play and they went on to have a memorable win.
Though he had an incredible struggle, and several times we all thought we’d lost him, Dan kept on fighting and making the most of the times when he was well. When he first started treatment he used to come down to our place at Patterson Lakes to go fishing with my Dad who was also undergoing cancer treatment. Though there was a fifty year age gap, Dan and Baz really bonded as they reeled in bream after bream after bream. Later when asked by the ‘Make a Wish’ Foundation what he would like to do for his wish he chose a trip to Cairns, deep sea fishing where he caught a nice 3-and-a-half foot shark and a couple of large Coral Trout. He was still speaking of that trip the week before he died.
Another habit I think he might have picked up from my old man was a love of the races. Sick of running down to place his bets at the TAB, Pam soon set up a telephone account for Dan. He was so good at the caper that he soon had the nurses and doctors and even the hospital chaplain coming to him for tips. Even in the intensive care unit he had a form guide by his side. Once Dan turned 18 he gained a membership at Stony Creek Race Club and would attend as many meetings as possible with Rex, Coral & Mook, summoned to pick him up and deliver him home.
Dan was an avid Carlton fan. No one is exactly sure why Dan chose to barrack for Carlton— Peter is a Bulldogs supporter and his Mum goes for Melbourne. But typically, Dan chose his own path. It was as if he didn’t want to take sides and that too was typical of Dan. Always fair and considerate of others, the last thing he ever wanted to do was cause a fuss.
But last year we did get to make a fuss over Dan. The family had to twist his arm but for those of us lucky enough to attend Dan’s twenty-first, it was an incredible experience. It was a real celebration of life and I know that it meant the world to Dan and he felt it was the best thing he had ever done. Having his 21st allowed Dan to reconnect with some of his mates from school and for the past year he felt like he was back involved in real life, one that didn’t involve hospitals and needles and isolation units.
And then came the infection that led him to hospital for the last time. He was going to have some of his toes amputated but Dan dealt with it in typical fashion. I spoke to him just after he’d gone in and within minutes we were joking about how toes were over-rated anyway. He was like that right up to the end. Solid, unflappable, going about what he had to do with as little fuss as possible. But I reckon just like his twenty-first, he wouldn’t mind the fuss we are making today. It’s so good to see so many people here who like me feel blessed just for having the chance to know such a wonderful person as Dan Kennedy.
Sure, he wasn’t here for anywhere near long enough but the way he lived his life, rose to meet every adversity with grace and courage and acceptance, is an inspiration. In just twenty-one years he showed us all how to go about living. As Peter and Pam said to me, he was a true hero to us all. And you can’t argue with that.