March in the Desert is traditionally a great month. The weather is almost always perfect with moderate temperatures and clear skies. The tennis tournament in Indian Wells is a fun event showcasing the best players in the world. However, while watching the 3rd set of the tennis finals with Nadal vs del Potro in a close match in Indian Wells last year, our world came crashing down around us. During a side switch in the match, my wife was listening to a message from one of my son’s friends while I was suddenly getting a call from the Palm Springs fire department.
Suddenly, we were experiencing every parents’ worst nightmare getting the call that our 17yo son had just had a skateboard accident and was not conscious. He was being rushed to the trauma center at Desert Regional Medical Center and we needed to get there as soon as possible. While fearing the worst, we were hoping for the best. On arriving at the trauma center, we were rushed back to see him. He looked strangely peaceful with little evidence of any injury immediately visible. However, the news could not have been much worse. Being a physician, I understood the severity of the injury but was not ready to accept it. How could a fall backwards from a skateboard result in an irreversible brainstem injury? I know that injuries can be unpredictable but why Greg? Why us? He was a popular intelligent high school senior looking forward to graduation and anxiously awaiting his college acceptance letters in the next week. We knew he was a good kid and we counted our blessings that we were fortunate to have two wonderful boys. However, over the next week gathered in the intensive care unit with his friends, we learned even more what a special person he was and how he inspired others. He was very bright but very popular. He was lucky that school came fairly easy for him. He would help his friends with calculus and was always a great resource for others. However, somehow he was as cool as they come rather than being considered a nerd. He truly brought out the best in his friends. We sat with him for a mind numbing week in the intensive care unit. Our lives flashed before us as it seemed that everyone we had ever known visited (which I think actually helped us). His classmates gathered around his bed telling heartwarming stories and singing. They even brought in a guitar at one point. The whole experience was surreal but the outpouring of love for our son Greg was incredible. I understand his funeral with almost 2000 people attending was one of the largest ever in the Desert. This was an outpouring of love for Greg and our family. I felt this was the closest one could get to actually physically attending one’s own funeral as almost everyone I had ever known was there. My entire life flashed before me.
They say time heals but this has not been my experience yet. We are gratified that Greg was a happy kid and an inspiration to his friends. I know we were great parents and we have such good memories of our many family trips and experiences. We were so looking forward to seeing Greg live his life, go to college, and eventually raise a family. In his brief 17 years, he had such a positive impact on others. We will never know what he might have contributed to this world. Greg lived each day to its fullest and was kind to others. He had an unusual charisma which attracted others.
Our oldest son Matt was 27 months older than Greg. They grew up to be be the best of buddies. Gregory I think matured faster since he had to keep up with his older brother and his brother’s friends. They had so much fun together. We so treasure now the many trips we took as a family. These wonderful trips bonded our family. As there are so many responsibilities and distractions in our daily lives, a trip makes for quality family time. Matt gave us the best gift at Christmas. He sent E-mails to Greg’s friends and teachers and put together a wonderful book of stories illustrating Greg’s spirit and influence on others. I will describe and excerpt some of the stories below to illustrate how special our son was. The first one is from his beloved water coach Pavol Valovic: each other so much. Thank you Greg for changing our lives.
In the same vein, the Palms Springs High School tennis coach sent a wonderful letter after Greg’s accident describing the impact Greg had had on his team. Although tennis was not Greg’s main sport, this coach of the opposing team noted the fun and comraderie Greg and his partner had while playing doubles. They truly enjoyed the game. They exhibited the joy of sports while demonstrating true sportsmanship. The coach talked to his team after the match and emphasized the fine example Greg and his partner exhibited as part of a team. One of his friends wrote that the week before his accident, he was talking to her about leading Kairos, a Jesuit school retreat. She wrote the following: “ Greg said he had no idea what he was going to talk about because often times Kairos speeches are about overcoming obstacles or personal struggles. Greg said “My life has been great. My family is amazing; my parents are together, nothing crazy has happened. I have great friends. I love my dogs. I just have an amazing life.” He was beaming when he told me this and I felt so blessed to hear him be so truly grateful for everything and everyone in his life. It is gratifying to know that we were the best parents possible to him and helped make the exceptional individual he was in a life cut short. However, he loved life and lived everyday to its fullest. We can learn so much from him. We miss Greg so much.
I know there is a lot of pain and sorrow in your hearts. We all love Greg very very much. I would like to put the pain aside and rather speak about Greg and celebrate his life he had here with us.
I feel blessed that I had a chance be Greg’s water polo and swim coach. Coaching is sometimes hard and draining, but kids like Greg make it so incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling. Greg was one of the co-captains of our water polo team and it was well deserved. He was a silent leader who led by example and his work ethic and selflessness were contagious. Greg was an inspiration for his peers, as well for me. Greg reminded me of myself when I was younger following the footsteps of his older brother into the sport that he loved so dearly. Last year was the first time boys water polo made it to CIF and I know that without Greg we would not have been able to do it. For Greg it was not about goals or personal stats, for Greg it was about the team. He would sacrifice and do whatever it took for the team to succeed. At one home game Greg got his eyebrow split open and probably needed few stitches but refused to go to emergency. He had the lifeguard look at it and went back to the bench to support his team. His dad performed a little patch up work right there at the bench so Greg could stay with his teammates and support them.
That is the story of Greg, an amazing young man who inspired people around him and made this place, my life, and the life of many others more meaningful. Look around, look at all the people Greg touched and shaped in one way or another. It takes a great person to be able to do that.
Greg is not dead and will never be because all of us have a little piece of Greg in our hearts…his smile, a story, a joke he told us during a meal. Therefore, Greg will live forever in our hearts and will be with us every step of the way for the rest of our lives. I know that Greg is in Heaven looking down on us and smiling and saying- it all will be ok.
We love you Greg very much. Forever!