Dave Conlin Memorial Speech
Created by David 9 years ago
Thoughts on Taft
For those of you who don't know me I am Dave Conlin, Taft and Maddi's Uncle, and
Steve's brother. The kids call me Scuba Dave- partially because I am an underwater
archeologist (yes here in Colorado) and partially because there are three uncle Daves in
My wife Michelle and I don't have kids of our own, so Maddi and Taft are two of our
children. Taft is our son too.
I would like to thank the Conlin and the Ingalls family for the honor they do me today
and for the opportunity they have provided me to share my thoughts with you all, and to
help us all celebrate the life of this wonderful young man.
I would also like to thank Pastor Brooks, Susan Washing and the other great souls who
have made this space available to us all today- thank you-it is worthy and powerful work
that you do, and today more than ever.
Finally I would like to thank you all for being here with us today to help bear this
unbearable weight, to celebrate a life that far outshines this tragedy, and to move
towards healing. The generosities and kindnesses-large and small-of you all have been
every bit as stunning, every bit as breathtaking, as the tragedy that we have been made
Taft was our boy too and he was, most definitely, all boy, all the time.
When he was about 5 he learned how to write his name. That Christmas, Steve and
Louise gave everyone in the family acorn brand slippers. The morning after christmas I
walked downstairs to see "T-A-F-T" in a carefully executed childhood scrawl inside each
of my new slippers. "Taft!" I barked at his as sternly as I could muster, "did you do
this?!". He looked at me with his beautiful cornflower blue eyes and said in the voice of
an absolute angel "No uncle Scuba Dave.". Trying hard not to laugh I barked at him
again "Taft, are you lying to me?!". Once again he looked at me with his beautiful blue
eyes and said after a long pause ".....yes.". Of course by that time he had me licked and
my Taft Conlin designer slippers are a treasure that I will never let go of.
But that was Taft, all boy, equal parts sweetness and mischief.
If it burned, blew up, went fast or could be broken, there was Taft, right in the middle,
leading the charge- pop guns, potato guns, squirt guns, real guns, you name it. And
more often than not, right along side him, his running mate, buddy, part-time financier
full-time cheerleader, his dad, my brother Steve.
His recent seventh grade science experiments about how to put out grease fires, which
we all knew were really just an excuse to indulge his inner pyro, are already legendary
in the Conlin and Ingalls families and I'm not sure who was more into it, Steve or Taft, or
dare I admit it, maybe me. Taft Conlin lived his life full-on, not out of recklessness, but
out of the strength and confidence he drew from his mom, dad, sister, friends and the
numerous other role models he found here in the village that raised him.
Steve gave him oomph, but Louise gave him wisdom, Maddi gave him kindness as well
as a taste for mischief. His quirkiness, well that was 100% home grown Taft.
Taft was an incredible athlete and he loved to ski. I'm not a bad skier myself, but about
mid season last year it was apparent to everyone that, again, he had me licked. Steve
held on a little longer but the time was fast approaching that he too was going to get
smoked on the hill. My recent episodes of skiing on the hill with Taft involved robust,
non-stop telemark skiing beat-downs, sweetly but firmly administered by a 13-year old
looking over his shoulder and saying "come on Scuba Dave, hurry up.".
That we were too old, too boring, too slow, too uncool to ski with on Sunday, and that
Taft wanted to ski with his buddies was natural, inevitable, and the way things are
supposed to be.
I haven't been sleeping much this past week, and Taft has been keeping me up- I guess
it has given me lots of time to think.
I am up here to talk about Taft's life, but I am also up here to ask the question we have
all been asking ourselves:
"Why did this happen?".
"Why do such horrible, terrible, agonizing things happen to good people like Taft, Maddi,
Louise and Steve?"
This is a question that has split religions, started wars, divided countries, founded whole
branches of philosophy and in the end we have many answers-- and also none. My
answer is that we will all have to arrive at our own answer. My answer is that friends and
family and thoughts and prayers and the guidance of those wise ones who walk among
us may help us find those answers,
my answer is that, right now, I don't know why this happened.
But let me tell you what I do know:
I know that you can't control how you feel, but you can control what you do with those
I know that when we are angry that this happened to Taft, we can use that to find our
strength, and we can channel that strength to do remarkable, transforming things for
ourselves and for others.
I know that when we are confused about why this happened, we can seek answers from
our teachers, or families and our friends and in that process of asking we can forge new
connections to others that will make us all better.
I know that when we miss Taft, we can grab those he left behind, appreciate how rich
our lives remain, and thank him for the incredible gifts he gave us all while we were
blessed with his life.
I know that if we feel bitter we will have to realize that bitterness is hope denied and that
our hopes for Taft have been transformed by this terrible event. We can no longer
achieve our dreams for him directly, and instead we must seek out those same qualities
in others that we saw so much of in Taft- adventure, curiosity, sweetness, strength,
quirkiness. To avoid bitterness we must nurture these qualities in ourselves and in
others, as we honor his memory.
I know that when we are sad we can change this sadness to sweetness, empathy, and
light that will shine for us all and enrich our communities and our lives.
And on the subject of sadness I know that we are all sad, but just as we all shared Taft,
so too must we share our sadness. Steve, Louise, Maddi- he was your son and brother,
but that doesn't mean that you get to have this all for yourselves. We all loved him too
and we get to, we will, carry some of this sorrow for you as well.
Finally I know that when I finally stomp my last pillow drop, ski my last powder glade
and punch through to the other side of my existence, I won't be surprised in the least if
the first thing I see coming through that tunnel of light is two cornflower blue eyes, an
impish smile and Taft looking over his shoulder saying "come on Scuba Dave, hurry
Once again, Taft will be leading the charge.
Thank you to the staff of the Vail hospital who worked so hard for Taft. Thank you to our
heroes in ski patrol and our other first responders--we know you did everything you
could for Taft, we know some of you risked yourselves, put yourselves in danger, risked
a scene like this for your own families to try and save Taft. We know you are beating
yourselves up late at night with the "what if" questions--
so are we. We get it, and we are so sorry that this happened to you as much as it
happened to us.
For the boys- Reid, Patrick, Peter, Dylan. We want you all to know that you didn't do
anything wrong, that you weren't skiing out of bounds, and that we are so so grateful
that you guys are okay. We want you to know that the medical evidence tells us that
there was nothing, absolutely nothing, you all could have done differently that would
have saved Taft's life.
We want you all to be safe but we want for you all to continue to rip on skis, bikes and
on the sports field, to live your lives as strongly and as powerfully as you can, to ski and
have adventures and to engage this world full-on, just like Taft did. Because it would be
a different, and more subtle kind of tragedy, if this terrible, terrible thing that happened to
your buddy was allowed by any of us to cripple your future in any way.
In conclusion I will say this: from the dark place we find ourselves in now, from this
place of almost inconsolable loss, there are many paths towards healing and light. It
will take everything we have, and all the help we can get, to put our families back on
their feet; but we will not be defeated by this, we will not descend lower than we are
now, to hatred and meanness, envy and pettiness. Taft was many things, but he was
never any of those things.
We must grab the black coals of bitterness, anger, sadness and loss that we all are now
carrying, we must pull them closely to us, hold them and crush them, transform them in
ourselves and in others, to bright shiny diamonds of hope, strength, sweetness, love,
connections, and community that are the flip sides of our darker thoughts. We must
always seek to move towards the light, to find a positive way forward, however difficult
and however hopeless it may seem, because in this case, trying is every bit as
important as doing. We will help each other, and when things get really really hard we
will tell ourselves "I am stronger than this."
Because we are.