Brendan Ruppenthal was one of my best friends. He was also my unrequited high school crush. I bring this messy, embarrassing chapter in my life up only because it speaks so directly to the kind of person Brendan was. He, our friend Brian, and I were nearly inseparable in high school, participating in theater and multiple choirs together. And me, being the sensitive, overly-emotional, nerd I was, developed a huge crush on Brendan and told him so. And he, being the laid back, kind, and calming presence he was, made it very clear that he did not return my feelings but that we could still be friends. My experience has always been that when you tell a friend you have stronger feelings for them and they don’t return the sentiment that that’s the end of the line. Your relationship is never the same and most times you never talk again. Brendan was the exception to that rule. His continued friendship was one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me.
Brendan introduced me to the Dave Matthews Band. My first semester in college, in fact my very first week, Brendan drove up to Drew and picked me up. We went to Hershey for the weekend and saw my very first show with his brother Christian who I had met but never hung out with before. This was one of the most formative experiences of my life. Though I was in college and virtually an adult living on my own in a manner of speaking, my mother had forbidden me from going and missing a class or two my first week. Not unreasonable in retrospect. I went anyway of course and felt like some sort of secret agent, sneaking away with my friend, drinking my first bronsons in the parking lot and seeing DMB for the first time. I remember telling Bren that I didn’t know if I liked bronsons or not before he laughed and explained that bronsons were beers and I was a dork.
Two weeks later I was taking a train into New York City by myself for the very first time and meeting Christian, his friend Brad, and later Brendan to see Dave Matthews Band in Central Park with 100,000 other people. From that point on Brendan, Christian, and I with a revolving door of many others saw countless DMB shows together, sometimes I would see 5 in a year. I’ve seen over 40 now. They were the days I looked forward to more than almost anything in my life. Christian and I became just as close, maybe closer, than Brendan and I were. In the end, Christian was the person who married my husband Chuck and me. Christian’s wife Juliann was by my side as a bridesmaid. All of this because Brendan generously made the decision to remain my friend.
Not long after I started going to shows with Brendan he met Jenny, his incredible wife. And almost immediately that was it. They were perfect for each other – two strong, determined, wonderful people, even more so together. They forged a beautiful life full of friends, family, Disney, and so much more together through all kinds of challenges including their completing hockey fandoms – Rangers for Bren and Flyers for Jenny (something that continues to boggle my Rangers loving mind) – and for the last 9 years have fought Brendan’s cancer diagnosis with a united front stronger than anything I have ever seen.
Three years ago Brendan found out about Cycle for Survival and encouraged us all to get involved. He founded Team Rookenthal to raise money for rare cancer research. Not just because Memorial Sloan Kettering treated him but because they treated so many others – gave innumerable people and their families hope. In those three years, taking our lead from Brendan’s boundless enthusiasm and drive we have raised over $75,000 to fund rare cancer research – to try to end rare and underfunded forms of the disease like the one who took the life of my friend yesterday.
Often when we die someday the best we can hope for is to leave a mark in the kind of person we were and the relationships we made while we were here. Brendan already had that covered in spades. But in addition to the literally hundreds of people who love him and miss him fiercely, whose lives were better for having known him, he leaves a more tangible legacy in the founding of Team Rookenthal and his fight to end rare cancers not just for himself, but for all those affected. It has been incredibly hard to wrap my mind around the news over the last 24 or so hours, even knowing that he was sick, seeing him fight the way he did, it was often easy to imagine that this day would never come. It simply couldn’t. The idea of losing someone my own age, someone who was still building that incredible life with his wife and son, is unfathomable no matter the circumstances. Every time my thoughts drift to him and the realization that we will never make another memory, we’ll have another beer, Rangers game, or DMB show together my heart breaks all over again, and I don’t imagine that feeling will stop any time soon.
Brendan was the kind of friend who would call me from the Gorge and hold his phone up so I could hear my favorite DMB song that I hadn’t heard live yet. He was thoughtful and generous. I am more grateful than he ever knew for his patience, his kindness, and his friendship. The last words I said to him were, “love you buddy. See you soon.” I wish I had gotten to say so much more. But, he hated my gushy emotional rants of gratitude, so he probably would have laughed it off. Considering that I guess there’s really not much more to say than I got the chance to. My friend was kind, generous, devoted, selfless, brave, and funny. He was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known. He was an amazing friend, brother, son, husband, and father. He will be missed more than anyone could quantify and will continue to be loved just as much. Thank you for everything Brendan. Love you buddy. See you soon.
If you’d like to support Team Rookenthal’s continued fight to end rare cancers and Brendan’s wife Jenny and son Callan you can donate below: