Letter to a dying friend
by Elizabeth Sterling

I wrote this letter to our friend Damon Chappie, who passed away last Friday, but unfortunately I did not get it in the mail soon enough. Damon was John’s roommate at Penn State University, and later went on to become an investigative reporter for the publication Roll Call. Damon became blind when he contracted a viral infection while vacationing in Mexico 6 years ago. Serious complications from this illness lead to his death last week, at the age of 40. I decided to share it with you all because the lessons Damon taught me were significant. There are so many people we encounter that have a lesson to teach us. The question is are we wise enough to learn?

Dear Damon,

John and Kevin just left to come down to see you. I wanted to send this letter along, but I did not get it written in time to send it with them. I wanted to let you know that I love you, and I am so sorry that your journey has been so difficult, especially lately.

Last night, I went for a long run on the mountain behind our house, and I thought about you for most of that run. I pushed myself to run farther than I really had the time or energy to run. But thinking about your struggles and your suffering, I pushed myself on. Your strength pushed me on. It became quite dark in the woods by the time I was a little over half the way. I thought it was a perfect way to think about you and the difficulties you have faced. When I was almost back to my car, a light off to the left caught my eye. It was the moon, and it was so beautiful.

The light is always there. Even in the darkest time, the light is waiting to catch our attention and remind of us something bigger. Our tiny ego mind focuses on the pain and suffering, but the spirit longs for that light and living way bigger than the ego mind even imagines.

I used to fear death and change, but I never even knew how much I feared them. My fears became so great at one point that I had physical problems that began keeping me from living the life I wanted to live. Once I finally found out that I had these fears that was the first step in learning how to be freed from them. I prayed for help in learning how to accept the inevitable fate of all life forms. And I was granted a precious gift.

My son, Bennett, taught me many things in his short time on this planet. He taught me how to love, to live fully, and most importantly, how to accept death. Our bond was so close, that as he was dying I was led very close to death myself only mine was an emotional/spiritual death rather than a physical death.

Bennett taught me that death is not an end. It is a transition, a migration, a change, a birth. Bennett is so alive today, and I can feel his spirit. He has impacts in this world today that will continue for eternity.

And so it is with you. You may not realize all the impacts you have had on this world. Or, you may feel that they are insignificant, but I know otherwise. Because I know that you have impacted my life significantly.

I will always remember a gift that you gave me when we were out in Colorado for Kevin’s wedding. You may or may not remember this, but you, your girlfriend, and John went white water rafting one day while I headed off on my bike to climb the highest paved mountain road which climbed over 14,000 ft. As I started up the mountain, thunder and lightning threatened my safety. At one point, I pulled off at a latrine just to seek cover. I was able to proceed, but at the halfway point it started snowing. There were so many obstacles for me that day, and no matter how hard I tried or wanted to succeed I was not going to make it. I knew that day was my only shot at making the ascent, and I was very disappointed that I had not achieved my goal.

Not too long after I abandoned my attempt to get to the top, you three pulled up to rescue me. And we drove to the top of the mountain instead. The scenery was spectacular, and it was hard to believe we were so high that we were above clouds. We were ooohing and aaahing, and you began asking what??? What does it look like? And that is when I really opened my eyes. We all began describing the amazing views, and your face showed true delight and joy. What a gift that was. That is how I remember you, Damon. I remember you with a big smile on your face.

And what I learned that day was that I may not always achieve the goal I set out to achieve, but the real joy is in the journey itself. You gave me a new perspective on life that day that I’ve carried with me. And I have told that story to others as a way to illustrate that even when you do not achieve the goals you set out to achieve if you open up your eyes you will recognize the incredible blessings that you have been given along the way.

And now, you are giving John another gift. Would you have ever imagined that the John you knew in college could be such a compassionate man? Whether you realize it or not, you are helping him (and me) grieve for Bennett. You are helping him face emotions that have been buried deep, and that will help him for the rest of his life. What an incredible friend you are.

What an incredible guide you have been to both of us Damon. Please know, that we are with you in spirit as you climb that mountain back to the light. Whether your transition is back to health or to a new life, please know how much we love you and that you will always be alive to us!

Love and blessings,



The unique personality which is the real life in me, I can not gain unless I search for the real life, the spiritual quality, in others. –Felix Adler


Lord, please be with Damon’s family. Help them remember all the ways he impacted their lives. Help them realize how his life impacted this world. Help them know that he lives on forever in spirit. Lord thank you for all the guides and teachers you have put in my life. Help me to be wise enough to learn. Amen.


<Back to Archive