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Five Years After Zach's Death His Best Friend Shares His Heart

Keegan Marchand, Zach's best friend in elementary school stood up and shared his heart at Zach's funeral at only twelve-years-old. Five years later, Keegan needed to write an essay to get into McGill University and he chose to write about Zach, their friendship and the impact Zach had on his life. I marvel at how such a young man has cared so deeply for my boy and once again, how much he has moved my heart.

Keegan's Eulogy at Zach's Funeral in 2010

Zach and I met when we were eight years old in grade three. This is when Zach first started school at McGowan Park Elementary. We were in the same class for the next five years, and I have many good memories of our time together. For one thing, Zach always had great birthday parties tubing up at Harper Mountain. It was such a blast running up the hill to the top and racing down on the tubes trying so hard to bang into each other! When I think back to our early elementary years, Zach and I played a lot with Legos at his house, and we swam a lot at my house. He seemed to have a passion for whatever he was doing at the moment. It didn’t take me long to learn that Zach was always smiling. He was such a happy and enthusiastic friend!

Even in the past ten months since Zach was diagnosed with his cancer, he never lost his positive and fun-loving spirit. Because of his continued outgoing personality, I would never have guessed he wasn’t one hundred percent. In January, when Zach wasn’t coming to school regularly anymore, he did manage to come to school for lunch to celebrate his birthday with our class. At that time, Zach was on quite a strict diet. So . . . for his birthday party, one of the moms made cupcakes for all of us and “special” ones for Zach. Zach’s were made with artificial sugar and other healthy ingredients. There’s no doubt that this mom went to a lot of trouble to make something healthy and appropriate for Zach. Well . . . I don’t know how many people know this, but our teacher got mixed up and ended up giving Zach the wrong cupcakes. By the time she realized it, Zach was on his second cupcake saying, “Oh, these are so good!” Zach hadn’t had sugary food for so long, no wonder they tasted so good. Our teacher was horrified, but what could she do? She just smiled politely and ended up choking down Zach’s “healthy” cupcakes herself!

There’s no doubt that in the last few months, one of Zach’s greatest joys was food. You name it, he loved it: popcorn, ribs, and, of course, Dairy Queen Blizzards. I was lucky enough, along with some of our other friends, to have a couple of great sushi feasts with Zach. Most thirteen-year-olds would order the typical California rolls. Not Zach! The last time we went out for sushi, Zach ordered one of his favourite dishes that included eel. To be honest with you, the thought of eating eel did not appeal to me at all. When I asked Zach if eel was good, he said with his usual enthusiasm and excitement, “Oh, ya! It tastes like chicken . . . only a little chewier!” I’m not so sure about that but the next time I’m out for sushi, I’m going to try eel, just for you, Zach.

It is so hard to lose a friend like Zach. It is so hard because he was literally one of a kind. Zach was always smiling, right to the end. Zach was always so positive and polite. Zach never judged anyone, and everyone was his friend. Zach loved his life. Zach loved his family. He especially loved his little brother, Carter. Zach loved God. My life is so much richer because Zach was my friend. Zach is a true inspiration, and we should all try to live our lives the way Zach lived his.

Keegan's Letter to McGill--and yes, he was accepted!

On May 2nd, 2010, a tragic event occurred that drastically altered my young life. It was on this date that my childhood best friend, Zach Laird, lost his gallant, but exhausting nine-month battle with cancer. Although I would sacrifice anything to have him here today, his passing taught me incredibly important lessons, which I continue to carry with me to this day. Zach continues to inspire me to tackle all challenges with strength and courage, to live life to the fullest, and to take nothing for granted.

It was in the anxious months leading up to Zach's death that I first began to modify my outlook on life for the better. In what were extremely stressful and frightening times, Zach remained as calm and light-hearted as he had been during his previous twelve and a half healthy years. It was as though nothing had changed. Zach did not want anyone's pity, nor did he look for special treatment or handouts. Not once did I hear him complain about his situation. If his illness was brought up, he would simply acknowledge it, and swiftly move on. At the time, I did not fully realize the magnitude of Zach's courage during his final months but, as I have grown older, I have come to be even more astounded by Zach. The fact that an innocent, thirteen-year-old boy could go through such a brutal ordeal without a single lament is absolutely remarkable. The thought of his tremendous strength remains vivid in my mind, especially when I am going through some sort of difficult trial or tribulation. It provides me with a conscious reminder that the problem I am facing is not as severe as I may have thought, and drives me to be strong as I face it.

My outlook on life was also greatly affected by Zach's funeral. A few weeks prior to the funeral, Zach's mother, Dana, asked me if I would give a eulogy. Dana emphasized the idea that Zach's funeral was not to be a grim mourning of his death, but a joyous celebration of his short, yet great life. Speaking at Zach's funeral was the most emotionally taxing thing I have ever done, but as I reflected on the outstanding person that Zach was, it sparked a desire in me to be more like him-happy, kind, non-judgmental, courageous and strong. I think I have made good on the commitment I made to myself when Zach died. I try my best to live life to the fullest and put everything I have into everything I do, just like my friend.

Perhaps the most powerful lesson Zach's death taught me was that every day is a beautiful gift, and nothing in this life should be taken for granted. After Zach's passing, the veil of innocence that had surrounded my life for thirteen years was lifted, and life became much more real. I no longer lived with the assumption that everything would proceed as precisely as planned. I began to appreciate the true value of things that I never thought to be significant, such as the importance of my health, my family, and always doing my best. Zach has inspired me in all facets of my life. He is the driving force that motivates me to take full advantage of opportunities give to me, because it is he who made me realize just how fortunate I am to have them. Whether in school, sports, or volunteering, I often wonder if my achievements would have been possible without Zach.

It was extremely difficult to loose a friend like Zach, but now that I am about to embark on new adventures and face new challenges, I feel even more grateful to have known him. I am certain that his courage and zest for life will continue to inspire me to overcome each new struggle that confronts me, remind me to cherish the little, but beautiful things that fill my life, and motivate me to be the absolute best person I can be.

Thank you so much Keegan, for holding Zach so close to your heart all these years and for making his life count for something incredible. You are an inspiring young man who will change the world for the better! Dana

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