Killian Mansfield lost his 5 year battle with synovial sarcoma on August 20, 2009. He was 16 years old. In the final months of his extraordinary life Killian focused on what would become his legacy - the formation and incorporation of The Killian Mansfield Foundation (KMF).
The following is an excerpt from Killian's friend Kemp Battle's eulogy, read at his memorial celebration on September 13, 2009 in West Shokan, NY.
"What a great testament to the life Killian lived--look around you. We are all part of Killian's tribe. How amazing it is to realize that each of us is somehow better for having known him.
How do we sum up a live so richly lived, so deeply felt?
How do we thank him?
How do we keep him?
The physicists tell us that every particle of the universe holds within it the whole. The whole is not the sum of the parts, but fully contained in each and every part. It seems a useful truth when considering Killian's abundant life--for in all its parts, whether as son, brother, friend, musician, activist--we see the completeness, the whole of who he was.
He was a superb communicator but it was so much more than that. He had an instinct for those who might have felt left out. Killian took us all in...Killian wanted to be sure that we were all included. If he thought you on the fringe, he simply claimed you. And somehow made you feel you had claimed him. He made certain that we all came to know one another. Killian always said that God was in the connection between people, the vital links of friendship. And look how he multiplied those links!
If family was his foundation, and friendship his sacred purpose, music became one of his most valuable tools. He had barely left the Red balloon pre-school when he was bouncing on the bed saying "I want to play the violin." Killian, so insatiable to learn everything, used his violin as a way to explore and widen his world—a musical calling card. In Ireland, during his first Make a Wish trip, he would ask the musicians in the pub if he could play along and play he did (at 11!) And we all know what he did with the ukulele, an instrument that some of us thought obscure until we heard him or the many he taught actually play. He became a professional musician and a collaborating producer. He worked with other musicians, knew the sound he wanted and spun a local project into a national CD and a mission for a cause. All on the wings of a ukulele. And that CD--SOMEWHERE ELSE--which by now all of us know by heart as well as tens of thousands around the world.
Another part of Killian: the Activist. Great activists start with their own experience of lack, of suffering. Most of us stop long enough to recover and then we move on. But Killian met many sick children along his journey, fellow travelers on a long lonely road. He knew they had fewer resources than he did, less acumen about how to manage pain. He hated being sick and he did not like people making decisions for him or being told how he was to feel. He had been schooled in an independent home where creativity would carry you past any tribulation and was mortified to learn that his own discoveries of comfort--acupuncture, aroma therapy, massage, nutritional food--were not routine options for children. They were considered esoteric therapies, too far afield of conventional treatments. What he could not discover, he decided to create. He was determined to make a difference and he deployed the development of the CD, even his own sickness as a stimulant to raise awareness. As he once wrote in an email about integrative therapies: "Amen brother, you got to help me get the word out." He lived long enough to painstakingly craft the Foundation's mission and sharpen its purpose . He became the Foundation's first and will be its only Chairman and loved signing the documents. What a legacy--the empowerment of seriously ill children fighting for their own comfort and relief.
Whether drawing, painting, mastering origami, playing the violin or the ukulele, raising awareness nothing he undertook ever seemed an end in itself. He always took these tools further than we could have possibly imagined. By the time he died, for example, thousands of people were joyously folding paper as he loved to do.
He helped build and sustain this tribe of ours that knows no boundary or limit. He was an alert and affectionate shepherd. He thirsted for our company, reveled in the sound of raucous conversation and music and up to his last day sought the presence of fellowship all around him.
Wallace Stevens, the poet, said once "At the heart of things is a poem." Well at the heart of people is a poem too. And the finer the life, the richer the verse. Killian was both poem and poet. Part and whole. And perhaps one way to hold him to us is to remember the grace with which he modeled living. Sustained authenticity. Living his values. Devotion to his family and friends, joy at the jubilant song or well played instrument, mindful of those marginalized by shyness or isolation, empowerment of sick children who were lonely and scared, Killian never asked anyone to take a step he had not first taken himself. He never lost the part for the whole.
Perhaps we do have a way of thanking him and keeping him with us:
We can simply go and do as he did."