Daniel May—February 12, 1988 to December 4, 2021
Daniel was a musician, producer, actor—but above all, a singer. These are the words I spoke at his Celebration of Life.
My son Dan lived life passionately and fast, and to our sorrow, for too short a time. A friend recently told me that some people are born with great creative gifts to give the world, but along with these gifts comes an illness that gradually darkens, and cuts short their life. Dan was one of these people.
Dan was given to me at the Atlanta Airport on a bright sunny day in April, 1988. Outside the trees were a brilliant green, as I carried him around the terminal in a baby sling. He reared back in the sling to get a good look at this person who’d suddenly taken him over, and I was surprised by the intensity of his stare. His eyes demanded to know who I was, and I could pretty confidently tell him I was now his mother.
Dan and I managed the flight back to Boston. It was a lot for a very aware nine-week-old and his brand new mom, but once we got home life settled. To begin with, Dan slept in a travel crib beside my bed, so he wouldn’t feel alone. We took daily walks, first with the baby sling and, as he got bigger, with the backpack. He was a strong, active baby, developing early and alert to everything around him. I don’t remember when he started to sing, but I do remember he sang from the backpack as we walked.
At four Dan loved to watch himself in the mirror, trying on expressions. He was a talker and an actor, enthralled by stories and characters. And always a singer. At five, he sang with the older children’s choir at Easter. He was shy in rehearsal, but later at home he’d spontaneously sing the songs he’d learned. At the Easter service, when he stood up in the front of the big stone church, a seriousness came over him. He sang clear and strong, and I could tell how much he enjoyed singing for such a large audience.
Dan was always a nurturing soul. He was devoted to our pets, and he liked to take care of his little brother. This might involve bouncing up and down on Gabe, who would laugh and then bounce up and down on him. Sometimes Dan liked to imitate Gabe and then I had two preschoolers to deal with, but usually Dan was the loving brother, patiently teaching Gabe how to do something and then hugging him.
At seven, Dan was a delightful, bright little boy, who understood things right away and had a flair for the dramatic. Restless at school, he began karate, where he was strong and focused. He was a cub scout and got a standing ovation for reading “Doc Rabbit and the Tar Baby” in a deep southern accent that must have been in his bones. By eight years old, Dan was an exceptional boy with many talents, especially in singing. After a school talent show, he was asked to tour the second grade classrooms that had missed the show. He was very flattered and happy about this recognition and praise.
Then a teacher asked him to sing at a scholarship ceremony in June, which started us on the adventure of finding a song to sing and a voice teacher. The first thing his voice teacher recognized was Dan’s huge heart, and how he could express it in his singing. She was the first to tell him, “God gave you this great gift.” But not the last.
At eight, Dan was cast in the Portsmouth High School musical, “Oliver!” Rehearsing a musical with high school students and an actual theater director was exciting, demanding, and fulfilling. He would beam after a performance. As Dan continued with voice lessons, I indulged a hope that he would grow up to sing opera. He, of course, had other ideas.
At thirteen, Dan was chosen to sing in a prestigious national honor choir in San Antonio, serious musical work for him but a nice trip for Gabe and me. The next year Dan was singing southern blues with the Funky River Band and classical tenor with the New Hampshire Youth Chorus. Although he was younger than most chorus members, he traveled with the Youth Chorus to Italy. It was a high time of performing in ancient cathedrals, eating in Italian restaurants, and at least once dropping his concert shoes in a Venetian canal. He took a photo of himself wearing silver Italian sport shoes with his concert tux.
Two years later at sixteen, Dan starred in the Portsmouth Senior High production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” It was a stunning performance. A family friend wrote me, “I’ve never forgotten hearing him sing and the hush of the crowd on that Friday evening in the auditorium. I went back on Saturday just to hear him again.”
Many wonderful things happened in Dan’s life after high school. He developed and produced his music. He became a skilled cook, taking after his uncle Richard. He and Meredith gave us wonderful Isaiah. Dan loved and married Jess and deeply loved both his families, helping to raise Isaiah, Olivia, Owen, and Miles. He bravely suffered the hardships of prison and courageously managed a life that was increasingly dark and complex.
In 2020, with his keen sense of injustice in the world, he spoke out eloquently for Black Lives Matter in New Hampshire. In the photographs of him, he’s a man transformed, vital, passionate, and determined. So let’s remember him that way. A man who dearly loved family, who lived with a mission to help others, who had a profound understanding of life, and the strength, spirit, and talent to make the world better.