Like the tree dedicated in his honor, Matt Allen's memory lives on
Family and friends of Matt Allen gather around a tree dedicated in his memory last month at Bishop McGuinness High School. Matt’s wife, Kelly, is in the green shirt.
A couple weeks ago, I made my way over to Bishop McGuinness High School.
It wasn’t a trip to see a game or interview a coach. No, this trip was for a tree dedication for Matt Allen.
Matt isn’t a household name on our sports landscape, but perhaps you remember hearing his story a couple years ago. He dealt with brain cancer for several years, but even as he went through treatment and surgeries, he continued to live. One of his favorite activities was being a volunteer assistant softball coach at McGuinness. His daughter, Taylor, was on the team, and helping coach gave Matt a chance to be around her as much as possible.
I had the privilege to write about Matt and his family in 2011. They are an amazing bunch. Matt. Wife, Kelly. Daughter, Taylor. Son, Chris. They were dealing with the toughest time that any of them had ever faced, and yet, they lived with such energy and love and spirit that you couldn’t help but smile when you were around them.
Here’s the story that I ended up writing about Matt, plus a fantastic video by one of our photographers, Bryan Terry. The video is so powerful that I have a hard time watching it to this day. Click here if you want to see the story and video.
Matt died on Christmas Eve, 2013. He was surrounded by family, and I have no doubt there was no place with no more love than the Allen house that day.
Recently, some kind and thoughtful folks at McGuinness decided that Matt should have a tree near the softball field at the school. It would be a way to remember his spirit at one of the places he loved best.
What a great idea.
A small group gathered for the dedication on one of those unseasonably warm January days that we sometimes have in Oklahoma. Anyone was given the chance to talk about Matt, and his son, Chris, who is still in high school at McGuinness but is a rising rock star on the theater scene around here, gave some spectacular remarks. He talked about how the family didn’t want his dad to be remembered as some guy who died. Well, it’s pretty obvious that people remember Matt most for how he lived and embraced life. After all, Matt was known to family and friends as Superman.
But the remarks that nearly brought me to tears came from Matt’s wife, Kelly. As awesome as Matt was, Kelly is every bit as great. She’s an elementary school teacher, and frankly, she’s all the things you’d expect in a great teacher of kiddos. Kind. Happy. Engaging.
Kelly told everyone about how she struggled for months with Matt’s death. She admitted that one of her biggest struggles was trying to remember him. The kids or someone else would mention something — “Remember when Dad … ” — but Kelly could never bring those moments to mind.
What do we have, Kelly mused, if not our memories.
Frankly, I can’t imagine what that must of been like. Not being able to remember how someone you love laughed. Or smiled. Or talked. Not being able to recall what they did during the holidays or special occasions or even just a random Tuesday. That would be so, so difficult.
Kelly was at Mass in early November, nearly a year after Matt died, when something finally sparked a memory in her mind. Finally, she could see and hear Matt again.
And what was he doing?
Kelly said she suddenly had this memory of Matt in the first base coaching box. Always the animated optimist, he was bent over, hands on knees, yelling out encouragement. Then, of course, there were his flailing arms when McGuinness would get a hit. He would nearly jump out of that coach’s box swinging his arm around and around, motioning the batter to run, run, run to second.
Kelly couldn’t believe those were the memories that finally came to her — but yet, the softball field was one of those places where Matt was truly himself. He loved sports, loved being around people, loved being with his kids, and Kelly loved that she could finally remember all of that.
“That’s how I finally got Matt back,” she said.
So, it is fitting that a tree is now planted in Matt’s honor near the McGuinness softball field. It was one of the places where he lived life to its fullest — and one of the many places that he brought to life.