I first heard about what happened on my way to pump gas.
Just like him, I was heading back home after a long fall semester. I opted to leave in the morning rather than at night, thinking of departing right around the time of the accident.
Instead, I left State College nearly 12 hours later, when the news came out that Gus Schwartz had died while coming home on the same route I took. The nearly 3-hour drive was mainly one of silence, broken at times by my thoughts being spoken out loud.
When I pulled into the grass after the trek, I saw my mom was home early from work, wanting to make sure I got home safely. With tears in her eyes, she embraced me closer than ever. The end of the semester is typically one of celebration, but this year for myself and many others, it’s a time of grievance and reflecting on the loss
I wish I had the opportunity to know Gus better. We met through ice hockey — a community that was relatively tight-knit due to the lack of popularity of the sport. As a result, if there was anyone you didn’t know, that would quickly change.
Off the ice, Gus was a quiet, respectful kid whose teammates raved about him. Having played against him, I can say he was the exact opposite once he stepped on the ice. He earned the nickname “Gus The Bus,” not just for rhyming purposes, but for his low center of gravity that often took opponents off their skates. It wasn’t until we collided one day when I realized how fitting the nickname was.
We also worked together as volunteer coaches for a local program, Special Hockey of the Lehigh Valley. Gus never missed a practice and always made sure to attend away games whenever he could.
Two days after the accident, the local farm team for the Philadelphia Flyers held a moment of silence for Gus, with many members of the hockey community coming out in support of Gus and his family.
While there, I saw many former teammates and their families who I hadn’t seen in years. That night, we weren’t just a community — we were a family.
We hugged, laughed, mourned and remembered as one collective unit. It didn’t matter what high school or travel team you played for — everyone who came, came for one reason: Gus.
Despite not knowing him as well as I would have liked, that didn’t stop me from recognizing just how important Gus was to those who got to know him.
He held many roles in his life — from a son, to a big brother, a boyfriend, a student and a friend. And he excelled in all those titles and then some. Seeing the turnout at the game was a reminder of how much he impacted the lives of many.
With the sadness that death brings, there is also the gift of knowledge. Knowledge of the deceased, knowledge of life and knowledge of yourself. During this period, I’ve been able to learn more about all three through the stories and thoughts of Gus’ loved ones.
I had always known Gus was an uber-intelligent individual but had no idea the depths of his acumen until I heard the tales of him teaching his girlfriend trigonometry or of his absurd SAT score.
I always knew Gus had a humorous side to him, but being able to see the photos and videos from his close friends showed how he just wanted to go with the flow of life and enjoy it.
Learning more about Gus in turn led to a discovery within myself and the way I view life. One moment that sticks out to me was a conversation I had with a good friend while at the game. He and I were roommates with Gus my first year at University Park.
We had known each other for some time but hadn’t spoken for a while, until he asked me if we could talk for a bit in private.
The next 30 minutes of conversation included a variety of topics, ranging from Gus, our friendship and the occasional break to say hi to a friend passing by. Our talk culminated with a hug that felt like brothers holding each other. We both said we loved each other and meant it, and in his comical fashion, he excused himself to go to the bathroom.
It was at that moment when I realized the importance of love and letting others know how you feel. It pains me that it took the death of someone I knew to understand that, but I understand now how significant a small gesture can go.
I now understand why my parents hold me a little longer when we hug. I now understand how far the support of someone can take you. And I now understand why now is better than later to tell someone you love them.
One of the best points made at the game that night was how mad Gus would be if he saw everyone as sad as they were. We spoke about him in a celebratory fashion and tried to keep things light, just as he would have wanted.
Even though he’s gone, I’m realizing how important it is to continue the conversation about Gus. While it may be difficult now, remembering him for all the good he brought outweighs the bitterness of the present.
One of the topics that came up during the conversation my friend and I had was about death. I had always been weary of it, as no one makes it out of life alive, and always wondered about the unknown after it’s all said and done.
I once read the stories of people who had died and were resuscitated detailing what the experience was like while gone. Almost every answer was the same in that they felt a sense of warmness and comfort, being at peace from the world.
What once troubled me became more accepting, and when I think of Gus, I not only think of all the joy he brought, but also know he’s experiencing that warmth and comfort.