Palatine family loses second child to cystic fibrosis
Dave Larsen estimates between 500 and 600 people gathered outside his family's home in Palatine Monday night, honoring the life and mourning the death of his only son, Brian.
"It was remarkable," he said of the candlelight vigil that was organized by his son's neighborhood peers. His friends "shared stories about Brian, a lot of funny stuff that kids do that the parents don't ever find out."
Brian, a 16-year-old junior at Fremd High School, died Nov. 21 in his home after a lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis. He is survived by his father, his mother Melissa and his 10-year-old sister Lea.
The Larsens lost their daughter Kristin to the same disease in 2007. She was 14.
"We just tried to let them live their lives as positive and happily as possible," Dave said. "They both had a great life. They got to see and do a lot of things that I think most kids don't get to do."
For Brian, those opportunities included trips to Greece for the 2004 Olympic Games, the British Virgin Islands for a sailing excursion and the Grand Canyon -- a place that his older sister wished to go, but never had a chance to visit.
In the winters, he looked forward to vacations in Breckenridge, Colo., and in the summers to spending time at his family's lake house in Michigan.
Family members said Brian was an avid "watersporter," snowboarder and fisherman who loved swimming and playing football, basketball and baseball. He also enjoyed Xbox games, driving his oversized black Ford F-150 and blowing off fireworks.
Lea, who doesn't have cystic fibrosis, said her favorite thing to do with her brother was argue with him, but after some thought said she liked playing the game Uno and joking with him too.
"The typical sibling love-hate relationship was always there, but he always thought about his sisters first," Melissa said. "He was always so sweet."
"(Lea) was like the angel of his eye, and he always protected her," Dave added. "She's going to miss him dearly."
He said Brian also loved professional sports and keeping up on the statistics of his favorite teams, including the Indianapolis Colts and the Texas Longhorns.
Above all, Melissa said, Brian's goal in life was just to be a normal kid.
"He didn't talk about his disease," she said. "We raised both of our kids just normal. They were kids first, and the disease came second. We never let their disease hold them back. It was just a small part of them."
Tony Tosh, who was Brian's guidance counselor for three years, agreed.
"Brian didn't need (cystic fibrosis) to be what his life was about," he said. "It was my impression Brian never wanted people to look at him differently."
While many students didn't know about his disease, Tosh said they were aware Brian had been sick recently. For some, it still felt like his death came suddenly.
"It's been a hard few days," he said. "When a teenager dies, teenagers kind of are in a bit of shock, like 'That's just not supposed to happen -- that someone our age died.'"
Tosh said Brian's favorite color, orange, could be found throughout the school this week, from ribbons on the trees and pins on students' clothing to a poster-sized card hanging up for students to write messages on for the Larsen family.
Applied technology teacher Joshua Cattero's woodworking class wrote sympathy notes to Brian's family Monday, but he said on Tuesday the students still "looked like you had taken the life out of all of them."
He told the class they could design a gift for Brian to bring to the wake, and they chose to make a walnut engraving in his memory.
"It just looks awesome. They went all-out," he said, adding that many of the students had been Brian's woodworking classmates since freshman year.
Cattero said while Brian was "very cognizant that he might go at any time," he was very motivated to do well in class and help others, even if it was just making them laugh if they were having a bad day.
Most recently Brian was in a hospital for five weeks, and his family tried to line him up for a lung transplant. Eventually, he asked to come home and was able to spend time with family and close friends.
"He was a fighter. He fought it all the way to the end," his father said. "He was a great kid, he was happy all the time. He just loved life."
Visitation is 1-8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25 at the Meadows Funeral Home, 3615 Kirchoff Road in Rolling Meadows. The service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 26, at Community Church of Rolling Meadows, 2720 Kirchoff Road, Rolling Meadows.
Contributions may be made to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, 150 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60601.