My brother-in-law, David Prak, lost his six-month-long battle to cancer the morning of Friday, March 23. I was sitting on the couch of my sister’s living room, facing his bed, watching his chest rise and fall at an irregular pace until the movement finally stopped altogether.
My oldest friend, a Registered Nurse, came into the house with the coffees I had asked him to bring as this was happening. He quickly set the cups down so he could rush over to Dave and check for vital signs. I was standing there studying his face as he looked over the still body. With a vexing expression, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and shook his head as if to say “no.” There was nothing left to say. My sister’s husband, someone I considered to be my brother, was finally at peace.
Dave had spent the entire week prior in hospice care saying goodbye to family and friends, and he was able to see everyone he wanted to in that time. But his last wish before leaving this life was to make it back to his home, so that’s what he did after some convincing of the hospice care staff.
That all started the morning of Thursday, March 22. I awoke to the sounds of Dave asking for something and gesturing towards a chair. With as much strength as he could muster, he said, “Put me in that chair so I can sit up like a boss.” With a bewildered look on my face, I laughed and asked him again what he needed. He repeated himself, “Put me in that chair so I can sit up like a boss.” I couldn’t believe this tough son of a bitch. He was ready to run out of that hospital bed right then and there.
Laughing some more, I told him that I would get a chair for him but we needed to call the nurse. After explaining the situation, the RN and her assistant agreed to put him in a chair, and he was eventually cleared to go home. This was Dave’s way of saying, “Hey, *expletive* you; I don’t care if I’m dying from cancer, I’m getting out of here and it starts by getting out of this bed.”
So that’s exactly what happened. And Dave was able to go out on his own terms, in the comfort of his home, surrounded by people who loved him.
Dave was a husband to my sister Erin, father to my nephew Declan, son to Sarin and Singuon Prak and godson of John and Leslie Carpenter. He was a brother to Mony Anderson, Britany Miller, Elizabeth Carpenter, Marie Louise Stalions, and the late Andrew Prak. He was the son-in-law of my parents, Garritt and Barbara Howard, and he was also considered a brother by my other two siblings, Kerry and Marty. Beyond his family, he was a friend to countless others because it was so easy to talk to him.
Over the years, my relationship with Dave evolved from a guy who was dating my sister, to a friend I could joke around with, to a brother in every sense of the word. He had an unbelievable amount of compassion for others that went extremely far, impacting everyone who is reading this right now. If you didn’t already know, Around Oak Park would have never happened without Dave. Allow me to give you a very brief history of his involvement.
Dave introduced me to former Co-Owner of Around Oak Park, Brian Munoz. Dave and Brian were college roommates at Dominican University in River Forest. Brian, Dave, and I played pickup basketball a few times and finally, in January 2015, Brian and I went to Avenue Ale House to discuss becoming business partners. The two of us made a deal right there and the Around Oak Park you know (and hopefully love) today is a result of that connection. Anybody who knows me understands that I have a tremendous amount of pride in Around Oak Park and I owe it all to Dave, along with a lot of other attributes I tried to capture in this Instagram post.
To my brother Dave: You have been a part of my life for the past 18 years and in that time you have taught me so much. The list of positive qualities you have shared with me is immeasurable, but the three traits I promise to carry with me for the rest of my life is your unending supply of kindness, humility and generosity for anybody and everybody. I already miss you dearly. I cherish the past week I got to spend with you here in this life, and the wisdom you professed in that time. I will be there for my sister and nephew. You will always remain in my heart. Thank you for being a great role model to me in my formative years and an even better friend in the years that followed. Until I see you again, rest peacefully my brother. I love you.
I meant to write the tribute immediately after Dave’s passing, but the truth is it has been an impossibly difficult task. I have written and deleted sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph before finally realizing that I will never be happy with what I put out because it won’t bring him back, a reality that I’m still working through.
I was present each day in the last week of his life. I was at the wake from start to finish. I was one of the pallbearers that eventually laid him to rest. None of it felt real. There were only tiny, sharp moments of grief that came and went like lightning before my brain began protecting itself from a harsh truth. The only thing I could think to do is force myself to recall and reflect in the exercise of writing this tribute, free of any distractions.
But I don’t think I’ll ever completely be ready to move on. Dave’s impact was simply too big. I can still feel his presence in the house when I visit my sister. I wait to receive texts from him. I expect to see him at the next family holiday. I can hear him speak perfectly clear in my head right now.
One of the things I gave Dave a hard time about was his overuse of the phrase, “At the end of the day…” and then conclude his thought. I think if Dave was here right now, he’d say “At the end of the day, you need to keep living.” And while I would make fun of his lack of creativity to think of a new catchphrase, I do agree with him. It’s just going to take some time and there are a couple more things I have to say first.
Dave, I will miss talking to you and hanging out with you. I’ll miss how you spent more time cooking and cleaning than hanging out with guests because you wanted to make sure you were being a gracious host. I’ll miss playing basketball and softball with you. I’ll miss going to the golf course with you. I’ll miss laughing with you. I’ll miss the balance you brought to our family dynamic. I’ll miss making fun of you and being on the receiving end of your jokes.
I can go on about more things I will miss about you but it’s more important to say thank you. You made my life better by teaching me so much and helping me in ways like making Around Oak Park possible. Our staff and AOP’s readership came together in a community that was the direct result of a relationship that you created. I will forever be grateful for this and the critical role you played in all other components of my life.
The uncomfortable point I’ve been avoiding throughout this ongoing grieving process is how to end this tribute. It’s extremely awkward because grief is a complicated thing that does not have a designated start and end. I thought that writing this would be my last “goodbye” but the truth is I will never be ready to do that.
I will feel Dave’s impact in what I do for the rest of my life. I will remember things he said. He still exists in me and everyone else he has touched.
One way we will move on is by assisting Erin as she learns to live without Dave after 18 years as partners. That is why one of Dave’s best friends, Scott Enberg, set up a GoFundMe account to help with medical bills, Declan’s education, and everyday expenses. If you are able to contribute, you can reach the GoFundMe page here – https://www.gofundme.com/david-prak-memorial-fund.
Thank you to everyone who took time to read this piece of writing. Furthermore, I am extremely grateful to everyone who is able to donate in his honor.
We love you, Dave.