Everything is different. Matthew Thelen of Stamford, Connecticut passed away, all too young and all too bright, on the morning of Saturday, December 5, 2020 at the home of his sister and brother-in-law, checkmated on an impossible board. It wasn’t the conclusion for which we hoped and prayed after his sudden diagnosis of colon cancer, but it was the conclusion that only Matt could give to us—selfless, strong, decisive, and dignified. At his passing, Matt was surrounded by his parents, his two sisters, his brother, and his brother-in-law, with so very many others holding him close to their hearts. Matt’s Uncle Robert, a Catholic priest, blessed him, returning to Matt the same peace with which he nobly blessed those around him as he clashed each day with his unfair illness, protected us from our own fear and sadness, and as his spirit traveled away to the next place. Matt was 41.
Born on February 4, 1979 in Nyack Hospital, Matt grew up in Nanuet, New York, the youngest child of Barbara (Deevy) Thelen and Jim Thelen. Wildly self-possessed yet infinitely open to others, Matt led so many of us through the back yards and above-ground pools of Flitt Street, the doors of Saint Anthony School, the lockers of A. MacArthur Barr Middle School, and the halls of Nanuet Senior High School before making his distinctive mark at the University of Notre Dame, Sorin Hall, and “The Tank”. After graduation from Notre Dame, Matt built his career with NBC Sports where he earned Emmy Awards, the respect and friendship of his colleagues, and stamp after stamp on his passport. Matt lived in the principled way that mattered to him, valuing above “things” those relationships and attributes with which he was so deeply gifted: his family, his friends, his health, his principles, his imagination, his wit, and his brilliance. Matt loved nothing more than the joy of his family, a Jameson with good friends, a Notre Dame football game, a rare Met win and an even rarer Jet win, an Iron Maiden concert, the peace and stillness of a book and some writing in his apartment, his professional successes, and the intellectual rigors of his polymath world.
I want to tell you a story about Matt. Once, when I was visiting him in college, a friend and I went looking for Matt’s tailgate before the Nebraska-Notre Dame football game. But I didn’t know where to look, or even what to look for. After some time, and after a lot of sounds, one of those sounds, a bellow, sounded like Matt. And there he was, some nine cars away, standing on the top of a pickup truck with a bullhorn, a beer, and all of the magnetism in the world, leading a whole bunch of other Domers in cheers, in songs, in dances, and in gestures. There was Matt, the sky opened to him, helming guys, girls, kids from Ohio, from California, from New York, kids majoring in engineering, in sociology, in business, kids who believed in God, kids who didn’t believe in God, and kids who didn’t know what to believe about God, kids who liked metal, kids who liked rap, kids who liked country, and kids who liked opera. He was the priest, the minister, the pastor of the Church of Wherever He Was. That was Matt: strong, loyal, and commanding, with an accessible and inclusive charisma attracting the world. His light now shines elsewhere, but it still shines.
As he did in this life, Matt leads before us in his passing. Valiantly embracing what is next, Matt now watches over his loving parents, Barbara and Jim, his siblings (Kathleen, Ian, Kristin, Dave, Meghan, and Mike), his nieces and nephews (Lily, Penelope, Liam, Catie, Grace, Bluebelle, and Aidan), his aunts and uncles, his cousins, and his many, many friends. They all feel his presence every day.
Should you feel moved, donations may be made in Matt’s memory to United Hospice of Rockland, 11 Stokum Lane, New City, New York – www.unitedhospiceinc.com.
Please talk about Matt. Think about him. Cry about him. Smile about him. Remember him. In doing so, we all keep Matt forever. Everything is different, but nothing should be without him.
Rath Dé ort.
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