The best way to get to know Sebastian is to share a few stories that stood out to me over the years. Some are relevant to who he is and some are just funny ones I remember. I hope they bring back fond memories for those of you who knew him and provide some insight as to how wonderful a person he was for those of you who did not.
Sebastian always had an amazing ability to connect with people. And not just small talk. He enjoyed having meaningful interactions with others. Sebastian could effortlessly entertain a group of toddlers, hang out with a group of my friends comfortably (some would argue we are closer to 16 years old in terms of maturity level so that’s not necessarily a stretch), or hold court with a group 70-year-olds at our family Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners. He connected with just about anyone in between and could talk about almost anything. He connected with sincerity.
I’ve had to travel for work often throughout my career and have taken advantage of opportunities when I could include my family in these travels. One time, when Sebastian was around 6 years old, I attended a conference at very nice hotel up near St. Augustine. It was recently opened and had a bunch of nice amenities, particularly for children. The hotel had a lazy river pool, slides, putt-putt course, movie night on the lawn, etc. and it was on the beach. On top of all that, we were upgraded to a large suite with multiple rooms. The place was really nice.
A couple of weeks later, I had another conference in Orlando. This one was at a nice Disney resort with nice amenities as well. It was also more expensive than the prior hotel I mentioned. We check in and head to our room. The room was a standard hotel room with a couple of beds and a normal sized bathroom. The hotel had a nautical theme and wallpapered with Disney characters. It was a fine room but definitely not as nice as the other hotel.
So, Sebastian walks into the room and looks around. He doesn’t say anything just yet, but as a parent you know your kids and when something is off. There was something going on in that head of his. I ask, what’s wrong? His response was classic. He looked around the room and asked, “Is this it?”
Sebastian could sell, or con, people effortlessly. Rose and I had cats as pets. A stray cat showed up at our house not long after we were married and had a litter of two. For a guy who wanted no pets, I ended up with three quickly. Through the years, the cats eventually passed and we were pet-free for a few years. Then the rumblings started amongst Rose and the boys and they teamed up to push for a new cat and I caved. We agreed to ONE cat.
A friend of ours came into a litter of kittens, so Rose and the boys brought over three from which to choose.. One was a little ornery so it was easy to eliminate. It came down to the two male kittens. I saw Sebastian playing with both (and plotting). He was assigned the spokesman for the group. Mind you, he’s 10 years old at the time. So, he starts by telling me he’s having a difficult time picking which cat and explains that they’re both really nice. I respond by telling him we made a deal for one cat. He acknowledges what our agreement was and then paused for a moment.
He then looks up at me and says, “Dad, you know how you’ve always told my brothers and I always have to stick together?” I just smiled back at him and thought to myself, you got me. End of story, we’ve got two cats.
I don’t know how much he actually liked running but it was a wonderful way for both of us to spend more time together. He was 12 and we started talking about doing a race. So, after running a few times in the neighborhood, we discussed running a half marathon. I remember him looking at me asking, “you think I can do that?” I said I don’t know but let’s find out.
I called the race organizers and learned you had to be at least 12 and I would obviously have to sign a waiver (and, more importantly, get approval from mom). So, we started training for the half marathon. I loved training with him. Particularly, when we did longer runs on weekends. We’d run in Coconut Grove and have breakfast at Green Street Café after our run. I really miss moments like that.
Sebastian also participated in the Ragnar relay with me a couple times. Ragnar relay is a about a 200 mile relay race. A team of 12 people taking turns running. Back in 2014, we ran from Miami to Key West. I know he enjoyed being around me but he also loved being around my friends. It’s effectively more than 30 hours of running, getting in and out of sweaty/stinky van, while sleeping 2-3 hours.
I know that doesn’t sound terribly attractive, but believe it or not, it’s a wonderful event and a great time. But what I most remember most is what he said to me after crossing the finish line, which we cross together as a team, while totally exhausted, he stops me and says, “Dad, I can’t believe it’s over. That was one of the most fun times of my life. You make sure you save a spot for me next year.” I told him it was one of the best times I’d had in my life as well. We did it again in February 2015 and had another magical time.
The Committed Supporter
Sebastian ran cross country and track at Columbus. He went to his team’s cross country race two days after his first surgery. It was regionals, and he wanted to be there to support his team
He had charm – loads of it. It took him no time to win over his girlfriend’s father, a tough guy marine with not one, not two, but three daughters.
I can probably be here all day sharing stories of how caring person he was, but I’m going to focus on a couple of more recent ones. It would surprise no one who knew him that it was Sebastian who kept our spirits up despite difficult diagnosis after difficult diagnosis. He’s the one who was sick, and yet he’s worried about me and Rose. The night before his last surgery in November, he woke up in the middle of the night and told his mom, “No matter what happens, you guys need to take care of one another.”
On Christmas Day 2016, just four days before he passed, my youngest brother shared with the family that he and his wife were expecting, twins no less. My brother was conflicted about sharing but I encouraged him to. So, he shared the news with Sebastian. And, despite being on heavy meds and not totally there, Sebastian’s face lit up immediately and he asked, “for real?” He hugged my brother Alex, congratulated him, and asked his Tia Rebecca to come over so he could congratulate her as well.
The Strong & The Brave
Despite the pain and constant discomfort he endured throughout this battle, he did it with an amazingly positive attitude. Through this process, He taught me so much about how to live in the face of true adversity.
Once we were given the news that we were out of options, Rose, Sebs and I talked/cried through it. Then, he composed himself and told us he wanted to share the news with those closest to him. And, it was truly amazing to watch. As person after person broke down when he shared the news, he was the one comforting those he told. He would tell them everything’s going to be ok.
As sad as the end result made me, I was so proud of him. Sebastian handled this with grace and class.
Those are some examples of how I will remember my son. As we continue to heal, I hope to replace some of the pain by recalling stories like the ones I’ve just shared as that bring a big smile to my face.
I’m particularly thankful for a few of things today. Number one, he’s no longer suffering. It was a tough 14 months. Number two, that I was able to spend as much time with him as I did.
I am incredibly grateful for Sebastian being a part of my life. I am a better person for having known him and will continue to be because of what he’s taught me, the courage he showed through this battle, and the love with which he lived. His spirit will live in me and our family forever.
Oscar P. Ortiz
Executive Director & Sebastian’s Dad