In Loving Memory of Darryl Sanchez — My Hero
This article is dedicated to my incredible friend Darryl Macaraig Sanchez, who we lost to Glioblastoma. He was an incredible husband, brother, son, friend — and comprehensively, an extraordinary human being.
“Actually, the Soviet Union won the arms race,” Darryl retorted as I challenged him on U.S.-Soviet history. In the grandest exercise of puffing my chest, as my erudition in the Cold War was scant, my pride wouldn’t let this random man I’d met three weeks ago mansplain American history to me. I didn’t have all of the facts I needed, but like any attorney I made efficient use of the facts that I had. My opponent, as it turned out, was a Russian-speaking Eastern European scholar. But that didn’t matter; I wasn’t going down without a fight.
Darryl and I were colleagues in the Peace Corps, and off to an inauspicious start. I don’t remember why, but I remember he wasn’t on my friend list. So back-and-forth we went, countering about Russian vs. American economics and diplomatic status, causing great apprehension among our fellow volunteers. Eventually, reading the room and each other, we approached a ceasefire when I offhandedly referenced Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, of which Darryl is also a great fan. We smiled — in that smile a truce, and the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
From then, we were inseparable. Every day we walked home together, me carrying my backpack, Darryl carrying his guitar. Eating Sandra Ice Cream as we decompressed, we gossiped about our lives, Peace Corps, and all that was in between. Discussing everything from politics to relationships, we leaned on one another and became family. There are so many things I remember of my first summer in the Republic of Moldova: the heat, lack of air conditioning, mosquito bites, my shoes being destroyed, the list goes on. But more than anything, I remember Darryl. This gift from an ancestor specially placed in my life, helping me navigate a brave new world of which I wouldn’t have survived without him.
Yet survive we did. Separated only by distance, we spoke as frequently as our schedules would allow. He lived in Ceadîr-Lunga, I in Rezina, completely opposite ends of the country. This mattered not, as we met in the capital city as often as we could, or I visited him as he invited me to his community. Darryl easily became a Peace Corps rockstar, as his work ethic, discipline, community integration, and compassion for service were unparalleled. A former Marine, Darryl understood the mission: benevolent service, learning through experience, and broadening the horizons of all those around you. He excelled by every metric.
But our friendship flourished in the small moments of life, the mundanity, more than it did in our work. I was the person who called Darryl after a breakup — seemingly unfortunate, but would eventually bode well as I played cupid and encouraged him to pursue the love of his life, our mutual friend Angela. But when you’re on the phone at 4 a.m. with your mate, that’s not the first thing you mention. Darryl was the man to call to share joy, to seek counsel about romance, receive encouragement — and at times a necessary push when I needed to get my act together. Which was often.
Our brave new world spanned friendships, relationships, seminal life events, and hardship. He cheered me on when I passed the bar exam. Encouraged me to be bold in everything I did. I look back at our messages, mesmerized in how we literally discussed everything. World events, music, books, and people. Darryl’s role in my life was incredible for so many reasons: he taught me how to be a better person, he led by example in all he did, and above all, he was one of the kindest, warmest, and loving people I will ever know. I learned so much from him, and I will never have a better teacher.
Darryl Macaraig Sanchez was born February 21, 1990 in Quezon City, Manila, Philippines. One of four children, he and his family immigrated to the United States in 2001. Ask me if I’m a proud American, and I’ll respond that there’s no greater honor than sharing a passport with someone as incredible as Darryl. After high school, Darryl joined the United States Marine Corps and was deployed to Afghanistan. Working in humanitarian relief, Darryl protected his colleagues from enemy insurgents and worked with the infantry to detain Taliban fighters. Using the GI Bill, Darryl then earned his Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where among many things, he began dancing lessons in salsa, bachata, and meringue.
Those bachata classes sure came in handy, as the dance heard around the world commenced when Darryl met Angela. We had only just arrived in Moldova, and we were staying at a hotel. Drawn to one another with a force that rivaled gravity, an electrifying routine ensued that would forever change the course of their lives. Like most of us, I sat in the background screaming in delight, as I am always one to encourage fireworks when I see them. Five months later, they were dating. Five years later, they were married. Though I often like to take credit for their union, their destiny was written in the stars. I merely played a helpful role in what was clearly a foregone conclusion.
When Darryl was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, I collapsed in agony. I remember the direction I was facing, the breath escaping my body. More than anything, I remember Angela telling me, “we just really want to enjoy the time that we have.” Time, that elusive concept. So malleable yet so concrete. So precious and yet equally painful.
Darryl, forever the optimist, teacher, and student — faced cancer with conviction and determination. I remember him messaging me, telling me he would live until he was 100, and I better be prepared for more birthdays. I remember his optimism at every turn, his hope, his resilience, and his smile. I remember him waving at me through video messaging, which painfully became the last time we spoke.
They say grief is the love you could not give someone before they passed — but some of us love each other so dearly that no matter how long they lived, to be without them is inconceivable. There are few absolutes in life, but Darryl’s absence from this corporal world is an immeasurable loss. As sure as the sun rises in the East, it also shines less brightly because he is gone. This world is a better place because he lived.
The only solace I find in this unspeakable tragedy is that now, Darryl is no longer in pain. I’d like to think of him playing guitar or chess somewhere, roaming the roads of a different brave new world, as he can no longer physically navigate me in this one. I’m sure he’s smiling, cheering us on, and wiping our tears.
Friends are the family we choose. I resent so greatly that Darryl is no longer with us, but I am so privileged to have known such an extraordinary person. The pain reinforces the beauty of his soul, because we would not mourn so profoundly if he was anything less than exceptional.
I will miss him every day. I wrote him a letter before he transitioned, reminding him of how beautiful he was. If I could tell him one more thing, it would be that our “Best Friend” rings are en route from Ukraine, and I’ll wear mine for as long as I can. I know in spirit, he’s wearing his too.
Darryl transitioned peacefully on July 31, 2022. He is survived by his wife, Angela Spignese; his siblings, Denzel, Dana, and Danica; his parents, Nanette and Danny; his in-laws, Theresa, Helen, Karen, and Frank; his nieces and nephews; and the entire U.S. Marine Corps and Peace Corps families.
Semper Fidelis, Sanchez. I’ll be faithful to this Brave New World for both of us, and I’m still rooting for you.
If you’re interested in learning more about Darryl’s battle with cancer or his celebration of life, please see Angela’s Instagram account here.
To see articles featuring Darryl during his incredible life, see an Amherst Medium Article, his Peace Corps feature, and read about his induction to the National Disability Mentoring Coalition Hall of Fame here.