In his brief life, "Ski" provided contagious happiness

Waterford — They called him "ski," in honor of (and it was easier to say) than his lengthy Polish last name: Konakowitz.

Dylan William Konakowitz.

"Did you ever go to Filomenas/baseball field/everywhere else and not leave with a smile after talking to Dylan?" his friend Dean Beebe wrote a few days ago. "Contagious happiness. RIP."

Contagious happiness.

And it is with unspeakable sorrow that hundreds and hundreds of friends and family members mourn his recent death.

"Ski," a Waterford High graduate and student at Eastern Connecticut, died in his sleep Wednesday night. He was 21.

We begin and end here: Those of us who knew him will spend the rest of our lives missing him.

Konakowitz played on the 2011 Babe Ruth baseball team in Waterford that won the state championship. Maybe he was best known, though, on the wait staff at Filomenas, the unofficial nerve center of the 06385, where Mike Buscetto, the owner, hasn't just assembled a bunch of employees, but de facto members of his family.

"They lost a family member and so did I," Buscetto said.

Buscetto arranged for a night in "Ski's" honor Thursday at the restaurant, helping defray the costs of funeral expenses through the Cactus Jack Foundation.

"I couldn't believe how many people were there. It was like Thanksgiving Eve," Mike's wife, Heather, said, alluding to the annual party that fills the place. "I kept thinking Dylan was over there in the corner laughing at Mike because there's this big crowd and Mike couldn't boss him around anymore."

Then Mike Buscetto posted this on his Facebook page:

"We got you Dylan! Stacey (Dylan's mother) ... because you did such a great job bringing up this kid, the community has responded with a resounding 'thank you' to you and your family. We raised $13,000 and counting. On behalf of Cactus Jack, Filomenas and the entire community... we did it ... we took care of mom for you, little buddy. Love ya kid!!"

And there is the power of "Ski." He made people feel better about themselves just by being ... himself. It's a gift. He could have, presumably, lamented his Type 1 diabetes that no 21-year-old — or anyone else, really — should have to endure. But he never let on. Instead, he remained happy and goofy and one of those people who made the room better just by walking into it.

There are no words to console his friends and family. This isn't supposed to happen. It tests your faith. Why? Why was such a good, vibrant kid taken from us at 21? There is no answer.

But if there was ever an illustration of the old Dr. Seuss line, "Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened," this is it. The genuine love the community has shown tells us all we need to know about Konakowitz's impact. He did more good in 21 years than many do in a lifetime.

His death, too, underscores the power of people in our lives who make us happy. Maybe it's what he did: work in a place where people go to have fun, relax, be happy and talk to friends. That's Filomenas. And so many other places like it in the region.

From Old Lyme to the east, wherever you like to go ... Hideaway, Black Sheep, Flanders Fish, Filomenas, Mr. G's, Dutch, Spot, Harp & Hound, Bravo, CC O'Brien's ... wherever. There are people who don't just wait on you. They are your friends. People you associate with good times and laughter.

Konakowitz reminds us all over again how important they are in our lives.

We just lost one of the MVPs of such a category.

So let's make sure we treasure who we have remaining.

I'll miss walking into Filomenas and seeing Konakowitz schlepping a tray, delivering food or filling a water glass. We'd have a routine. I'd yell "Ski!" He'd yell, "Mr. D!" He'd yell 'Ski and Mr. D!' That rhymes!'" And we'd laugh, even though we both knew it was coming.

My heart aches for his family and friends. But tributes like this don't happen for just anybody. This was one special kid. From whom we can learn this much:

Don't ever stop daring to make someone else smile.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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