Brian Kanterman

When he was 18, Brian Kanterman (left) dressed in full turnout gear and did laps to raise money for sick children, like the one pictured. 

I've written a lot lately about death, dying and signs from beyond, and you're probably wondering if I'm obsessed.

I'm not, but after 40 years of covering stories about people whose time on Earth has ended too soon, I've developed a theory. The Billy Joel classic, "Only the Good Die Young," pops into my head, just like it did last week when I interviewed friends and family members of Brian Kanterman.

A former Stafford County deputy, Brian was working as a correctional officer at the Rappahannock Regional Jail on Christmas Day when he collapsed and died. He was 25.

Losing a loved one, especially so young, has to be horrible any time, but it's heartbreaking that those who cared about Brian will always associate the holiday with his death.

His family talked about Brian's passion for public safety, the way he joined fire and rescue departments in his hometown of Franklin Township, N.J., when he was still a teenager. Many times, his dad, Stan, said Brian would wake him in the middle of the night after a call went out on the scanner.

Brian didn't have his license, so his dad had to drive him.

Friends in the Fredericksburg area, where he became a police officer, talked about the way he was larger than life. He was the kind of person who never knew a stranger—or a dog that he didn't want to pet and be photographed with so he could post the picture on Facebook. He loved music, hiking and sports, especially baseball, and he worked and played with gusto.

"Brian was exceptionally known for his big heart and his care for everyone," according to his obituary.

His father sent me a photo of Brian, then 18, dressed in firefighter regalia. He and two other fire department buddies were doing laps around MetLife Stadium, where the New York Giants play, in full turnout gear to raise money for sick children.

As they walked, a mother handed her baby to Brian and another firefighter for a photo.

Brian often said he didn't think he'd make it to old age, according to a friend who didn't want to be named. She'd give him a friendly smack and tell him to shut up, that he didn't know that.

I would suggest that Brian knew exactly what he was talking about.

I believe those who die young, either from illness, accident or while on duty serving others, have a sixth sense about their shortened lifespan. They seem to know their days are numbered, and they'd better make the most of them.

That's why they tend to live larger than the rest of us. They seem to have an insight the rest of us lack, and they take a moment to be nice—or to roll around on the floor with a couple of friendly pooches—because they realize they might not get the chance again.

Some might say this is all nonsense, that people remember those who have gone in such glowing terms because they don't want to speak ill of the dead or they choose to focus only on the good parts.

Whatever. I have my theory, and I'm sticking to it.

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Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

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