The 2015 season for the Toronto Blue Jays was a thing of beauty. Filled with moments of pure exhilaration (bat flip!), camaraderie both amongst fans and the team itself, nail-biting anticipation, and sadly, a heartbreaker of a loss to end the year, so close to clinching the ALCS. It was a hell of a ride for all of us, but it was particularly meaningful to me.
Growing up, sports factored heavily into my life, mostly because of my Dad. A gifted athlete and an avid spectator, it was through him I learned about hockey, football, baseball and more. I spent many hours at rinks and diamonds watching him or my brother play, and in turn he was a regular fixture at my softball and soccer games. He helped coach my brother's little league team, and taught us fair play while also encouraging us to be more sure of ourselves.
Sports were always on when Dad was home. The sounds of the Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada or a Jays' game on the TV will always be soothing to me because of this. Some of my happiest memories are of going to Blue Jays games with him. We'd always get hot dogs on the way into the Dome (they were better than at the concession inside), and I would always bring my glove, just in case I had a shot at catching a fly ball. One year I won tickets in a raffle and was so proud that I could bring my Dad to a game. Hot dogs were still on him though, of course.
Time marched on, as it does, and this past March I gave birth to my son. My Dad's first grandchild. He was definitely looking forward to being a grandpa, and I was looking forward to watching him teach my son to skate the way he had taught me, or playing catch with him in the backyard.
But it didn't work out that way.
The week my son was born, Dad became ill. A sinus and throat infection, a bad cough, we thought. A nasty virus, perhaps? But when it didn't go away, and things got much, much worse, tests eventually revealed the that he had lung cancer. Initially he tried to conceal just how bad things were - late stage, metastatic NSCLC. Because of course, being my Dad, he didn't want to upset me. And in my postpartum haze....or perhaps it was just denial, I honestly thought a round of treatment would fix things...at least for a while. After all, he was only 66. There was so much living still to be done.
But things moved alarmingly fast in the wrong direction. By the end of June, Dad was very sick. He spent the week surrounding Canada Day in the hospital, and once he was out most of his time on the couch or in bed. This meant even more time to watch the Blue Jays play an increasingly exciting season. He never said this, but it seemed more than ever watching the games were a source of entertainment, a distraction or a place of refuge from what was a terrible reality of symptoms and side effects. Still, I kept hoping he would get better, and once again we could go to a game together.
In late September, Dad was admitted to the hospital for the third time. Breathing had become extremely difficult for him. I spent as much of that week there with him that I could. I remember he was wearing a Blue Jays t-shirt during that time, eschewing the standard issue robe, as was totally his way. He hated being a patient. Sports would be on the TV all day, and with the way things were going for the Jays, their games featured heavily. We would chat about their progress. I almost feel embarrassed that much of my conversation with him that week was that kind of small talk. I suppose I was being the hopeful optimist and didn't want to scare either of us by talking about what we feared might be true.
My Dad passed away on a beautifully sunny early fall morning, just an hour or so after my brother had managed to fly in from California. I can still say honestly that it took me by surprise, despite how things had been going. The next few days were a blur of family, well wishers, arrangements, tearful episodes, and sharing good memories. On the day of his funeral, the Blue Jays hammered the Orioles 15 - 2, which I thought was rather fitting salute (sorry, Baltimore).
In the month since then, I continued to follow Toronto's very formidable run at the World Series. Like so many fans, I was swept up in the excitement, and hoped that we'd once again be champions. It was such a rush right through October, with nail-bitingly awesome series against both the Rangers and the Royals that brought happiness to all that were following. But I had my own reasons for not wanting this season to end for my team. As long as we kept winning, it was as if reality didn't have to sink in for me. In a way, it was like my Dad was still here. But one way or another, like it or not, it would seem that all things really must end. And end they did with a gut-wrenching loss in Kansas City on Friday night. Although my heart sank like a stone as Josh Donaldson grounded out to third in game 6 of the ACLS, I couldn't help but manage a smile as well. Because what an incredible season it had been - full of incredible highs and lows, and wonderful memories.
So thanks guys, for playing your guts out for all of us. But especially for keeping my Dad company.
Lung Cancer is one of Canada's most prolific killers. It is lacking research and the funding for it, likely because of the stigma that exists surrounding this disease. Not all smokers get lung cancer, and not everyone that gets lung cancer smoked. Please educate yourself about this disease and its risk factors here. If you wish, donations toward research programs can be made here.