No Regrets

You never know when a “snippet of life” moment is going to fall upon you; sometimes it impacts you like a comet plunging into a planet. One would happen in 2013 on New Year’s Eve at a Moose Jaw Warrior Hockey Game.

There was always an elderly couple that sat beside us this season. They were such a cute couple; Ron and Eleanor. They were a friendly couple who befriended us the very first game and, mom and I always looked forward to going to games to see them again. Their antics were adorable; Ron would always cheer for the opposing team, no matter who it was, just to “spite” Eleanor. This would create a friendly rivalry every game and, with the Warriors being a sub .500 team this year, Ron would inevitably become “victorious” every game despite the irony of him wearing Moose Jaw Warrior paraphernalia. If the visiting team would score, Ron would clap and cheer while Eleanor would playfully hit and tell him to shut up. Even though the Warriors were having a terrible season and it was frustrating to watch, this couple gave us reason to smile and enjoy coming to games.

These were the signs of a beautiful, long-lasting love that had reached a mature stage; where each other’s “aroundness” was all that was needed to have a good time. It was a thing of beauty to witness.

This night, Ron would come by himself and announced to us that his wife had passed just 48 hours previous. He had said, one day, she was fine and, the next, she had pains in her abdomen. And, 10 days later, she was gone.

“I am so sorry, Ron,” I said as I reached over and touched his arm. He gave a simple acknowledgment and a nod. You could see that the events of the past two weeks for him were still incredulous and had not quite registered as fact.

We had gotten around to the usual questions of how did she die and her age. He said it had been cancer that didn’t show its face until it was too late. She was 77. Ron then announces that he is also 77 but, six months younger.

“She liked her men younger and good looking!” he declared with a proud smile. And, we laughed.

Ron continued: “Not like you,” he says, pointing at me, someone three decades his junior, “You’re looking pretty old. Not young and spry like me!”

I couldn’t hear him over the public address announcer and I asked him to repeat himself.

He motions to my mom and says, “See? His hearing’s gone.” And, we laughed again.

Amidst all this laughter, my mom and I are fighting back tears as we try not to notice the empty seat beside us. There was going to be no friendly rivalry tonight; no counter-cheering for “spite”; no playful hits and warnings to be quiet.

The Moose Jaw Warriors — a Canadian Junior Hockey team — have had such a disappointing season and, when you look around the stadium, you see all these upset, frustrated fans at times. I would hear angry words and threats of never coming back here because all they do is lose. Some people feel like they are wasting their time.

By contrast, for a life lesson, I need only look to my right and to witness Ron and Eleanor, giggling and laughing the whole time because one was playfully pitted against the other. They were showing me what really matters.

Ron did take a moment later in the game to reflect with us about his life with Eleanor. ”We went to so many places over 55 years,” He said, “And, it wasn’t perfect! There were times we wanted to kill each other. But, who doesn’t have that?” He laughed and looked into the distance with a bright smile. He was recalling all the happy times.

That was the thing; he never made it seem more than it was. And, he never made it seem less than it was. He simply made it what it was.

“We had four kids, grandkids and now, a great grandkid,” he said, smiling and nodding at his true accomplishments, “I have no regrets.”

My mom and I sat there quietly while, on the ice, the game was playing. He saw both my mom and I tear up and he sat back, pointed a scolding finger at us, and says, “DON’T YOU EVEN START! DON’T EVEN!”

This was a man who suffered a devastating loss not two days ago. But, like the fighting spirit that needs to live in all of us, he chose life. He would not stand to see us shed a tear or be sad. His tears had been shed in private before coming here and, this was not the time or the place to express sorrow. There was a game going on, afterall!

I would catch myself looking over at Ron over the course of the game. There was many a time he wasn’t watching the game and, instead, he chose to watch the tips of his fingers touch each other as if it were a daydream. He was set apart from the moment; he was living between worlds.

That’s what you do when a loved one passes; you are here, and then you are not.

Ron had his knees replaced years ago — by the way, he says never do that! — and for every game, Eleanor would dote on him to make sure he could get into and out of his seat. He said many times that “Eleanor is my legs”. Seeing him sit there, alone, with an empty seat between us made me think of who his legs are now; figuratively and literally.

The loss, for me, an acquaintance at best, was starting to settle in. Eleanor was gone and it was palpable. I knew my experience was but a spoonful of an ocean of loss he was feeling. No matter the brave face one wears after a loss, the hole that it leaves in one’s life will always surface, if even for a moment.

Remember how Ron always cheered for the visiting teams just to “spite” Eleanor? This night, I gave him a menacing finger point when Prince Albert scored and, I said, “Are you cheering for them?” He laughed, smiled and said I’d find out. When Moose Jaw scored and, eventually won the game, I saw him clap and cheer. My mom and I looked over at him.

He put a hush finger to his lips and said, “That was for Eleanor”.

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