Today’s post is very personal and not health or fitness related, just a head’s up.
7 years ago today was undoubtedly the hardest day of my life. It was the day my dad lost his battle with cancer at the young age of 47. He was my rock, my inspiration and my hero. I had watched him fight, helpless to do anything to make him better and praying to whoever would listen that he would somehow get better.
Every year on this day I am overcome with sadness. Most days when I think of my dad I smile and remember all of the wonderful memories I have of him and think how proud he would be of me and everything I’m doing. But on this day I find myself walking around with a constant lump in my throat. On this day I’m not able to think of the happy times but rather I have flashbacks of the frantic 36 hours leading up to his passing. I remember every detail about that day, I remember the sounds the machines in his room made and I remember the smells of hospital. I remember every painstaking detail and these images play over and over in my head.
I normally try and keep myself very busy on this day with clients, meetings…anything to distract myself. I tried that this morning but I’m having a hard time keeping it together. Rather than running away, today I’m going to write it down and put it in words. It may not be comfortable for some to read and if you’re highly sensitive I recommend skipping this post.
I was just about to finish up my third year in university when my dad and step-mom came to visit me in London after one of his cancer appointments. I could tell by the look on his face that it wasn’t good news. He had been given 6 months to live and there was nothing more that doctors could do for him at that point. Of course I was uncontrollably upset but my dad had always been a fighter and deep down I thought he could still come out on the other side of things. He told me we would figure things out when I came home for the summer in a few days. After they drove home I had a terrible feeling in my gut that I just couldn’t shake. Instead of just waiting the few days to move home I phoned my now fiance Steve and told him I was going to head home that night and would be back in London in a few days to pack up.
I drove home that evening and I remember the Aerosmith song ‘I don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ coming on the radio and I just started crying as I drove down the highway. I got home around 8 I believe and said I just didn’t feel right being in London. We hung out for a bit that evening and then eventually everyone made their way to bed.
I couldn’t sleep that night and so I made my way downstairs to grab a drink and check on my dad (he was sleeping in the former dining room because he was in a hospital bed at this point). He heard me stirring around and invited me to come and sit with him. I went to give him a hug and I just broke down – the thought of losing him was just too much to bear. We both started crying and the next thing I knew he wasn’t breathing properly. I went downstairs and woke Trish and we called an ambulance. She rode with him and my sister and I followed behind. We figured he just needed an oxygen tank (he had thyroid cancer and had been having issues with his neck and breathing in general) and we would be home in a few hours. After what seemed like forever we found out that it wasn’t a simple issue and they would be checking him in. We still tried not to panic and thought they were just being cautious and we’d be on our way soon enough.
After more waiting and more family arriving at the hospital my younger sister and I realized the situation was more serious than we initially thought. The next few hours were a blur as family kept arriving and there was lots of talk back and forth. I knew it was extremely serious when Trish phoned family from out of province and told them they should probably get on flight as soon as possible.
The moment it got extremely real for me was when my dad brought my sister and I into his room and asked us if we would sing at his funeral. His breathing was laboured and speaking was extremely difficult. At this point all of our immediate family in the area was there and they sent Alyx and I out to get some lunch (we had been at the hospital since the middle of the night). By the time we got back things had gone from worse to terrible. When we walked to the wing he was in we could see people panicking. He couldn’t breathe and was gasping for air. They had to sedate him at this point. He didn’t become fully conscious again after this point.
Family and friends took time visiting him and Alyx and I had our private with him. We spoke to him, cried, and told him we loved him as we could see him fighting to regain consciousness and speak. The only words out of his mouth were ‘hi’ and we knew he knew we were there.
After this is was all a waiting game. My aunt from Winnipeg had hopped on a plane and had arrived at the hospital. More family and friends were arriving and I was slowly going numb to the entire situation. More time passed and eventually, surrounded by those who loved him most, he took his last breath and was gone.
What came next was an onslaught of family and friends gathering to the house, people telling me to eat and drink and asking how I was. There was a newspaper announcement to write, a celebration of life to arrange and so many other details. I remember finding my dad’s notepad and he had a final list of things to get done before he died, on that list was ‘make video for girls’ which he never got to do since he passed so quickly. To this day I wonder what he wanted to say in that video.
Like I said, on most days I think and smile about my dad but today is filled with those memories from 7 years ago. Today I broke down while vacuuming the gym and Steve told me to allow myself to be sad today and be happy on all of the other days. So rather than keeping it all bottled up I’m putting my sadness out there. I cannot run from it and I can’t attempt to hide the fact that 7 years later my heart is still broken.
I’ll see you again one day and until then I’ll keep my memories close.
You can tell his was a big Montreal Canadiens fan. There is a chapter about him in the book Sur le Beat du Canadien, that was written in collaboration with our family friend John Lu who works for TSN. The book is in French but that chapter has been translated below. There’s also a video tribute below that John made.
Page 251 Le trésor de Saku
In collaboration with John Lu
Chosen by the Canadiens in the first round of 1993, Saku Koivu played 1,124 games in 18 NHL seasons. Promised a bright future, the Finn sustained several injuries which had an effect on holding back his progress.
This did not prevent him from becoming the darling of the fans to succeed Vincent Damphousse, beginning in the 1999-2000 season, as captain of the team. The twenty-seventh player in Canadiens history to wear the “C” on his jersey, he occupied the post until the summer of 2009, when the Canadiens chose to cut ties with him. His reign of ten years had been interrupted by the lockout season, so he was the captain of the Tricolore for nine years, one less than Jean Béliveau.
Koivu was already profoundly loved by Canadiens fans. But the cancer that he fought and conquered over the course of the winter of 2001-02 elevated that love to another level. At that, he has become an example of courage and determination for all of those who’ve been struck by this terrible disease.
Like Lance Armstrong and Mario Lemieux before him, Saku Koivu instantly became, in the eyes of the public, living proof that it’s possible to beat cancer. Captain of the most prestigious team in hockey history, the Finn quickly served notice that his magnetism didn’t stop at the Quebec border. TSN journalist John Lu was a privileged witness to this phenomenon.
“David Moore Junior is the biggest Canadiens fan I’ve ever known. He is also the best friend cancer has taken from me. Thyroid cancer claimed him at the age of 47, in April 2008, after a 4-year fight. If he had been properly assessed by his doctors from the beginning, perhaps he would have received adequate treatment for the actual form of cancer which he suffered from. Without a doubt he would’ve benefitted from several more years. Perhaps he would still be among us today,” says Lu. “Unfortunately, we will never know that. All we are left with is reality – reality that lives in indelible memories of the father, son, brother, uncle and friend who loved the Canadiens with unbridled passion,” he continues. An unwavering love that the Tricolore and its captain gave back in his years of uncertainty and suffering that marked the end of his life.
April 2004. Several weeks had passed since Moore had received his terrible diagnosis. Knowing what was coming, friends and family members organized different events with a goal to raise education funds for his teens, Chelsey and Alyx.
Knowing his friend’s passion for the Tricolore and, mainly, for Koivu, Lu, then based in Toronto, phoned Michael Whalen, his Montreal colleague who covered the Canadiens at the time. “I asked him to help me obtain some autographed jerseys that we could sell at fundraisers. Michael rushed to the Canadiens’ community relations department,” recounts the reporter. The response, which soon arrived, exceeded all
expectations of Moore and his family.
Seated on the balcony of his St. Catharines, Ontario home, Moore and company were still getting over the elimination of the Canadiens in four games by the Tampa Bay Lightning, when a courier truck parked in front of the house. The driver approached Moore with a box in hand that originated from Montreal. Inside it, the 43-year-old found a Canadiens cap signed by Koivu, along with a handwritten letter. “It was a letter of encouragement. Even though his team had just been eliminated, Koivu, a proud competitor, had taken the time to write to a fan that was going through a difficult ordeal which he had experienced several years before. Moved, David couldn’t hold back his tears,” recalls his friend.
Moore and Lu weren’t aware of it at the time, but that letter would be the first in a series of compassionate gestures from Koivu to the stricken and his family, over the course of the following seven years.
For several years, the father of the family enjoyed Super Bowl weekend, during which the Canadiens play two afternoon games, by attending matches of his favorite team. True to form, Moore shows up at the Bell Centre for a matinee on February 3, 2007. Except that, this time, he’s not accompanied by friends or business associates. For this visit by the Islanders (and the Penguins the following day), Moore extended an invitation to his brother Shadoe, his sisters Darlene and Cairn, as well as his nephew Josh. “They were all hardcore Canadiens fans, especially Darlene, David’s twin sister. The passion runs in the family. Clearly David Moore Senior passed on his decades-long passion for the Canadiens,” says Lu, a large smile on his face.
“For the Moore family visit in 2007, I had arranged, with the Canadiens’ help, a meeting between David and Saku,” explains the reporter. “The team allowed him to be accompanied by one person. Although Darlene would have given anything to be his companion, she gave her son (David’s nephew) the chance to meet the captain of the team.
The Canadiens had just surrendered a 4-2 decision at the hands of the Islanders when Moore and his nephew took position near the dressing room of their favourite team. Shaken up in the previous game against the Penguins following a check by Colby Armstrong, Koivu had to remain in the infirmary to undergo treatment, which allowed the two fans to meet practically all the players. One by one, those that filed before them stopped each time to sign their jersey or to take a picture.
“When David finally met Saku, he was speechless. I was witnessing a 45-year-old man awestruck and nervous as a kid meeting his idol,” recalls Lu. “David was stumbling for words. Amused, I was looking at my friend. I wanted to say to him: ‘Go on, David! Say something!’ Then he succeeded in finding his nerve. He thanked Saku for the inspiration he provided during his fight against cancer. Saku smiled and graciously chatted with David and Josh before posing for a picture with them. David chided himself for his awkwardness with Saku, but it was understandable. That moment was marked by so many emotions. Emotions amplified, even more, by the fight David was going through for the last three years. He didn’t want to go into too many personal details, for fear of breaking down in front of his idol.”
Fourteen months pass. At the start of the 2008 playoffs, Montrealers are pumped. Eastern Conference
champions, the Tricolore just eliminated the Bruins, their huge rival, after a tough seven–game series. In the next round, Guy Carbonneau’s troops continue their momentum. They split the first two games against the Philadelphia Flyers. The series is at the point of moving to the City of Brotherly Love when John Lu, in his hotel room, receives the call he was dreading for a long time. After a fierce fight of four years, his friend had just succumbed.
“Upon learning of David’s death, I felt a sharp pain and much sadness. Instinctively, I said to myself that I had to talk to Saku,” remembers the reporter, who after being transferred to Montreal the previous September, was finishing his first season covering the Canadiens. Conscience of the urgency of the series and knowing there were two days off between the third and fourth games, Lu chose to wait just for the right moment to share this sad news with the Finn.
“I had a lot of difficulty giving him the news. I couldn’t speak. Distraught, while the words were stuck in the back of my throat, he extended his hand and firmly gripped my forearm with his left hand to console and to reassure me. I couldn’t look at him. Then, when I finally found the strength to look up, I saw tears in his eyes. Saku offered his condolences to the Moore family, but he didn’t need to say what he did. His compassion and empathy spoke for themselves,” he adds.
Life goes on, but the loss of David is still difficult to accept for the Moores, even three years later. “Darlene was still having a hard time dealing with the death of her twin brother. When their 50th birthday was approaching in March 2011, the family asked me if it would be possible, in some way, to obtain a birthday wish from Saku,” mentions Lu. Golden fortune – it just so happens that Koivu, who is now a member of the Anaheim Ducks, is about to make his return to Montreal several weeks before the celebrations.
In spite of the circus surrounding the former Canadiens player and the crush of media at his press conference, the Ducks public relations team agrees to grant Lu a little extra time, alone with Number 11. “After giving him a quick synopsis of the situation, I asked him if he would agree to deliver a brief birthday wish to Darlene. Nothing elaborates. A single sentence would suffice. Saku instead chose to offer her a message of congratulations and encouragement, filled with warmth and sincerity. That meant all the gold in the world to this fan who was still grieving the loss of her brother. Upon viewing the message during her 50th birthday celebration, she laughed and cried at the same time,” stresses Lu.
“For me, results, games and press conferences are not important. I prefer, far more, stories that reveal human beings at their best. In that regard, Saku Koivu has given me a treasure of indelible memories that had nothing to do with what happened on the ice, but instead with the great person that he is. Thank you also to Frederic Cardinal, Genevieve Paquette and Dominick Saillant, the Canadiens employees who worked behind the scenes to make these beautiful moments come true,” he concludes.