I lost you just a few days ago, and I already miss you a lot.
Even though I had a chance to say goodbye, there are still a few things I’d like to tell you.
Plenty of people are familiar with our family’s story. They know about how dad assaulted you when I was a little kid and how our family ended up moving to California and changing our names so he could avoid going to jail. They know about how he was eventually caught and how you and I had to figure things out on our own. And they know about how I ended up making it to the NHL despite all that. Yes, plenty of people have asked us about that story, but I don’t think enough people know about your story.
I was 12 when dad got caught and had to go away. Before that, he was very much the head of the family. Everything kind of revolved around him. But after he was gone suddenly, you had to take on more than you probably ever thought you would — more than any parent should have to. You didn’t panic, though. You always seemed to be in control, even though you might not have felt like you were. And you did such an amazing job. Just, such an amazing job.
When I think about you, I don’t think about what Dad did to you. I don’t think about how scared we were when he was caught. I don’t think about any of that. Instead, the first thing that comes to mind, of all things, is California Pizza Kitchen.
I know you’re smiling right now at just the mention of that. California Pizza Kitchen was our place.
When we were on our own, we were really struggling financially and couldn’t afford much beyond the basics. But we constantly set money aside so that every two weeks we could go out to dinner together. We’d always go to California Pizza Kitchen, usually in the afternoon so we could split the happy hour special: One Caesar salad and one pizza.
We’d place the order, and then … we’d talk.
And then we’d make up for all the time we were apart because you were working two jobs. For that window of time, we weren’t poor. We weren’t angry or sad. We were a family.
Of course, we’d always talk about hockey while we ate. It really consumed both of our lives because even when times were tough, hockey was something positive that we could share. And I couldn’t have asked for a better hockey parent. You never yelled at me or tried to coach me, and you always knew when I needed a cheerleader. You just understood me in a way that nobody else did.
Sometimes you’d open up about our financial struggles, but never anything to put a burden on me. I knew you were worn down. I could see it. You worked 16 hours a day so that I could realize my dreams of becoming a professional hockey player. You got a job as the assistant GM at the rink during the day so that I could skate for free, and you worked at the check-in desk for an airline at night so I could fly on standby to go to tournaments with my travel team. And somehow you also found time to homeschool me, make me dinner and teach me how to be a man.
I’d always try to lend you some money whenever I got my paycheck from my part-time job at the pro shop — but you’d never take it. You’d tell me paying the bills was your responsibility. You used to make me laugh when you’d tell me one day I’d put you in a nice house. You were taking care of things for the time being, you said, but the responsibility would be on me eventually. Now that you’re gone, I feel like I got robbed of the chance to take care of you in the way I wanted to. I knew my turn was coming. Even though I realized I could never repay you for what you gave me, I looked forward to providing for you as you got older.
Sometimes when we went out to dinner, we’d also talk about girls. Because of our situation, we tried to keep a low profile. I didn’t have much of a social life, but you still tried to make sure I had the social skills of a normal teenager. I didn’t, but at least you tried.
You knew that I had my eye on a few of the figure skaters at the rink, so whenever a girl came into the shop to buy skates, you’d make sure I was behind the desk. I was so awkward and uncomfortable in those situations, but I know it was fun for you to watch me try to figure things out. You were a great wingman, Mom.
You sacrificed your happiness in order to make sure I wouldn’t have to sacrifice mine. Twelve is a tough age. It’s sort of a pivot point, when kids begin adopting the habits they’ll take with them into adulthood. It’s not like I was a perfect kid, either. I was angry and confused. I’d sometimes get into fights or go into fits of rage. But you never let those kinds of things go unchecked. You always held me accountable. You gave me the room I needed to be a teenager, but you also stepped in when I needed to learn a lesson. Basically, you taught me so much about what it means to be a good parent.
As I reflect on our time together, there’s something I really need to tell you — and for the world to hear me say it: Thank you, Mom. Thank you so much.
Thank you for putting your life on the back-burner for several years just so that I could be happy. I know you didn’t have anyone to lean on, but you understood how much I needed you, and so you gave me all of yourself.
Thank you for showing me what it means to be a professional, for showing me that no matter what obstacle you may be facing, the best approach is always to just put your head down and go to work.
Thank you for helping me get through the eighth and ninth grades when neither of us really knew what we were doing with the whole homeschool thing. I still can’t believe we pulled a 3.0 GPA.
Thank you for playing so many roles in my life. You were my only parent for so long, but when it was time you were still able to let me go so that I could learn about the world on my own. I know how difficult that was for you. One of the biggest reasons I am where I am today is because you put me in a position to succeed. And not only succeed, but succeed on my own.
Thank you for giving your blessing when I asked you about proposing to my wife, Danielle — even though you and I had never had the conversation about her taking over the role as the main woman in my life. You’d been the most important person for so long, so I knew it was a big step. And your encouragement as I created a life of my own meant everything to me.
Finally, thank you for the gift that was the two days you got to spend with Riley, your first granddaughter, before you passed. Even though she was just six weeks old, I’m so glad that you got to meet her and also got to say goodbye. As she grows up, I’m going to tell her all about you and the love you had in your eyes when you held her for the first and last time.
Near the end of your battle with liver cancer, I know there were some rough days when you were too sick for us to communicate, but there were also a couple of days that were perfect. You were alert and chatty — you even got out of bed. It was just the two of us, and we both knew it would probably be the last time we would ever have a conversation.
I remember you told me that you were trying not to cry.
And I said, “Good, because we don’t do that.”
Then we laughed. And I got one final chance to tell you how much I love you.
With the circumstances of my childhood, there were a lot of ways my life could have gone. There were a lot of times when I could have screwed up or strayed in the wrong direction. But, instead I’ve realized all of my dreams. Every single one.
And it was all because of you.
I love you so much, Mom. I miss you.