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Death Comes Knocking, and Saturday Night is Suddenly Much Less Fun

It happens to all of us sooner or later: death.

And if it hasn’t happened to you just yet, I would bet that it has in some way touched, and affected your life.

Maybe it was an aunt, or uncle. A son, or daughter. Someone you work with. A neighbour. An old high-school friend.

And so you would think that we should all be used to it by now. Expecting, and accepting that it is a part of life that’s as common as the sunrise, and as unremarkable as the ground we walk upon.

And yet, death still has the power to surprise, and shock, and hurt us. We never get used to it, no matter how many times it arrives on our doorstep.

It’s not the fact of death’s arrival that disturbs us; it’s the powerful disruption of what we know as our “normal” lives. The sudden, unexpected theft of a wheel, large or small, that propels the mechanism of our life on its everyday journey. Without that piece, things no longer run smoothly, or as expected. We took for granted that the bits and pieces would continue to operate in the manner to which we’ve become so accustomed. Now, we find ourselves scrambling to repair the damage. To repair or replace that piece that is now missing. Sometimes, we never can.

The deaths that happen to those most near and dear to us, inevitably leave a mark. A milestone from which we measure our own continuing journey. It’s been twenty-three years since Mom died, for example. Generally, however, death at a distance leaves only a faint impression. A mark upon the trail of life that fades with each passing year.

Occasionally, however, we are startled, and shaken by the loss of someone we know, in a way that is out of proportion to the part they played in our lives. Usually it’s because their death was wholly unexpected, and without warning. Or because they were close enough in age to remind us, sharply, that we are all mortal.

That’s the case with my friend Sylvia, who died yesterday.

Sylvia was a little fireball of a woman. Constantly busy, with just living her life.

She doted on her grandchildren. Loved corny, vintage movies, the Hamilton Tiger Cats, and inexplicably ( to me at least) Elvis. She carefully watched her diet in order to eat healthy, and was constantly on the move.

I think her Fitbit was more exhausted at the end of every day, than she was.

She was born in a refugee camp, back in the time when her Hungarian parents fled the iron grip of Communist rule, and came to Canada as an infant. While she loved and honoured her heritage, you could no find a person more fiercely proud to be Canadian, than Sylvia. In an age where the loyalty and benefit of immigrants is under attack, she was a strong example of the positive skein they add, to the fabric of this country.

And one of her favourite ways to participate in the culture of this nation, was to take to the ice and chase a puck, for as long as her short legs, could carry her. That’s how I met Sylvia. On the wrong end of her dogged pursuit of the puck.

She was by no means a great hockey player, but what she lacked in speed and power, she more than made up in determination, and a fiercely competitive nature. She never quit on a play. Never. You might be able to steal the puck from her, and head down the ice, but you did so knowing that she would pursue you tenaciously, and that you would inevitably meet once again, at the other end of the ice.

She was a pest.

Over the years we played, occasionally, on the same teams; most notably one year on the North Stars, of the GHL.  ( The ‘Hockey for Dummies” version of organized sport. ) That was a good year, and a great team. We made it to the finals — and lost a game we should have won, but the experience bonded me to her friendship forever.

She was always the one you could count on to join you in the bar after the game. The one with the sarcastic, and occasionally filthy remark, that would leave you laughing long after you got home. The one that couldn’t wait for the next opportunity, to do it all again.

After last Saturday’s game, I found her as usual, holding a table for the team up in the bar. But it was clear that something wasn’t right. The big smile that usually greeted you, was gone. She looked tired, and said she suddenly wasn’t feeling well. She stayed only a brief minute or two, as a few other players found our table, then abruptly said goodnight, and left. I think that the only reason she went upstairs in the first place, was to make sure that there’d be a place for the gang to sit. That would have been typical of her. Looking out for the ones that counted in her life.

Over the next few days, she complained of having the flu; not a surprise, since it was reaching peak flu season in the city, and hospital emergency rooms were overflowing. On Wednesday, she tried to rally, because that was the night that a small group of us got together for 3-on-3 shinny at a local practice rink. I was a relative new-comer to Wednesday nights. It was Sylvia who finally convinced me to go, after asking me about a million times previously, to join in. As I’ve said, her persistence was remarkable.

But she didn’t show on Wednesday night, feeling too weak to go. That wasn’t a big surprise; the surprise would have come if she’d made it to the rink after four days in bed. On Thursday afternoon, she posted this quote, on her Facebook page:

 

 

It’s a message as heart-breaking, as it is ironic. Less than 24 hours after posting it, she was gone.

Even as I write this, I can hardly believe that she won’t be pulling on her skates next Saturday night, filled with passion, and heart, and ready to fearlessly chase anyone, of any size, into the corner to battle for the puck. That we won’t hear her hearty laugh, or her foul language again. Saturday nights, from now on, will just seem a little sadder than they did before.

She has left me with the memory of a good friend, gone too soon. A reminder that I too, am mortal, and rather than worry about the small things that challenge my life, I should be doing more to draw joy out of the things that are right in front of me every day. Thank you, Sylvia, for that. And may you forever find peace, pushing pucks, into that great big net in the sky.

 

scoturquhart@outlook.com

I'm a veteran broadcast journalist, producer, writer, and talk show gadabout. I like to play bad hockey, drink good beer, take sporadic rides on my bicycle and generally annoy my family with Dad jokes and selective memory. ( Lois the dog, excepted. )

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Hi Scott. What a poignant post. I’m sorry for your loss and all who knew Sylvia. What an incredibly sudden and sad turn of events.

    Though from her facial expression I do remember her, I knew her from a different side of the great game she enjoyed Saturday nights with you and so many others. For 3 seasons, I was one of the refs for the GHL and thoroughly enjoyed it. The worst hockey ever! And the very best. Whether it was officiating the ‘rookie’ division, the ‘semi-pro’ folks, or the guys who played as though there were pro-scouts in the stands, the GHL is genious. It gives a great space for people exactly like Sylvia–though I didn’t know her immigrant back-story–to enjoy one of Canada’s greatest past-times, make friends, and get fit. You and I talked a few times, though I don’t expect you’ll remember me, unless you’re still holding a grudge for a tripping penalty I gave you. 🙂

    I’ve since moved to Ottawa, about 1.5 years ago, and have told so many folks around here how much I enjoyed reffing the GHL, that’s there’s seemingly nothing like it in the area here. Every once in a while I check the GHL site entirely out of curiosity and nostalgia!…, and I saw a link to a story about Sylvia, and also your blog. Wonderfully written. Thank you. All of it makes me want to find a way of getting something like the GHL to Ottawa. So thanks! Even in your sadness, and especially for her family and others dear to her, I’m a firm believer there’s ways in which goodness can again sprout from sorrow and death.

    I’m going to contact Brad (he’s still involved? last name?) about what might all be involved to set something up like the GHL in the city here.

    Cheers,

    Jim

    James E. Pot
    Knox Presbyterian Church
    120 Lisgar Street, Ottawa

  2. You have described Sylvia so well… I knew her from the Elvis side of things and I can tell you that today, the entire Elvis family is sitting here in stunned disbelief, trying to make sense of why our friend was taken away.

    Sylvia was a fixture at Elvis events, some Elvis guys called her “auntie”, she was a faithful Collingwood Elvis Festival attendee…

    But to me, she was more than that. She was my friend. She was my friend with the filthy mouth to rival mine, the friend who had made an agreement with me: whenever we had jokes that were just too outrageous to share, we inboxed them to each other, laughing like loons in our respective homes.

    That someone so ALIVE and so vibrant would be snatched away like this, I just don’t understand. But here’s one thing: I know she used to do ghost walks and I now will have to as well: I may find a friendly ghost whispering filthy jokes to me. Love you, Sylvia. We both know that you are not far.

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