I'm coming off a 72-hour stretch that included some sad tears, some happy tears and a whole host of other emotions.
It started Friday morning, when the announcement came that Harmon Killebrew was nearing the end of his fight with cancer. I'll write more about Harmon in the coming days, but needless to say he was THE superstar hero of my youth. I was four years old when the Twins came to Minnesota in 1961, and 12 when Harmon had his MVP year in 1969, so you can imagine how every t-ball and Little League at-bat I ever had in those years was an attempt to be like him. News of his impending death was hard to take.
Hours later came word of the death of Derek Boogaard at age 28, from causes not yet known. I was in Milwaukee in 2003 to watch the Wild's minor-league team from Houston play, and they had this 6-foot-7 guy that I had never heard of. "That's Boogaard," someone told me. "He's big, but he can't skate." That was the consensus opinion, but Boogaard proved it wrong by working very hard on his skating and later getting called up to the Wild, where he became arguably the most popular player in team history. The death of someone so young is always hard to take, and this one was especially difficult.
Death, unfortunately, has been a strongly-felt presence in my life the past few months. I've lost a number of friends, colleagues and relatives since early March, and during that same period I've had two friends and a cousin - all of whom are my age or younger - undergo open-heart surgery. I was at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery just 10 days ago to bury an aunt I was especially fond of, a wonderful woman of 88 who succumbed to cancer with incredible grace and courage. She decided to forgo treatment, saying, "I've had a wonderful life and I'm ready for what's next," which was a wonderful testament to the power of the faith that directed her life.
Saturday began in a much more uplifting way. I was at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to watch youngest son William graduate. Pictured here with his fiancee, Adrienne, William made us all proud by wrapping up his degree in the allotted four years, spending time on the Dean's List and putting his musical talent to great use as a worship leader at a River Falls church. Like most graduations, it was an exciting, uplifting moment.
Afterwards I headed back to St. Paul, where Tim McGraw was performing. I approached the building feeling good, running on the excitement of the graduation ceremony, then turned the corner near Gate Two and saw this little makeshift memorial that had been started:
Which brought right back to me the reality that Boogie was really gone.
It put a damper on the evening, and from my perch up on the club level, I wasn't really watching a concert, I was just looking down and picturing the rink, and remembering great Boogie moments, like the time he dropped Todd Fedoruk with one monster punch, or the way opponents were always looking over their shoulder when he was on the ice. We'd also hear the stories - being recounted by a number of writers right now - about his great off-ice personality, his charity work and the respect he had for those in the armed forces. A good hockey player, and an even better person, as shown by the hundreds who showed up at the X Sunday night for a memorial.
Sunday should have been better, but after church it was back to River Falls to help William move home. Which is great, because it's always nice to have him around in the summer, but in the midst of carrying mattresses and moving boxes it hit me that he was coming home for the last time. He'll be here for about 12 weeks, and then he'll get married, move into a new home and fully begin his adult life. Which is what we all hope for, I realize, but when the baby of the family moves out for good, it marks some kind of milestone, and will serve as a reminder of just how much of my life is behind me already.
And now comes Monday, which means more work to do and hopefully getting back to a routine in which maybe there aren't so many emotions bubbling around the surface.