Thursday, July 5, 2012

His daddy was stronger than Spider Man

With my friend who is visiting, I watched the fireworks on TV this year. Or rather, I watched as my friend rolled herself in a blanket on the couch in front of the air conditioner and was soon snoring softly. My thoughts were elsewhere, in Toronto, where my husband's plane was just landing at that hour. He went to attend the funeral of his "baby" cousin, a largely built 39-year-old who used to play pro football, who had retired and bought a house near to his parents, my husband's uncle and aunt, in Mississauga, Ontario.

His cousin's name was Duane and he was the sweetest soul. He and his sister often made me wonder whether my daughter's sunny and optimistic nature might be genetic, a strain running through some of my husband's extended family. My family tends to be more like me and my son: Quick to engage in verbal jousts, anxious underneath the functional exterior, always thinking several steps ahead instead of enjoying the what is-ness of the moment. Duane made my husband's stature, by no means small, look normal-sized. It turned out his young heart was working overtime, it was enlarged, something we only learned when it seized in a massive heart attack last Friday morning while he was on his way to a work meeting. He collapsed and died on the spot.

That night, my husband kept remembering his little cousin at four or five, visiting the family in Antigua. My husband was already a teen then. He remembers being struck by Duane's hero worship of his dad, by the way he insisted with earnest seriousness that his daddy was stronger than Spider Man. What about Superman? his older cousins teased. Yes, his daddy could beat Superman, too. "He sure loved his daddy," my husband said. "I remember thinking that I hope when I have a son, he'll think half as well of me."

Duane and his dad were cohorts to the end. They used to take golfing vacations together, and even worked together after Duane retired from pro football. Now, he's gone, and I cannot even imagine how his parents must feel. Or his sister, who had just touched down in Paris to be a bridesmaid at a friend's wedding, who had to turn around immediately and catch a flight home. There were more than 600 people at the funeral this morning, my husband texted me. And the teens on the football and the basketball teams Duane coached stood along the aisles in full uniform. Across an ocean, the rest of his family, the ones who could not travel to be there, held a simultaneous memorial service in St. John's, Antigua.

Last weekend, as my husband made arrangements to travel to be with his relatives who were gathering in Toronto, he was moved by how gratified his family members were at the news that he would join them. He had forgotten, I think, how much he matters to them, the big cousin, the firstborn nephew, the deeply loving family man. It was good for him to remember. And Duane might have given him yet another parting gift. Perhaps he whispered to him as he passed out of this world, because my husband did go to see a doctor this week. In the midst of sadness, I exhaled.


  1. This is so sad and beautifully written. Full of life and love and the weight of sorrow and the spirit of giving and of receiving. So much here. Thank you.

  2. Oh, dear, I am sorry to hear of this sudden death. And I'm glad to hear about the upcoming doctor's visit. I know how hard that was for him --

  3. Sorry to hear this news, but yes, it's good that it motivated your husband to get his own health checked out. Life really throws some curve balls, doesn't it?

  4. Some things are just impossible to believe. I'm so glad that your husband is spending this time with family so that they can grieve together, memorialize Duane.
    Life is just so hard sometimes. So hard.

  5. What a beautiful tribute to Duane. Very nice.
    My heart aches for your Family.

  6. Oh dearest soul. I am sitting here with a lump in my throat trying very hard not to cry. Duane sounds like the kind of man that if you are lucky enough to know him, then you are very lucky, indeed. I am so very sorry to hear about his sudden, unexpected death. Unfortunately, I do understand all too well how traumatic and displacing losing someone like that can be. The turnout at his funeral shows exactly how much he was loved. And I am absolutely sure that having your beloved husband there offered so much strength and comforting to so many.

    I am very glad to know that your husband finally decided to go to the doctor this week and yes, Duane probably whispered something into his ear. Sometimes being reminded as to how important we are to the ones we love is exactly what it takes to motivate someone to care more about themselves.

    Please take good care of yourself and your family, sweet friend. May Duane's memory be a blessing to those who loved him so much.

    Big hugs and lots of love,

  7. So sorry. It brought tears to my eyes. He was about my age. It's tough to go at anytime, but so young.
    Sending you and yours strength.

  8. You write so beautifully. I am sorry for the loss of this man who loved so easily and so deeply. I imagine so well the boy who says, "My dad is stronger than Spiderman". These are the kids I work with everyday. To think of one passing is...I have no words for what it is actually.

  9. This is aching and beautiful. You have a way of making me love these people of yours. rest in peace Duane, travel home safe to your husband. be well darling.

    love d

  10. Thank you all for the kindnesses, the loving words.

  11. Angella?
    I am at a loss for words. So terribly sad.

    And I agree... how you wrote this? Shared this beautiful soul and story? Wow.

    I am sure that your husband's appt will reassure both of you that everything is fine, but it is a huge step he is taking to actually go .

    ( and it is a little strange to think of some of your loved ones living close to me.. ( Burlington is near Mississauga. My husband was in the Toronto airport on Sunday as well ... )