Today, a couple of weeks later than usual thanks to COVID-19, is the 108th Grey Cup game. Even though my Ottawa RedBlacks aren’t playing, it will be a very emotional time for me. Today we remember my friend Steve.
Steve was a huge sports fan. He and I went to many a CFL game together over the years. He was passionate about the Hamilton Tiger Cats (and the Toronto Maple Leafs) and we had many a lively debate over the merits or those teams.
Today’s game is being played in Hamilton, and the Ticats are the eastern representative. Steve would probably have been in Hamilton today, with one or more of his adult children to take in the game in person, but he died of a sudden heart attack in October 2020. The last CFL game he watched was the 2019 Grey Cup, which the Ticats lost to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Today those two teams meet again. It is probably theologically incorrect to say that Steve will be watching from Heaven, cheering the Tabbies on, but it is a comforting thought nevertheless.
Before that though, there will be a memorial for Steve at his church. The second Sunday of December is when the church’s youth group presents an annual Christmas play – written by Steve, a new one each year. I’m not sure what is planned for today, except the opportunity to remember together at an after-church gathering.
With the pandemic there was no way to properly say farewell. No funeral, but a graveside service that was streamed on the internet, so I was able to join from Germany. It was better than nothing, but nowhere near enough. Now, a year later, people can gather to reminisce. In a socially distant manner of course.
I don’t remember what year I first met Steve. Maybe 1976, maybe a bit earlier. We were friends for more than 40 years. We were part of each other’s weddings. We rejoiced in the births of children and grandchildren. We shared a love for music (going to a lot of concerts together before meeting our wives and getting caught up in married life.
It was Steve who was instrumental in starting my 40-year radio career. One summer he was volunteering at CKCU-FM, Ottawa’s campus/community station. He was training to be a disc jockey, and I joined him one day to watch.
I was hooked. As much as he enjoyed music and radio, Steve didn’t go on to a radio career. He had other interests. But if not for his influence, I probably would not have had a broadcasting career.
In any relationship there are ebbs and flows. When I was living outside of Ottawa, we didn’t see each other that often. But when we did it was as if no time had passed. There was something special about our friendship, a kinship that transcended our differences in interests.
Steve was one of the kindest, most caring people I have known. He embodied servant Christianity, always looking for ways in which he could help others. It felt so strange this year to be attending football games and not have him sitting beside me as he did during the last CFL season in 2019.
In the Grey Cup game I normally cheer for the eastern team, given that I live in the east. Today there will be perhaps a little more fervent in my cheers in honor of Steve.
And, if the Tiger Cats, the underdog team, are victorious, I expect to shed a tear or two remembering a friend taken from us far too soon and the joy he would have gotten from seeing his team beat the odds.
You reach a certain age when you start to lose those you know and love. I guess I have arrived there.
When that happens, take time to reflect and celebrate the friendships that you had with those who are no longer with us. Even more, make sure you celebrate with those friends you still have.
Steve and I never said a formal goodbye. When we last saw each other in 2019 we had plans to go to a football game together in 2020 when I was back in Canada on vacation. With COVID, neither the game nor the vacation happened.
So today i will remember, with thankfulness to having had such a great friend. When it comes right down to it, it doesn’t matter who wins the football game – it matters who you share the experience with.