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Joy, Pain and Baseball

Monday, October 24, 2016
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Joy, Pain and Baseball


Have you heard? The Chicago Cubs won the pennant! They are going to the World Series! They haven’t been to the World Series since 1945, they haven’t won the World Series since 1908. For years, when people talked about something completely unlikely happening they’d say, “when the Cubs win the World Series” as often as “when pigs fly”.

Why is this significant? Because it is unprecedented and I had no way to plan for the flood of mixed emotions this event has caused. This event in baseball/Chicago history is so unique, so uncharted, so unbelievable and so storied that my response to it has caught me completely off-guard.

John was a Cubs fan. He grew up in a family that was Cubs fans. He began collecting baseball cards as a young boy, he learned the players and their stats. He grew up on the north side and would ride his bike to the L and take the train to Wrigley Field. He bonded with people over the Cubs.

He was also a baseball fan. He watched baseball games, read baseball stats, read books about baseball and listened to programs about baseball. He could recall specific plays from specific games. He lamented the errors and the missed opportunities of his favorite team, ad infinitum. Being a fan wasn't just a part of him, it was who he was.

I learned through him, I became a fan through him, his loyalty and allegiance were strong and infectious. Despite their record, despite their history, the Cubs were his team and they became my team. I grew up in a football family so I was more than happy to adopt his passion.

The Cubs were mentioned in both best man’s speeches on our wedding day. I told John I thought I was pregnant after we attended a Cubs winning game. We celebrated the win and a new chapter in our life. After the birth of our oldest daughter, we took an in-depth tour of Wrigley Field, he insisted she come along because he wanted her to experience it; she was 3 months old. When we were living in Peoria, I threw John a surprise 40th birthday party at the home of the Peoria Chiefs, a Cubs affiliate at the time. All happy memories. I can’t even think about the Cubs without tying it to memories of my life with John.

In the last 5 ½ years since John died, my daughters and I have experienced many milestones, some big, some small, some difficult, some surprisingly anti-climactic. Each with its own combination of grief, memories and emotions. Many I saw coming and braced myself. My goal was to keep us moving forward. I learned early in my grief work that joy and pain exist simultaneously, and I tried to embrace the mixed feelings I would have whenever I felt John was missing something happy but important.

Some time in the last few years, someone asked my youngest daughter, who was 4 when John died, who her favorite baseball team was, she replied “The Bears.” My heart absolutely sank. She then proceeded to tell me that the only thing she could remember about her daddy was watching baseball with him on the couch while he read the newspaper. In those moments, I realized that I was failing at keeping John’s memory alive for them. How could I have neglected emphasizing this most fundamental yet passionate aspect of his life?

So I started to buy them gear, have them watch games, teach them the absolute basics. This year, I finally took them to their first game in September. When I got the tickets in the spring, I knew it was already shaping up to be a historic year. It was a beautiful autumn night, they ate Cracker Jack and the Cubs won. They said they enjoyed it but were more concerned that it was a school night. I was so glad I was able to take them to a game, that it was a picture perfect night and yet so sad that it was just me and not John there with them, and so disappointed that I couldn’t instill the decades worth of passion in them in time for this historic run.

In the last 5 ½ years I feel that I have made so much progress and yet the last few weeks have set me back like no other event. I am so unbelievably happy and excited that the loveable Cubs are so close to winning it all. And yet, I am so profoundly sad that he cannot experience it. I can picture the unabashed joy I would see on his face if he were here and I feel the deep pain of the loss of him so acutely. I am happy my girls are starting to get excited and understand why these wins are so exciting but so sad that I am woefully underqualified to be their guide. It is painful to watch so many utterly ecstatic and joyful people celebrating knowing that John is missing it. I feel guilty being so happy when I miss him so much.  Cubs news is everywhere now. I am thinking about him and our past life on a looping highlight reel and it is killing me. I am so joyful on the outside, but so sad in my heart. Joy and pain, simultaneously.

In the grand scheme of life, baseball is not important. In the grand scheme of John’s legacy, it is essential. I will cheer twice as loud for him, I will celebrate vigorously and I will continue to be loyal regardless of the outcome. I am physically and emotionally exhausted from the push and pull of the joy and the pain. (Who knew the post-season was so grueling?)

In the same way I recognize my life in the “before” and “after” John died, I sense that I may also recognize my progress through my grief in the “before” and “after” the World Series. And I’ll keep my chin up, because there’s no crying in baseball.



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