April would be a real eye opener in many ways. The first month brought its own share of ups, downs, and sideways moments. Then, there was month number two. Living in one of the high impact areas was a challenge. Imagine living just an hour away from New York City in the midst of a growing pandemic. Add in no hockey or hope of it and the world did begin to have that closed in feeling.
A month of testing and utter heartache…
From the second week of April until Mother’s Day, the days did not blend together like some thought it did. Sadly, it was a reality far worse. Little did I know that my birthday would change so many things at once. The well wishes were nice as I was getting used to working at Amazon. As I learned more things there, my birthday was filled with gifts and joy. That all was altered early that Monday evening.
My Aunt worked in a veterans home in New Jersey. Unfortunately, testing and procedures were not followed well at all. As a result, my Uncle and their son developed COVID-19. Thought my Uncle was asymptomatic, my cousin was not as fortunate. His fever was persistent without Tylenol and eventually his lung functions rapidly failed. Just hours after I talked to him to wish him a Happy Birthday, he was gone.
“Little Jimmy”, as we called him, was just 33. He died in his father’s truck on the way to the hospital in their driveway.
The previous six months had been trying enough. I had already lost my brother in October and a close family friend in November. Dealing with the inconveniences of the pandemic paled in comparison to this. It was a tragedy of tragedies. My cousin was special needs. He was innocent. Little bothered him and he never expressed discomfort during that time. It was typical of a young adult who loved his guitar hero, cookies, and most importantly his family.
All the pain and tears were not going to bring him back but the feeling of utter isolation and anger became prevalent. Could my Aunt have done more to prevent spreading the virus? Probably. Would my cousin and Uncle have come down with it anyway? That is unknown.
With other family birthdays coming along the way over that next week, nothing felt right. The most surreal thing anyone will ever see is a funeral during a pandemic. My Uncle had to sign a waiver just to touch the casket of his dead son. Carrying the casket with a member of the cemetery’s staff felt weird in a way that cannot be fully explained.
That entire week revealed two things. One was I knew truly who was my family and the other was the hockey world which showed more compassion than I could comprehend. The well wishes and condolences came from all over the place. It was overwhelming. Those little things and acts of kindness are what matters during a time of crisis and pain. I remembered a few media members saying to me once that you have two families now — your family and your hockey family. Words like that could never have been more true.
The next several weeks brought increased isolation between me and my family. The only two things I focused on was family and work. It drove wedges into the people I cared about deeply. It was unfortunate but sometimes things do happen for a reason. My Uncle was clearly depressed. Understanding how I was when my Dad passed away was helpful. This was a decision that was fateful in so many ways. I knew the risk and knew there would be consequences.
On the other hand, blood is thicker than water. Taking a Sunday drive to see my Uncle just for an hour or so was worth it. He just needed someone to see and talk to. Sometimes that is all anyone needs. It meant the end of one relationship and a new beginning for another — my hockey family.
The second jolt in May woke me up to the reality that it was time to embrace my hockey family. It truly is an extended network of friends and colleagues that knows no bounds. We may not agree on everything but when it came to those rock bottom moments, few were there more than them. If I could thank every single person, I would in a heartbeat.
Is this the whole story?
Alas, that answer would be no. Sadly, the Pandemic goes on. Over the last four months, I have been tested eight times for Coronavirus and each test has come back negative despite all the high-risk situations I have dealt with. From food shopping to working on the front lines to venturing all over, it continues to be a daunting challenge. Cases are rising in New Jersey once again. Relaxing some rules and adding others has brought a second wave of anxiety and worse to many.
The hockey family continues to be supportive as the NHL appears poised to return by the end of this month. Will things ever be normal? Certainly not. However, the opportunity to cover the sport I love even from afar renews some small bit of hope. It is little solace to what has occurred over the past 120 days.
Finally, the story does continue because the pandemic is far from over. After all, this is only the beginning. The rest is still unwritten but thanks again to that growing hockey family.