A story about priorities, grief, and Jean Beliveau
A jersey is simply a jersey until its fabric weaves itself into your family history
It was 2003. We were at the Bell Centre waiting in line to see the Montreal Canadiens play the Atlanta Thrashers. More importantly, we were at the Bell Centre waiting in line to meet the evening’s VIP, Jean Beliveau. We were among the countless fans who had cued up to meet the hockey legend. My spouse at the time had with him a #4 jersey. The mission was simple: stand in line, meet Monsieur Beliveau, ask him to sign the jersey, try not to say something stupid, then give the signed jersey to my dad for his birthday. If we succeeded we would forever be in my father’s good books.
We did and we were. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
Grief as a search method
Twelve years later, my mother was gone. My parent’s possessions had either been sold in an estate sale or given away.
You make rash decisions when you’re grieving. In the aftermath of losing my mother, my father had wanted to get rid of everything. Kitchen pots? Who needs them? I don’t cook. The kitchen knives? They remind me of her. Mom’s wedding suit? I’m not going to wear it, why keep it? And me, having gone back to my life on the other side of the country, didn’t think to ask about the Jean Beliveau jersey. I was too busy reeling over the wedding suit.
Four years later, history repeated itself. My father was dying. On what would ultimately be his last night with us, I had left his bedside to go get some sleep. For whatever reason, when I got back to his apartment I thought about the jersey. Whatever happened to it? I decided to start looking for the piece of memorabilia.
I did so slowly at first, then the mania set in. Whether from grief or obsession or both, I proceeded to ransack his place. I went from room to room opening drawers and boxes and cupboards and closets and armoirs looking for any sign of the red fabric. I would take things out of other things, see that the jersey wasn’t there, then put those things back in. The process would be repeated again and again because I wasn’t convinced I had done it properly in the first place.
Eventually from sheer exhaustion, I gave up, laid down on my bed, and cried myself to sleep. An hour later, my dad was gone.
Hoarding is apparently a possible side effect of a loved one’s death. I can see how it happens; you hang on by keeping whatever stuff is left behind. If you purge, you risk forgetting. To rely on your memory seems like a dangerous proposition. I know this to be true. It was a struggle to remember the sound of my parent’s voices
I had so few things left of meaning from my parents that the final blow of losing the jersey felt especially hard. I never did find it.
My connection to hockey royalty
The jersey, you see, a link to my family story. My maternal grandmother, Eva Beliveau, was a distant cousin of Jean Beliveau. What I wouldn’t give to have that jersey back.
Photo credit: NHL.com