The first time my father came home and told my mother that he’d just witnessed a man die, I was about 11 years old. And – at least as far as I know – my father wasn’t a Mob hitman, so this was not an every day occurrence at the house.
Dad was upset, shaken. Mom was upset and curious to hear everything. And I was minding my own business, probably reading a book, but faking it, and instead being all ears, and yes, somewhat shaken.
With me being 11, and the dead man in his 60s, and not related to me, it wasn’t surprising that I didn’t really know him, but I did know of him. He was the team leader of my hockey club’s men’s team, and a prominent figure in the club. So prominent was he that the next fall when the new season guide was published, there was an obituary of him.
My father was in his early thirties, an up-and-coming, and passionate coach in the club, and he’d been meeting the prominent team leader during the men’s team’s dry-land practice session, when he’d got a heart attack.
They did CPR on him, but it was too little, and he died, watching the men’s team play soccer.
“He just turned blue,” my father told my mother.
Five, maybe six, years later, I was at home with a buddy when Dad came home from his oldtimers hockey team’s practice. We were in my room, listening to Journey, or Heart, or possibly Survivor, when Dad came home. He was a little more quiet than usual.
It may have been my birthday, and I may have had buddies over for that, because for a couple of years, I was on the ice with his oldtimers team every time they had a practice. I was their designated referee.
But not that time.
Dad came down to my room, and my buddy – also my teammate, and also one of the kids Dad had coached earlier – asked him how the practice had been.
“A rough night?”
“Yes, one guy died,” said Dad.
My buddy laughed. My mother and I jumped up to see what was going on. Because – to paraphrase a line from “Airplane”, the movie – Dad never joked around like that. He joked a lot, still does, and he was, and is, a prankster, but a joke like that would have been totally out of character. And he was very much in character.
The man in question hadn’t actually died, but was rushed to the hospital unconscious. Dad wasn’t sure if it had been a heart attack or a brain aneurysm, and neither was the doctor, their teammate, who was on the ice that night and was the first responder. The dead man had been my coach just two years prior, and a very popular one, thanks to his easy-going personality which was reflected in the way he taught the team the Art of Fart.
Back then, he had been a chubby, funny guy, but that summer he had lost a lot of weight, sweating it all off running. The life-long bachelor had also that same year met a woman – I’m not sure which came first.
After he had told Mom what happened when the prominent hockey manager had died, Dad then said something that has stuck with me ever since.
“Now I’ve seen a man die,” he said, as if it was something everybody should do in his lifetime.
I’m not in a hurry to check that one off the list.