For reasons that I have kept private up until now, the 2008 Hokie football season has been a tough one for me, and last Saturday was the toughest. On Wednesday, December 3rd, my mother passed away at 6:30 in the morning, after a five-month battle with cancer. At 2:00 pm on Saturday, right about the time the Hokies took their 14-0 lead on Boston College in the ACC Championship Game, her funeral began. It’s been tough to care about football this season, especially last Saturday.
To call my mother’s bout with cancer “a battle” is a misnomer. By the time she found out she had it, the fight was already over, and she had lost. The weekend of July 4th, 2008, at my parents’ house on Claytor Lake, Mom told us that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and the tests that ensued confirmed that the cancer had already metastasized to her brain and bones. She was Stage 4, the words no one wants to hear. Her decline was immediate and rapid, and five months later she was gone.
Her death has stunned those who knew her and loved her. Before the cancer, she was a vibrant, energetic 74 year old, and we thought she had at least 10-20 more years in her. After all, her mother is still alive, at the age of 93. None of us expected my mother to die so soon, and it happened with alarming speed, leaving my father, her family, and her friends to pick up the pieces. It’s going to be a long process.
My parents live in Radford, just a couple miles away from my home, so I witnessed my mother’s death first hand, on a daily basis. When you’re watching something like that, the thought of college kids knocking helmets, even if it’s your responsibility to watch, is … not engrossing anymore. At times, I was somewhat into the games, but at other times, not at all. I left the Georgia Tech game at half time this year and didn’t even see the Western Kentucky game.
My mother didn’t go to Virginia Tech — a Registered Nurse (RN), she was a graduate of the Pulaski School of Nursing — but she was a diehard Hokie fan who loved going to football games and bowl games. She was one of TSL’s biggest fans, and she talked up the web site to every Hokie fan she met. Most people she met already knew of the site, and she was quick to tell the uninitiated all about it.
She rarely complained of anything during her illness, but she did remark several times how sad she was that she didn’t get to see any Hokie football games in Lane Stadium this year. I think the last one she got to watch in TV in its entirety was the Thursday night game against Maryland on November 6th. After that, she didn’t have the energy to watch a whole game, or couldn’t stay awake, or both.
I wrote and delivered her eulogy Saturday — one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do — and it included this passage about her love of Virginia Tech football:
Of course, she loved Hokie football. My mother got very excited over
Hokie football. My dad tells a story of how they were at a game one time,
and he was holding a drink in his hand, and a really exciting play happened
— she reached over and grabbed his arm, and starting going, “Oh, oh,
oh!” and pumping his arm up and down, so his Coke flew all over the
place, all over everyone around them. I’m sure there was a little
“anti-freeze” in that Coke, so it was doubly a shame. I’m also
sure that my father was angry with her at the time, but he laughs now when
he tells the story.
Mom always had a knack — we would be listening to a Hokie game on the
radio, way back before every single game of theirs was televised, and the
opposing quarterback would drop back to pass, and mom would yell,
“Intercept it!” and more often than not, they would. To this day,
one of my favorite Hokie football players of all time is Gene Bunn. Gene
played back in the 70s, and he’s still Tech’s career leader in
interceptions. I think Gene owes my mother a debt of gratitude, because it
seemed to me as a child that every time Mom yelled “Intercept it!”
at the radio, Gene Bunn intercepted it. I believe he had 18 career
interceptions, and I think he owes every one to Mom.
I think it’s the perfect irony that we’re having my mother’s funeral
right in the middle of the Hokies playing in the ACC Championship Game. If
she were here, she would tell us to go watch the game and do the funeral
later. The ultimate irony is that I doubt she’s even listening to any of us
right now — I’m sure she’s watching the game, probably yelling
“Intercept it!” when the Boston College quarterback drops back. If
he throws about eight interceptions today, you’ll know why.
When I finished the eulogy, I said, “We love you, Mom … and see if you can’t do something about those interceptions today, okay?”
I’m glad the Hokies won on Saturday, because it allows a little corner of my mind to think she had something to do with it, and at least something good came out of Saturday, December 6th. Because there’s nothing good about saying goodbye to your mother, one of the biggest Hokie fans around.
At least she’ll never miss another game, even the far away bowl games. I know that where she is, she can see all the action.