DISCLAIMER: This won’t be a traditional review, or much of a review at all.
Game 5 of the American League Championship Series between the Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays began play just minutes after four o’clock in the afternoon. I found that a little curious considering the game’s magnitude, until I realized that Canadian broadcasters, especially those based in Toronto, would much rather not let the game have to compete for ratings with that night’s hockey game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Winnipeg Jets. Either way, the Blue Jays had prevented the Indians from sweeping the series the day before, and I was hoping beyond hope that they would continue to find a way past the hurdles that kept them from the World Series in 2015.
I don’t remember the exact sequence of events the last day my dad was alive, but I do remember some key moments and details. I had a lot of time with him to myself that day, and considering the months I spent living with him full time, taking care of him in his declining health after graduating from college, the cruel poeticism of that wasn’t lost on me. I never really was all that taken by baseball, but when I watched the manner in which the Blue Jays dispatched the Texas Rangers in the Wildcard Series in 2015, I was overcome by the atmosphere their fans created – in spite of a few bad eggs – and this time, I kept wishing the team could rediscover that magic.
They didn’t. In fact, they were shut out 3-0 in a frustrating affair that saw the team leaving men on base yet again. I tried telling myself “Well, at least they weren’t swept,” as if that would grant me a little comfort, but considering the moment I was in, and what I knew was going to happen but didn’t know when, I knew that wasn’t good enough.
Fast forward to later that night. My dad was moved from his room in the ICU on the third floor to a room on the floor above. Practically everything he was previously hooked up to had been removed, so now I couldn’t periodically look at his fluctuating heart rate and respiration figures. We were already focused on making him as comfortable as possible when he inevitably went, but this was the next step in letting him go peacefully. Thankfully, I could use the Maple Leafs/Jets game as another calm distraction from reality.
What couldn’t I have been excited about? The NHL season was still young, number one draft pick Auston Matthews – a hockey prodigy from Arizona, don’t you know – scored four goals in an encouraging, if also maddening 5-4 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators in his league debut and the Leafs absolutely stomped the god-forsaken Boston Bruins 4-1 in a cathartic win that was terribly important not just for the young Leafs players, but also for the fans still trying to erase the demons surrounding the team’s unfortunate exit from the 2013 playoffs to those same damn Bruins. The game got started, and through most of two periods, the Leafs were on top of the Jets 4-0 thanks to a pair of goals from veteran center Nazem Kadri and two others from young guns Connor Carrick and William Nylander. What more could I have asked for?
But then the game ended, and I realized that I could have asked for actual defense! The Leafs wound up losing 5-4 in overtime, partially thanks to a hat-trick from Winnipeg’s star rookie Patrik Laine (or Hat-trick Laine, if you want to be cute). Fortunately, I did not get to completely witness the collapse after my sister came by, but still, I left the hospital that night feeling let down by two of my teams, among a myriad of other emotions.
Let’s rewind to the Jays game. Every now and then I’d look away from the game and look at the monitor displaying my dad’s heart rate and respiration, then take a lingering look at him. With his eyes fully shut and mouth agape, a blanket was wrapped around his head as the only sounds he made were moaning and gurgling noises from the fluid building up in his body. It was a haunting view, and it was difficult to see him as person who was still here.
At some point during the game, I recalled my mom and aunt suggesting to me that at some point I take a moment to talk to him, tell him that everyone would be fine and that it was alright for him to let go, as if his soul needed the permission to stop fighting. I may be the exact opposite of a spiritual/religious person, but as I remembered every sports game we’d watched together and all of the anger and resentment towards him that I’d worked my way past in the last couple of months, I knew doing it would only give me peace of mind and help me get further past my own issues.
Though perhaps only so few of you all reading know what it’s like to lose a parent at a young or relatively young age, I don’t need to tell you all that death is hard as hell to deal with and speak about honestly. That’s maybe partially why, personally, I was able to look past the slight familiarity of its plot and themes and solely accept its greatest strength: the authenticity with which it depicts that difficulty to talk about a loved one’s life coming to an end and the complex emotions conjured up.
Yes, it is visually stunning, especially its use of watercolor animation, painfully well-performed and able to balance hopeful low fantasy with mature themes, but those things don’t feel as important. And you certainly don’t need to have some sort of personal experience with death to be affected by it or excuse its weaknesses; odds are, you won’t be leaving with dry eyes. I saw a lot of myself in Lewis MacDougall’s Conor even though I’m twice his age, and maybe you will too whenever you’ll have to deal with this kind of loss. Where there is heartbreak, there is hope – because there can’t possibly be, and shouldn’t be anything else.