The last few weeks have felt like months.
In addition to changing world for the time being due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we lost a pretty big form of escapism in what was supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year for a college sports fan.
No conference tournaments. No NCAA Tournaments. Pro leagues postponed. The rest of the NCAA academic calendar canceled. It has been an absolute nightmare, but it pales in comparison with what really matters. And that would be a lesson I would quickly be reminded of upon the last few weeks of cancelations, quarantines and “social distancing.”
A week ago Sunday, I lost my father, Albert Broome, to colon cancer that had originally spread to his liver and then spread everywhere else in the final months of his life. My dad, who left us at 58-years-old, fought the bravest and most willing battle with this awful disease that has ever been waged, as far as how I see it. He had his moments where it scared him — and my goodness, who would not be scared — but he embraced that challenge. He wanted that challenge, because he was, as he put it, “going to kick this cancer’s ass.”
By the time it was discovered in the summer of 2017, doctors had already determined that his cancer was Stage IV. Those types of ailments usually come with an expiration date — known or not — but my father’s faith that he would get through it was inspiring. The 2.5 years of war against this disease only emphasized the type of will and spirit that my dad always possessed.
To put into words what my dad means to me, we have to go back to the beginning of our story. He was married to my mother in May 1991 and then lil’ baby me happened in Nov. 1992, their first child. My parents would go on to have one more kid in June 1995 when my brother, Patrick, was born.
Without getting into specifics, my dad never had much of a relationship with his father. Albert was an athlete but would see most — if not all, we never really discussed it — of his games unattended by his old man. He was an absentee figure in my life, as well, as the first time I ever saw my grandfather on that side of the family was when he passed away and his visitation took place.
I was a freshman in high school.
My dad was a lover — he loved so extremely hard — and a giver. He gave so much of himself to everything he had, whether it be to his church, his community, the Knights of Columbus, what have you. He would say yes to anyone who asked, which we argued at times could have been a fault, as well. But he never saw it that way, especially when it came to how involved he was in the lives of his children.
Dad was a scout leader. Dad was a coach. Dad was a father figure to friends of ours and kids who did not have much of one. I think he always saw a bit of himself in them and wanted to make sure that his sons were not only covered, but that their friends were, too. It was not something I could understand at the time, but I see it now, and that is so special. There are friends of mine whose lives were changed for the better simply because our door (and let’s not kid ourselves here, our swimming pool) was always open to them.
My dad is the reason that I do everything that I do and why I like almost all of the things I like. I’m the sports fan that I am because of him. I love movies and television because of him. Some of my fondest memories were our “Star Wars marathons” where we would pop the VHS tapes of the original trilogy in and watch them back-to-back-to-back. To this day, I still marathon them and can’t just watch one, even though there are 11 of them now. My dad has never *not* been seated to the left or right of me for a Star Wars movie in the theater, even as recently as December of this past year.
(Editor’s note: That’s not entirely true, as I saw “The Force Awakens” without him on opening night when I was at Central Michigan. We would eventually see it together when I came home for Christmas break).
My dad will always be my dad. The one you roll your eyes at. The one who’s perceived wisdom can sometimes be annoying. I started to get to know my dad more as a man (and through the lens of being an adult) between 2016 and 2018 as I graduated college, he began his cancer battle, and I moved out on my own. When you’re no longer around someone as frequently, your time with them becomes more valuable. You tend to pick up on more things here and there. The perspective I gained on the type of guy that he was became invaluable over these last few years.
This was the toughest, most headstrong person I’ve ever known. Quite frankly, I’m not sure it can even be topped. The man kept his day job while balancing treatments and doctor appointments that I haven’t a clue how he could even keep track of. He was working and grinding his days away for a paycheck all the way up until less than a month before he passed away. Perhaps it was stubborn. Perhaps it was not always the healthiest decision to make. But my dad believed in seeing things through to the very end until he was physically unable to do so.
Anyone who knows about chemo treatments knows that it absolutely beats the hell out of you and weakens your immune system. My dad was on a pretty aggressive treatment plan throughout the fall of last year, and it had sort of taken a toll on him. In November, he was in the hospital for 11 days, and his doctors had sort of decided to dial things back and let his body recover for a bit before starting chemo back up again.
Through the holidays and into the new year, he actually seemed to be feeling well and looked better than he had in awhile. Not pumping cell-killing drugs into your body tends to have that effect. Later on in January, when checking in on his progress before determining where to go next, scans revealed that the cancer had become very aggressive and spread to his lungs and lymph nodes. This was it. He was given a timeline of three-to-six months to live, which I imagine has to be the most frightening thing in the world to be told about yourself.
On Jan. 25, as I was walking out of Crisler Center in Ann Arbor after Michigan lost to Illinois in men’s basketball, I received a text from my dad saying, “Call me when you get a minute.” I’ve gotten those messages before and usually, it came with an errand to run or something along those lines. It never bothered me. For whatever reason, this felt different, and when I called, he invited me and my brother over to their house for dinner. That was not all that out of the ordinary on the surface, but it was Saturday. We don’t do home-cooked meals on Saturdays. Saturdays are for revels, after all!
After we ate, my parents sat us down and told us what dad’s outlook was, which has to be the hardest thing they ever had to do. I had nothing to say. No words to react with. Not even an emotion to show. But inside, I was very scared and very sad. I’m not sure I can really verbalize what that was like to hear. I knew that conversation was likely to come at some point given what he was going through, but you cannot prepare to hear that.
The next day, on Jan. 26, Kobe Bryant passed away in a tragic helicopter accident. I wasn’t really a huge fan of his, but I respected what he meant to the game of basketball and as a mammoth figure in sports. Because of what had taken place with my family the night before, however, that one hit extremely hard. It was then that the emotions came to me, and that Sunday was one of the most difficult Sundays I’ve ever had (which is saying a lot considering Albert also raised me to be a Detroit Lions fan).
What I gained from those two days — and soon a third-consecutive day — was perspective that I wasn’t aware I needed at the time. Our time on this planet is finite whether we go tragically and suddenly, or if we have an expiration date stamped on our forehead. Every single day we wake up and are alive is a gift, and I decided that no matter how much time my father had left with us that every day he was with us and got to live out his life was a gift.
And this is where that third day comes into the equation.
On Jan. 27, my father and I went to watch the Detroit Pistons take on the Cleveland Cavaliers. I bought these tickets for us for Christmas, and I’ll be honest, I kind of cheaped out on my old man. Not that we had many quality sports to choose from in this town, but a random-ass Monday night in late-January between two awful basketball teams? He probably would have preferred coal instead, honestly.
I had no idea when I bought these tickets that the game would wind up being a tribute to Kobe Bryant. What are the odds that when I grabbed them from the secondary market on like, Dec. 23, that all of these things would line up? Kobe. Dad’s new timeline. Our last basketball game together. You cannot script this type of stuff and if I knew then what I know now, I’d have paid an absurd amount of money more to make that happen.
The game was whatever. The Cavs won. The Pistons stunk. Oh well. But I have a few images that stick in my head from that night.
My dad picked me up that night and we drove downtown in his truck. I live Downriver, so it was not a particularly long drive to the arena. We had enough time to have what would really wind up being the last heart-to-heart conversation that we would have as a son and father of sound mind and (somewhat sound) body.
We talked about Kobe. We talked about his prognosis and his outlook. We talked about some of the business things he wanted me to take care of so as to not burden my mother upon his passing. I promised him I would handle all of it and take on whatever burden was necessary to be strong for my mom and my brother.
I’ll never forget what he said to me as I sat in that passenger seat.
“The thing I understand and am at peace with is that my body is just breaking down on me, and that’s all it is,” he said. “But I know in my heart of hearts that what I will take to my grave is that it never broke my spirit. And that does not mean I was not scared, but I didn’t run away. I’m proud of that.”
So am I, dad. So am I.
My dad was the type of guy who would say anything to get someone to crack a smile. He would bring in bagels to his chemo appointments for the medical staff there. They adored him. This was not at all unlike what he would do for other people or groups he was involved in, whether it be work, church, scouts, sports or otherwise.
He was a riot at the Pistons game that night. I remember him talking to random people around us in our seats, and I’m sure at some point that I was annoyed or embarrassed by it. I really do have an awful poker face when it comes to that.
“I like to have fun with people,” he told me. “So what if they think you’re stupid or look silly? If someone, even just one person, cracks a smile, it’s worth it. Life is too short.”
On Valentines Day weekend, my parents were able to take one last trip together and head down to Cocoa Beach, Florida. It seemed like a nice getaway and gave them a weekend to be husband and wife. However, it was becoming clear that his condition was starting to worsen and not too terribly long after, he would begin hospice care.
My father passed away peacefully in his sleep on March 15, two weeks before his 59th birthday. He went as he lived, surrounded by family and holding my mother’s hand when he took his final breath.
Something I learned in all of this is what a fight with cancer actually is. You aren’t fighting a disease. You’re fighting yourself. It’s why I get annoyed when I see the term “so-and-so lost their battle with cancer.” Nobody who fights that battle loses it. Every day you step into the ring is a win and my dad did what he said he would do for almost 2.5 years. He kicked that cancer’s ass because he did not let it beat him spiritually.
My dad was — no, still is — beloved by so many people. He was a humble man, but when my parents would discuss things he wanted at his funeral, he told my mom to get the big room at the funeral home because he knew “a lot of people would want to come.” That’s what makes this coronavirus stuff even more heartbreaking to me. Due to crowd limits and restrictions as we all do our part to “flatten the curve,” we decided to do away with visitation (sorry dad, no big room) and have a small, private gathering to see him off and lay him to his eternal rest. We’re going to throw him the biggest banger of a party and celebration when all of this passes, you best be sure about that.
Dad’s decline sort of happened as sports were getting canceled because of the virus, which certainly took some things off my plate in his final days. Then he passed and a lot of the other things became more restricted, as well. It breaks my heart that anyone who has loved ones who pass away from COVID-19, or any sort of natural cause, while all of this is going on will not be able to mourn them properly.
Trust me when I say that it is absolutely awful.
My father believed in loving as hard as you could and doing whatever you can to help people out. I don’t think there’s ever been a better time for that message, actually. Keep your families close and be safe. Make good choices. Be healthy. We are all in this together.
I know that a lot of people are looking for answers right now, and I’m not here to provide them. I know that you should ask how that loved one of yours is doing. Ask what you can do to help them. Check in on them. Tend to your mental health and the mental health of your friends. It matters more than any sort of social media points you score or clout you think you are gaining.
In the last few months, my resolve has been tested more than I ever could have imagined, but like my father, I will persist through this. We all will. I struggled to find the message in all of it early on, but I get it now. We take the things that we have for granted while they are here. I certainly am guilty of doing that with what my dad provided to me. We all probably are at times. But that trip to the movies, that sporting event, that night out at the bar. That stuff doesn’t matter. Those are privileges. Maybe a reset button and a re-focus on family and friends and our relationships isn’t the worst thing in the world right now. I know that I am sure as heck appreciative of the perspective and support I’ve gotten over these last few weeks.
We’re going to beat COVID-19 just like dad kicked cancer’s rear-end by the way we live and the way we push forward and look out for one another. Don’t forget that.
Your next day is not guaranteed. None of ours is. But if you’re able to go out and maximize this day, whatever is in front of you, that’s a great start. Then you do it again tomorrow. And if you stack as many of those good days as you can more often than not, that’s true strength. You’ve won your fight.
That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from the thousands I’m sure I’ll recollect from my dad. I miss him dearly already, but the best way I know to honor him is to keep that mentality alive and well.