10 years after death of Wolves legend, a light shines through
Every Christmas Eve, Jami Breslin would line up her three small children and sit with them on the stairs.
One by one, she would carefully lace up their boots, zip up their coats and patiently struggle with mittens, scarves and hats.
And then they would go see daddy.
There's something so perfectly romantic about a white Christmas, though it doesn't carry quite the same childlike thrill, not the same soft melody when trudging through the snow in a cemetery. Hardly the ideal Christmas, it's not the postcard you send to family and friends, not how you envisioned your life when you dreamed of marriage and family.
But when your husband dies of cancer at the age of 37, when he leaves in the relative blink of an eye, you do what you have to do to survive and keep alive the memory of your best friend, the best person you've ever known.
"The first couple of years, we would go to Mass on Christmas Eve and then go to the cemetery and say a prayer," Jami remembers. "One year, it was so cold. We were hip deep in snow and I thought, 'This is so sad, Christmas at the cemetery.' I just couldn't accept it. It went against everything I wanted my kids to believe about the holidays.
"I decided we should go on another day. I tried to make up excuses, like it was too cold or there was too much snow. But the kids said, 'No.' They wanted to do it. It was important for them."
A Chicago Wolves legend, Tim Breslin died 10 years ago, only 11 weeks after being diagnosed with appendiceal cancer. Just that quickly, the Addison native left behind tens of thousands who knew him as an earnest player, coach, fundraiser, community leader and friend to all who loved hockey.
Mostly, Tim Breslin thought of himself as a husband and father of three, leaving Jami with Shane, only 6 years old, Paige 3 and Chase 2.
"Shane remembers a lot about his dad," Jami says. "Over time, my little ones have kind of built their memories of him through me, Shane, my family and Tim's family.
"Almost every day I say, 'You know what your dad used to say … ' We end up telling jokes and laughing about daddy. Sometimes the kids get quiet about that. The sadness is still there.
"It's hard to believe it's been 10 years. It feels like yesterday. I think of him every day. For a long time, I would find myself forgetting, thinking he would walk through the door. That doesn't happen anymore.
"How can you not think it's unfair? I think a lot about what my kids have missed, not getting to be with him. It's not like I'm shouting up at the sky, 'Why me?' I just wish my kids had him, you know?"
A single mom raising three small children has been both full-time job and salvation, a light in the darkness showing her the path, giving purpose to getting off the mat and placing one foot in front of the other.
Between three kids' hockey schedules and her job in education with a research and assessment company, Jami hasn't had much time to focus on herself, though her kids try to get her to recognize and reconcile that part of her life.
"We are so busy between my job and the kids' schedules and school, you almost never have time to catch your breath, which is a blessing," she says. "I never slow down long enough to take that time to reflect and think about things."
Better to have loved and lost, we are told almost from the womb. Easier said, of course, if you've never lost.
"It's still hard. There's a hole. There's a gap," Jami says. "But … "
She gathers to compose herself … "Tim set a very high bar. So do the men in both our families. We are surrounded by really good, really strong men."
Jami speaks bravely through the tears, willing to share a story that might bring peace to others.
She counts her blessings, among them that the kids all play hockey, a sport she believes teaches so many life lessons about work ethic and perseverance, something her husband swore by. So revered was Tim by his team that every year the Wolves give out an award to a player -- and a scholarship -- in Tim's name.
"My oldest and youngest play travel hockey and my daughter played with the boys until this year, and now she's on a girls team," Jami says. "I love watching them play and they love the game. It's a great connection to their dad."
She has her family and Tim's, loads of grandparents, uncles and cousins, for which she is eternally thankful. They engage the kids in conversations about hockey and golf, and they all serve to fill the void and help the family, especially around Christmas.
"It's a great time of year," Jami says, voice cracking. "Tim loved the holidays. It's always hard without him. It always will be.
"But as much as those feelings do surface sometimes, I have a tremendous amount of appreciation and gratitude.
"To this day, the one true blessing out of all of this is just how much you appreciate life, from the little things to the important things, like your children and your family.
"I have an endless gratitude for knowing how short life is and how quickly things can change. I am so grateful. I got that from Tim. He was always that way. He was always in awe of our kids and he lived that appreciation for life every day.
"It took some time, but after he died I realized, wow, there's just so much to be grateful for. We are so lucky for what we have."
And through the darkness shines a light this Christmas.
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