My Thoughts from the heart: Leafy
How does one say good bye to a friend? And not just any friend. This is quite a unique situation. I've been getting email, quite literally, from around the world – folks asking me how they might express their condolences – let Mrs Leafy know she is in their prayers. Others, asking me to tell them what Leafy was like – in person. It's just all so surreal. Mr and Mrs Leafy were intensely private – and for that matter, I'm not exactly an open book myself. I hope my reminiscing will shed some light into the wonderful man Leafy really was – although those who interacted with him on the message boards already know that.
My memory for dates etc. is lousy – I couldn't even tell you when Leafy joined my Message Board. But within a very short period of time, it'd been like he was always there. We quickly found out that we had a few things in common; living about a half hour apart – our love for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I created ‘Leafy's Lounge'; a special little sports section on the message boards.
I guess it was about 3+ years ago when Leafy told me he was a season ticket holder and wanted to give me a pair of tickets as a Christmas gift. I told him that was SO not necessary – but what the heck! What Leaf fan would turn down an offer like that!?
We arranged to meet for dinner at a restaurant close to him – in our emails, he admitted he'd told a few of his online friends that he was meeting ‘the' Toni – and they'd given him some questions to ask me. Worse - he couldn't wait to meet me because I was ‘so funny'. OMG! I was horrified – sure he'd be disappointed that I wasn't all that interesting or entertaining. My only fear in meeting a stranger man off the Internet was making a good impression….lol
He told me he looked like James Caan and would be wearing a white coat. And even though his description was accurate, I'd have picked him out in the crowd anyway. And as I shyly walked up to him, he enveloped me in this HUGE hug – and I immediately felt at ease. Leafy was …well…Leafy.
Over dinner, it quickly became apparent that I needn't have worried about awkward or lagging conversation. Taking an almost journalistic approach to his interview, he asked me my opinion on nearly every character on the show – as well as my take on various storylines. We discussed our mutual appreciation for members on the boards – and how much he enjoyed them. He LOVED being part of such a ‘wonderful bunch'. He then told me a bit about the friends he'd known before, and had brought over to my board with him. He couldn't say enough good things about these friends (and I think they know who they are). More than once he used the expressions ‘I just love that girl!'..lol. But speaking of girls, his eyes shone when he proudly showed me photos of Mrs Leafy – who is in a word, stunning. The way he described her – his open admiration – he called her his ‘angel'. And I knew undoubtedly that she was.
We laughed – he showed me how to wrap a fajita, as my stuff kept falling out the bottom (much to his amusement) – then he badgered me into dessert .We also discussed his battle with prostate cancer – he asked that it be kept confidential. He was looking into different treatments – he was confident he would beat it – and so was I. I teased him about all the pills he consumed with dinner – and he joked right back (saying that he ate more in medication than my entire meal).
I believe it was our second meeting that Leafy brought Mrs Leafy along – and she was exactly as he'd described her. I won't even try – you'll think I'm exaggerating (think of your favourite grade school teacher – the one you recall fondly after 20 years – the one who inspired you to think about becoming a teacher yourself – the one who you sometimes wished could be your mother. THAT is Mrs Leafy).
And so, over the next year(s), Mr and Mrs Leafy gifted me with tickets at Christmas – and sold me a few other extra sets: I got to take my Mom a few times – Leafy even managed to get me seats to a Leafs/Habs game on hubby's 40th birthday. It was a surprise – and a night neither of us will never forget….Also, when my mother in law died last February (ironically of cancer), it was because of Leafy that my husband and his brother could go see a game – and share a much needed night out just a week after burying their mother. So – the generosity of Mr and Mrs Leafy has put smiles on the faces of several of the people I love. It was a ripple effect that I don't think they were ever aware of.
I had exchanged a few, but not many emails with Leafy up until March – but had no idea his health had declined so rapidly. I called Mrs Leafy that week and was devastated to hear how badly he was doing. I hoped she didn't hear me crying, but hung up feeling as though SHE had comforted ME. I sent flowers the next day and Mrs Leafy called that afternoon - I was ecstatic when she handed the phone off to Leafy (who at this point spent a great deal of time sleeping). We talked for over a half hour. He was worried I'd be late for work (which I was, but couldn't have cared less). He seemed a touch disoriented at times – but his spirit hadn't waned at all. He complained about the Y&R being boring and he looked forward to taking his two ‘sweeties' out to lunch once he got his appetite back. He mentioned hockey tickets – and I told him it's the LAST thing he should be thinking of - besides, I didn't think either of us would live to see the Leafs win a cup. I told him how many people were asking about him – and sending their best wishes. He liked that. We'd discussed my coming to see him – but Leafy was a very proud man. He didn't want me to see him ‘like this'. I told him not to feel pressured – I was being selfish. I needed to see him more than he needed to see me. I never felt I'd properly expressed how grateful I was to have met him. I needed him to know.
We decided I'd give him a call over the weekend – and come to visit. I could sense his smile over the phone. I told him I'd see him in a few days, and hung up with dry eyes – confident that we'd soon be catching up – wondering what would be an appropriate gift.
Over the weekend I had a cold (as did 2 out of 4 kids). The last thing I wanted was to give the Leafy's a cold! So I waited. And on Monday a message was left on my machine. I was to call Mrs Leafy. Even if I hadn't have received word via email, I knew what the call was about. It took me a few tries to get through – but soon, her voice sad but steady, Mrs Leafy relayed how Leafy had been unable to catch his breath and had died over the weekend. We were both grateful that he'd been spared prolonged pain and I jotted down details of the viewing and funeral.
The day of the viewing, I ordered a beautiful funeral bouquet. I'd hoped for blue and white – but settled for running to the local sports store and purchasing a little Toronto Maple Leafs bear for the florist to incorporate. I signed the card from ‘Toni and all your online friends'.
The hour drive there took me about an hour and a half cause I got lost (and was too scared to get on the highway…lol). I had my cry on the way down, can't even remember what song it was that set me off. Once there, I was happy to see the flowers had arrived. I knelt at Leafy's closed casket and said a silent prayer – then admired the handsome man smiling in the framed photo on display.
Because it was early afternoon, the funeral home was not busy, and I had opportunity to speak to Mrs Leafy at length. She was truly touched by the concern and love shown from around the world. She pointed out the little hockey skates that adorned each corner of the casket – and the etched maple leafs. After chatting for a bit – I sat in the back to have a few moments to myself. Before leaving, I told her that I came alone – but represented many. I asked how she explained who I was to the family – she had told them exactly who I was – and no, they didn't really understand (I don't think anyone can who hasn't had an online friendship). We chuckled over a few things (one being that Leafy would say I was too thin – I assured her she wasn't getting rid of me. In fact, she'd inherited me). One last hug and I left the serene tranquility of the funeral home, for the busy city street. I had gained strength from Mrs Leafy's strength. I wouldn't cry any more. Leafy wouldn't want that. I will find a way to honour him – something he'd like. And I will always remember the vibrant spirit he was and feel so very blessed to have known him at all.
This morning, a Thank You card arrived. It was addressed to ‘Toni and the friends of Leafy'. I won't print it in it's entirety as I have no permission (or plans to ask permission) – but I think Mrs Leafy would want you to know the following:
“Thank you so much for the beautiful flowers and presence at the funeral. Your prayers, thoughtfulness and support were so appreciated during this very difficult time. I will never forget your kindness. I think ‘Leafy' would have been overwhelmed at the outpouring of love from all corners of the earth.”…..”God bless all of you”