Three hundred and sixty-two days ago, I sat in an office at the Veterans Administration University Drive campus in Oakland facing a new life.
Approximately an hour and a half after my father James Rorabaugh had died following a lengthy battle with emphysema, I began the process of filing the appropriate paperwork to have his final wishes fulfilled. As I checked the appropriate boxes, the VA employee helping me out offered condolences and remarked, “This is such a bad way to start a new year.”
I paused, looked up and thought for a moment. I responded, “You know what? It isn’t.”
For much of the year prior, I had watched my father’s health deteriorate. He had trouble with everyday tasks due to his limited ability to breath. A bout with partial blindness complicated matters. His death was preceded with a four-month stay in a hospice at the VA’s H.J. Heinz campus in Aspinwall. Not having to watch him suffer any longer was the furthest thing from a bad start to a new year.
During my father’s stay in the hospice, I was undergoing something of a mini-career crisis. As a hockey writer, the period of time from mid-September of 2012 to early January of 2013 was … interesting. The NHL had staged a lockout against its players as the two sides were unable to come up with a new collective bargaining agreement.
With NHL games canceled, that left me and countless other hockey writers around North America with a lot of free time. Several Penguins players, including Sidney Crosby, staged informal workouts at the team’s practice facility and were more than willing to spend their now also inflated free time with myself and other local hockey media. But even then, I tried to help out in other ways by covering Pitt football and basketball in the fall.
It was tough to justify an existence as a writer for a sport which didn’t exist for all intents and purposes.
While the lockout carried on throughout the fall and into the winter, I developed a pattern of sorts. Wake up, drive from North Huntingdon to Canonsburg to cover workouts, write at the local Starbucks, drive to Aspinwall to spend time with my father, then go back home to North Huntingdon.
While the lockout put my professional life in doubt, it blessed me with the free time to attend to my father as I should have.
During those four months, something happened.
Watching a loved one who was so self-reliant go though the process of dying provided a completely new perspective on virtually everything for me. Talking to other men facing similar fates in that hospice only amplified the change.
It woke me up to what was truly important.
“Stupid stuff” ceased to bother me. I quit worrying about labor propaganda from owners, players and agents. Tyler Kennedy’s shooting ability or Marc-Andre Fleury’s save percentage just weren’t very important. Ridiculous trade rumors on Twitter no longer got under my skin. Even the faint prospect of losing a job covering a sport I dearly love didn’t faze me much.
A lot of things changed for me Jan. 7, 2013. That day, the NHL lockout was essentially resolved, my father’s life came to an end and a new life began for me.
Since then, I’ve traveled to Long Island, Ottawa and Boston, all for the first time in my life. I’ve eaten poutine, driven to Buffalo for a passport, tried kayaking, bought a Jeep Wrangler, grew my hair long and worn shoes as little as possible.
I continue to try to not worry about stupid stuff.
Seth Rorabaugh is a staff writer for the Post-Gazette (email@example.com or 412-263-1621. Twitter: @emptynetters).