Even in death, loyal fan makes it to game
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On her 60th birthday, Kathleen Desrosiers fulfilled her husband's fondest wish by making a pilgrimage to Pittsburgh and taking him to a Steelers game.
More accurately, she took his memory, in the form of a miniature urn.
Before her husband died of brain cancer eight months ago, he had two wishes -- to have the team logo carved into his gravestone, which she did, and to send him off to Heinz Field, the place he most wanted to see before he passed away.
"I couldn't take the tumor away. I couldn't take the pain away. I couldn't make him better. But I can do this," Mrs. Desrosiers said.
"After he died, I had this gnawing feeling that I should have held him more, kissed him more and loved him more. It was like there was a hole in my life. He spoiled me rotten, so I wanted to give him the one thing he asked me to do for him."
It's not out of the ordinary for the Steelers to stir inexplicably strong passions in their followers. One notable difference, however, is that neither the late Richard Desrosiers nor his wife had any connection to Pittsburgh other than the Steelers. Their home is in Exeter, N.H., in the heart of New England Patriots territory. But Mr. Desrosiers adopted the Steelers at an early age and followed them with the fervor of the native fan base.
"When he was younger, he and his father chose their favorite teams," his widow said. "His father went with the Patriots, but Dick went with the Steelers. And when he decided to do something, it was done 150 percent."
Mrs. Desrosiers said that "95 percent" of her husband's wardrobe was Steelers stuff, underscoring the fact that the word fan derives from fanatic. Even his pet dog -- a tri-color collie with fur of black, golden and white -- was named Steeler.
"They were a love of his," she said.
A native of Nashua, N.H., who worked in the highway paving business, Mr. Desrosiers was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in March 2006. He spent most of the next 12 months in and out of the hospital.
He was in a semi-coma the last five days of his life, but he was allowed to have some things brought from home. His wife brought in a large image of Ben Roethlisberger.
"His eyes were closed when I went into the room and said, 'Hey, Babe, look what I got. It's Big Ben.' He couldn't talk, but he opened his eyes, put his thumb up and gave me a big smile," Mrs. Desrosiers said.
When he died March 27, he was covered in his Steelers blanket. When he was cremated, he was dressed in a Steelers Super Bowl shirt along with sweat pants and a hat adorned with the team logo. At the funeral, the urn containing his ashes was placed atop a Steelers bandana in front of the Steelers logo. His two stepsons wore Steelers jerseys, and the floral arrangements were black, gold and white roses.
In the months he coped with cancer and chemotherapy treatments, his counselor was Amy Litterini, director of cancer wellness services at Exeter Hospital in Exeter. A native of Somerset who attended Duquesne University, she also had a fondness for the Steelers and spent hours at his bedside talking of football memories.
She gave him a picture taken before the Super Bowl of the Steelers holding hands in prayer and told him they were praying for him. She also knew of his wish to attend a game at Heinz Field, so she arranged to purchase two tickets for yesterday's game and raised money for Mrs. Desrosiers and her son, Kevin, to stay the weekend at a Pittsburgh hotel.
"Cancer took everything else from this man -- he lost the ability to walk, work, concentrate and talk -- but he still had the Steelers. In his final days, he had his wife, his family and the Steelers. The lesson he taught me was even in the lowest of lows, in the darkest period of life, you can still have joy through a simple pleasure," Ms. Litterini said.
Attempts were made to attend a game last year, but the brain tumor prevented Mr. Desroisers from traveling.
"I guess the only way I'll get there is when I die," his widow recalled him saying.
After her husband of 25 years was laid to rest, Mrs. Desrosiers conceded she was consumed by grief.
"I'd been having a real, real hard time. We did everything together. The holidays were coming up, and I was really in a slump," she said.
Her children encouraged her to do something special for her Dec. 16 birthday, her 60th, but she didn't want to do anything without her husband. Then the tickets appeared for the final home game of the franchise's 75th season, a game that resulted in the only home loss of the season despite a furious fourth quarter rally.
"I didn't feel I had much to live for. Then I found a purpose," said Mrs. Desrosiers.
Before she left her hotel, she heard the song "In the Arms of an Angel," the song that was played at her husband's funeral. Yesterday's snow, biting winds and 22-degree wind chill did nothing to deter her. She had her face painted, wore a Santa hat in Steelers colors and twirled a freshly purchased Terrible Towel. And she brought with her two pictures of her late husband, his gold ring and a sealed miniature urn containing a few of his ashes.
The last request of a dying man was fulfilled when Mrs. Desrosiers and her son entered Gate B and headed for their seats in the end zone of the closed end of the stadium.
"It's been an overwhelming experience," Mrs. Desrosiers said. "It's sad to think that he got here in death. But this is where he wanted to be. It was what he asked me to do. I got to be with him one last time while he did something he wanted more than anything else in the whole wide world.
"This puts a big bandage on a very big wound."
First Published December 17, 2007 12:00 am