Sports Beat: The loss still stings

  • Paul Franz

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

The cold and wind had blown a dusting of snow over the headstone, but the engraving was visible: Heather M. McMahon: April 15, 1986-Jan. 2, 2017

Tuesday marked exactly one year since the passing of one of my best friends. Standing in the cold of Forestdale Cemetery West in Holyoke alongside two other friends, silence overtook the yard. A new year, but a familiar feeling.

Life changes dramatically in a year. Last Jan. 2, I was living on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Home to western Mass. for the holidays, I had returned back to the Granite State on the evening of Jan. 2nd when I got the call about Heather. I quickly unloaded some things from the car, made sure my pipes hadn’t frozen, and climbed back into my temperamental Corolla for 3½-hour return trip south to Holyoke.

What followed was a truly difficult week. Saying goodbye to a friend or family member is as difficult of a task as there is in life.

My path changed when Heather passed away. Her quick, intense bout with Glioblastoma, an extremely aggressive brain tumor, forced everyone around her to take stock in what was important to them. She died just a few months shy of her 31st birthday.

She used to joke about how I had moved away from our hometown of Holyoke to small-town New Hampshire, saying, “There’s nothing for you up there! When are you going to smarten up and come back home!”

When she passed, it was a realization that few things in life are within our control. Being that far away from my friends and family, that was something I could control.

When long-time sports reporter Mark Durant decided to leave The Recorder just a few short weeks later, it seemed like a sign that I had to come home. After beginning my journalistic career with the newspaper while I was in college, I returned in February and have done my best to enjoy being back in WMass ever since.

Heather was the best athlete in our circle of friends. She was a standout swimmer at Holyoke High School who continued her career in the pools at Springfield College, where she was a team captain her senior year.

I wrote something about her when she got sick, for my previous newspaper in New Hampshire. I said she “boasts the near-impossible ability to be moral beacon of our circle of friends, while simultaneously being the most fun member of our group.” We thought a lot about that on New Years Eve, when two friends from our group got married. Heather’s picture was on display at the wedding, a true Holyoke affair that took place at The Wherehouse? in downtown.

My 2018 began at a wedding surrounded by friends and continued the following morning visiting another at the cemetery. I’m happy to turn the page, to slide the calendar to a new year.

It’s been a year missing our friend. Things can change in the blink of an eye. Let’s hold our loved ones closer in 2018. As far as resolutions go, that’s something we certainly can control.

Jeff Lajoie is a Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jlajoie@recorder.com