Final Four

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by Joe Mudd on April 25, 2011

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament will always bring back memories of Richard.

The early rounds are played all over the country. There are a lot of games. The last games of each round get late starts, so it’s not unusual for one or two to still be in action when I get home from work after midnight.

Debbie and Sarah would be in bed. The only light in the house would be coming from the TV set. And there in front of the set, Richard would be sitting cross-legged on the floor, with his NCAA brackets beside him. I think he watched every game. He’d make updates to his brackets as each game ended.

We’d watch the remaining games together and he’d update me on what I’d missed.

UK Returns to the Final Four

My favorite team is the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Richard always claimed to be a University of Louisville fan, or Loserville as we like to call them around here. They are UK’s only in-state rival. Richard said he was a UL fan, but he always paid more attention to the Cats than the Cards. He liked to aggravate his uncle Stuart and his grandpa – and his dad. So he claimed to be a big fan of our rival. We had a lot of fun debating about our teams.

But I always knew he was a secret UK fan.

UK has always been a basketball power. The Cats have won more games than any other team in college basketball. Many banners hang from the rafters of Rupp Arena – from SEC championship banners to national championship banners. .

But the last few years have been lean for the Wildcats. Making the Final Four, the measure of success in college basketball, has evaded them for more than a decade.

This year looked like another of those seasons with no Final Four appearance for UK. They couldn’t win anything away from home. But as the end of the season wound down, this team began to win those close games they lost earlier in the year. Even though they got the hardest draw of any of the upper seeds in the tournament, they kept on winning. They beat Ohio State, the team all the analysts pegged as the best of the best.

And they made it to the Final Four.

I was starting to think there might be some help from above, you know what I mean?

The Final Four games were played in Houston, TX this year.

Sarah’s message.

After the end of Kentucky’s game with North Carolina, where UK earned a spot in the final four, I got a call from Sarah.

“Hey dad, want to come down to Texas and go to the Final Four? It would be a good daddy-daughter bonding experience.”

She lives in Texas. “You wouldn’t even have to get a hotel room. You could stay in my apartment and we could drive to Houston.”

I told her, “I’ll think about it.”

I went online and started checking on plane tickets. Wow! There were only a few flights left, and round trip would be more than $700. Plus the price for game tickets. And in no time those few remaining flights filled up.

There were some packages being offered locally  – air fare, hotel and tickets. The very cheapest I heard about was $1600 each. Most were over $2000.

Way too much money to spend for a weekend’s entertainment.

What Would You Pay?

Yeah, that was a bunch of money.

But what if somehow Richard could come back and go to those games with me. What would I pay for that?

What would you pay for another weekend with your dead kid?

$2000 would be cheap. My savings account would be sucking air in a flash.

I’d pay that money, and more, to get that chance.

Shouldn’t the Living Be As Valuable As the Dead?

And the idea hit me.

Isn’t Sarah as important to me as Richard was? Shouldn’t I place as much value on time with her – time I can actually have?

The answer to those questions is… Yes!

I love my daughter. Yes, I also loved Richard, and I miss him every single day. But he’s gone.

So shouldn’t we all place our value on loving those people that are still riding this planet with us? Value every moment we can with them?

I think so.

We’ve been shown -in the clearest terms possible – there is no guarantee of anything beyond the present. Maybe that’s a gift, even though it’s a really hard lesson to learn.

Life IS For the Living

We’re still here. We still have to live this life we have.

So I decided to spend that money and make that trip. To have that daddy-daughter bonding moment.

But my employer said no. I couldn’t get off work. We have to live this life, and we still have to deal with the limitations put before us.

But I plan to direct my energy more toward living THIS life.

I’ll always miss my kid. That will never change. I loved having him here, and being his dad. There will be a hole in my soul from now on.

I can’t change that.

But we all need to learn the lessons this has taught us about living and loving now.

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