Gift to mom turns into a family tribute for Devils’ Bourne

Taylor Bourne had heard about Pink The Rink before he came to Fredonia State.

He knew that the Blue Devils wore pink jerseys and socks one game every year as a way to bring awareness to breast cancer.

This year’s game is tonight against Cortland at 7 p.m.

What Bourne didn’t know was that he’d have first dibs on buying his own jersey.

“Coach explained it to us,” he recalled of the conversation coach?Jeff Meredith had with all the players last fall, “that if we wanted to buy our own jersey, we could.”

Bourne did not have to think twice but not so much as a tribute as a gift. He remembered how his mom, Adele, had gone to the trouble of buying his junior team jersey and had surprised him with it.

Now he wanted to return the gift.

“I originally bought it as a birthday gift, or for Mother’s Day, I hadn’t made up my mine which,” he said. “I had saved up money from my summer job so I thought I’d buy it and give it to her.” His younger brother Rick chipped in, too.

The plan changed last Sept. 29.

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It was around February 2011 that Adele Bourne called her two boys together and broke the news. She hadn’t been feeling well and had gone to see a doctor.

The diagnosis: cancer.

It was a blow to Taylor and Rick. Their mom had been their rock, especially the previous year.

“She really stepped up huge after our dad died,” Taylor said.

Adele assured the boys that everything would be alright.

“She told us,” Taylor said, “that we would get through this as a family.”

And so her battle began.

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The Bournes were a typical Canadian hockey family. Up early on many cold mornings, Adele would brew a pot of coffee and make a light breakfast while her husband, Don, would get the boys dressed.

Taylor remembers sitting on the second-floor stairs, his dad helping him put on his hockey gear, before they rushed out the front door, skates to be tied at the rink.

He remembers post-hockey breakfasts at a local Denny’s with teammates and their parents, further strengthening the familial Canadian bond associated with their national game.

And, of course, Don built an outdoor rink outside their home so the boys and their friends could play hockey any time they wanted.

As he grew bigger and stronger, Taylor became a player other coaches wanted on their team. His skill level was apparent, and he had a passion for the game.

In addition, his parents were a source of encouragement. When Taylor talked of someday playing hockey in college, Don and Adele supported him unconditionally.

“They always said,” Taylor said, “they wanted us to do what we wanted.”

But first that would mean playing junior hockey. That led Taylor to Olds of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

It was only a one-hour drive from home.

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It was Feb. 13, 2010 when the news came like a bolt out of nowhere. Taylor, away playing junior hockey, took the phone call and could not believe his ears.

His dad, Don, an electrical engineer, had gone scuba diving that day with friends. While on the dive, his heart gave out. He was 55.

An autopsy revealed that Don had heart disease and a fatal attack was just a matter of time. The news did little to lessen Taylor’s grief. He said it took him well over a week to stop feeling numb. “It was like always having earmuffs on,” he said. “My focus was always inward and there was a lot of stuff going on I didn’t even notice.”

He does remember this: At his dad’s funeral, four friends were chosen to give the eulogy. Each friend was chosen to speak about a different period of Don Bourne’s life.

It was a scene the Bourne family would replay all too soon.

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Jeff Meredith has been coaching the Blue Devils for 25 years. He cannot recall a parent easier to talk with than Adele Bourne.

A stickler for details, Meredith found a kindred spirit in Adele. He remembered one phone call in which she referenced a previous phone call they had had months before.

“She remembered the exact date and time,” he said. “So I knew mom was very organized, and the more we talked, the more we found we had in common.”

They talked about hockey and recruiting yet they also talked about their families and their values and religious beliefs. Taylor believes it was his mom’s way of making sure this coach half a continent away would be someone she could trust.

“There was an ease in our conversations,” Meredith said, “just like two parents talking over coffee, only this was over the phone. She would talk about her two boys and I would talk about my three boys, what it’s like raising sons, and everything in between.”

It wasn’t until later that Meredith realized what it all meant.

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Taylor left his junior team last March, a few weeks before the end of the season. He wasn’t having fun anymore, not at that place and that time, yet he had not given up on his college hockey dream.

Shortly after returning to Calgary, he called Coach Meredith to explain the situation. He still loved hockey, still wanted to become a Blue Devil, as long as the Blue Devils still wanted him.

“Of course we still want you,” Meredith told his recruit. “When would you like to come up and see the campus and meet some of the boys?”

Arrangements were made for Taylor and his mom to fly out in early April. The excitement of the trip seemed to invigorate Adele. She was receiving chemotherapy treatments, which would knock her down for a few days, followed by a burst of energy.

“I think she counted on that burst,” Meredith said, “to get things done.”

In this case, planning for Taylor’s college visit was just the medicine she needed.

“I was worried, and so was she, but as we got closer to the date, she got better,” Taylor said. “She was tired at the end of each day, but it wasn’t that much of a problem.”

And when Meredith and Adele finally met face-to-face?

“We gave each other a big hug,” Meredith says. “I think we both felt we already knew each other so well, and we probably embarrassed the daylights out of Taylor.”

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As the days and weeks of summer passed and his mom’s conditioned worsened, Taylor Bourne started having doubts about going college. It was one thing being one hour from home while playing juniors. But a 36-hour drive, he said, “was a little tougher.”

Adele would hear nothing of it.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” she told Taylor. “You need to go to school. This is what you want.”

She had even arranged a little going-away gift. Because he had left the junior team before the season was over, Taylor was not around to receive his jersey a tradition in junior hockey. Adele used her powers of persuasion she had been a highly successful saleswoman to buy the jersey from the team and give it to her son.

It was a gift he wouldn’t forget.

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The last time Jeff Meredith talked to Adele Bourne on the phone, she was calling from her hospital bed.

“She called to tell me that Taylor needed to come home,” Meredith said. “She called me because she thought Taylor might resist.”

Yet Taylor was willing to honor his mom’s wishes, even if it meant breaking up his college routine of classes and study sessions and workouts and skate-and-shoots and generally spending time with his new teammates and friends.

So he flew home on a Thursday and went straight to the hospital. When he arrived, he was greeted by family members outside Adele’s room. She was inside meeting with a lawyer.

“Just in case,” she told Taylor after the lawyer had left.

He soon realized the meeting with the lawyer was Adele’s way of staying organized. She had made arrangements to sell their home upon her death. She also arranged to have Rick, now 16, live with a school teacher and his wife. They would become his legal guardians.

Adele had tied up all the loose ends.

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At the funeral, four of Adele’s friends were chosen to give the eulogy each one recounting a period in the life of their remarkable friend just as four of Don’s had done at his funeral.

When the funeral was over, there was one final bit of closure. Taylor and Rick, with the help of Rick’s guardians, went through their house to sort through all their belongings, splitting up what they could and saving the rest. They packed boxes of their stuff and took it to a storage unit in town.

“We packed up everything we owned,” Taylor said. “It was a lot to process all at the same time.”

When their work was finished, Taylor returned to campus and quickly fell back into a routine. Meredith made sure that Taylor would have the support of his teammates, which did not take a lot of prompting.

“A hockey team,” Meredith said, “like any group that is close, is a family, and family members take care of each other.”

Meredith also had a chance to reflect on his phone calls with Adele. It dawned on him, in the days after her death, that during their many conversations, often it was Adele doing the recruiting.

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He had worn jersey No. 9, as well as No. 19, while growing up playing hockey for various teams in and around Calgary, Alberta. Yet when he arrived at Fredonia State last fall as a freshman and found that 9 and 19 had already been issued, Taylor Bourne opted for 29.

“It would still have a 9,” he said, “and my birthday is June 29.”

That’s why, when he arrived at the hospital to see his mom on a Friday morning last fall, he knew it was time to say goodbye. After all, it was Sept. 29 9/29. It was in the numbers.

And now, after he writes both his parents’ initials on the butt of his hockey stick, then pulls on his jersey for a practice or a game, he senses something he hadn’t felt before. It is in the number.

“To be able to come to the rink every day and throw that jersey on,” he said, “you get to remember a little bit.”

The pink version he will wear tonight turned out to be a tribute after all.