W. BLOOMFIELD, Mich. (Dec. 13) — For the purpose of this hockey–first website, Jamie Daniels was (and always will be) the son of Detroit Red Wings’ TV broadcaster Ken Daniels and his former wife, Lisa. Had Jamie been the child of a doctor or lawyer–friend, I probably wouldn’t be writing about him here. Ken and Lisa, however, are the first to say that this grievous, lamentable week is all about their 23–year–old son, who died in his sleep last Tuesday in Boca Raton, Fla. And, why shouldn’t it be, given the out–pouring of love from all points of the hockey world… and especially from here on Ken and Lisa’s home turf north of Detroit?
Sadly, I’ve been to the funeral and shiva (or visitation) of other people that have lost children. By its horrendous nature, such an occasion tends to draw family and friends from near and far. Until last night, however, I had not attended a shiva with so many others. There must have been 200 people circulating in and out of Lisa’s palatial dwelling in the afternoon and evening. At one point, I asked her, half–jokingly, if she handed out a map to first–time visitors. Every inch was needed for those that came to pay their respects.
Most heartbreaking, clearly, were the young people. Dozens of beautiful guys and gals with their full lives in front of them. Enjoying one another’s company — as per the norm — but always a sentence away from tears. And, seeking an answer that will never come. How could their vibrant, mischievous friend be gone? Just last week, at this time, working and enjoying a relatively–new life north of Miami; Sunday, laid to rest at a cemetery not far from here. It is incomprehensible. The wonderful man leading a religious service at Lisa’s home posed an honest question: Why were so many people gathering in one place to praise God after fate had been so ruthless to Jamie? Within that framework, there was tremendous conflict. Yet, his reply struck the proper note. We were there, en mass, to thank God for Jamie’s 23 years (remember: a life lived is a life lived, be it two minutes or nine decades) and to ask for comfort at a time of colossal, mind–numbing grief.
As I drove here for four hours from Toronto yesterday afternoon — thankfully in far–better weather conditions than Sunday — I tried to make sense of this tragedy. Not surprisingly, I failed. I have a 20–year–old son (Shane) and a soon–to–be 17–year–old daughter (Lauren). Honestly, I cannot imagine wanting to live for another day if either of them were taken from me. Yet, people in Ken and Lisa’s position somehow go on — as they will. Ken, in fact, is planning to work Thursday night’s game at Joe Louis Arena between the Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings. His emotional fuel? Jamie… who would want nothing more than to have his father return to a semblance of normalcy. Yet, it may be easier said than done. And, I’ve encouraged Ken to be kind to himself. If he discovers it somehow isn’t yet the right time, no one will hold it against him.
Jamie’s death has touched people in all walks of life. As mentioned, Ken’s I–Phone is bursting with text and email messages from those in the hockey universe — including Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who stood behind the Red Wings’ bench from 2005 to 2015. Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night In Canada (he worked briefly with me and Ken at The FAN–590) flew here for Jamie’s funeral on Sunday. As he proved once again, Elliotte is a mensch. Ken was informed of his son’s death (if you can imagine) when a local policeman knocked on his front door last Wednesday. This particular officer was sent because two others in the local constabulary knew Ken and couldn’t stomach making the call. The stranger–cop broke the dreadful news… and then dropped by Lisa’s house yesterday to see how the family was coping. Talk about a mensch.
The officer at the Sarnia–Port Huron border crossing looked at my passport and wondered where I was heading. “A friend of mine from Toronto lost a child this week. I’m going to Bloomfield to visit him,” I replied.
“You’re not talking about Ken Daniels, are you?” he asked.
“Yes I am,” I said in amazement. “Do you know Ken?”
“No. We’ve never met. But, I’m a big fan of his [broadcasting] work. Please tell him that (he gave his name) sends his sincere condolences. What an awful thing — losing a child. A cousin of mine recently committed suicide. She was only 17. How do you make sense of something like that?”
“There would be a line–up [of cars] back to Toronto if we tried,” I answered. “I’ll pass on your message.”
And, so it goes.
It was a pleasure catching up with Ken’s brothers — Gary (from Calgary) and John, who lives about two miles from me in midtown Toronto. Everywhere we looked, there was food. Bagels… cream–cheese… egg–salad… chicken cutlets… that incredible three–layer chocolate cake from COSTCO that I kept eyeing and finally gave into. And yet, I kept reminding myself why we were there. And, why we should have been somewhere else.
Life can be awesome.
And, unremittingly cruel.