Some days Emily Cave wakes up feeling something like what good used to feel like.
She can breathe a little easier.
She can smile when she thinks of her late husband, Colby Cave, who was tragically taken from her 19 months ago.
Then there are days like Wednesday, when she broke down while seeing old friends. The Bruins and Oilers, the two NHL teams he played for, were practicing in Brighton. She wanted to show her face, but it was hard.
“He was roommates with Matt Grzelcyk and saw him and I just sobbed,” she said. “What did I miss?”
Grzelcyk reassured her that they saw nothing, no signs that could have foretold his fate, during Cave’s time as a Bruin.
It was yet another reminder of how cruel it was when Cave died from a brain bleed on April 11, 2020, four days after he was hospitalized in Toronto, where he and Emily were quarantining at her parents’ home.
A picture of good health - a square-jawed, sturdy pro hockey player --was gone, his wife and family kept at a distance because of the pandemic. At 26, Emily Cave became a widow before her first wedding anniversary. It is agonizing to consider.
She is determined to turn the waves of immense grief into a legacy.
Thursday’s game at TD Garden, 19 months to the day since Cave died, will feature a tribute video, Emily dropping the first puck, and a raffle of the sticks used during warmup. Proceeds from the stick raffle, and the 50/50 raffle running this week through Sunday’s game against the Canadiens, will benefit the Colby Cave Memorial Fund.
The fund aims to “carry on the memory and legacy” he left behind with “an emphasis on mental health initiatives and providing access to sports for underprivileged children.” The Oilers have established Colby’s Kids, a community program with a similar focus. Those charities, and advocating for grief and mental health support for others as she follows her own journey, have become her purpose.
“I remember being like, this is going to get me out of bed in the morning,” Emily said. “I give it 110 percent because it’s all I have left with Colb. So I have to keep it going. I have to continue on, because I feel like he’s still alive with me.”
She is not alone. The NHL has provided her a therapist, among other grief resources. She credits the Bruins’ and Oilers’ coaching staffs - particularly Julie Cassidy, Bruce’s wife, and Wendy Tippett, Dave’s wife - for checking in regularly. She said Bruins and Oilers wives and players – name-checking Patrice Bergeron, Connor Clifton, Anton Blidh, and Zach Senyshyn – have expressed constant support.
Three years after he played here, Colby Cave remains dear to Cassidy, who coached him in both Providence and Boston. When Cassidy spoke to reporters after Wednesday’s practice, he had come from a brief reunion with Emily.
“It was tough,” said Cassidy, his eyes welling. “Colby was one of the most genuine kids I think I ever coached. At a lower level is where you get to know these kids. At 20, 21, it’s a little different when you’re in the minors and they’ve left home.
“They’ve got to find their identity there. They’re so young. You want to do right by them as people, and as players.
“With that one, no one saw it coming, obviously. It’s difficult. Much more difficult for his family and Emily. Still, it’s jarring. Hopefully she’s doing well. It sounds like she is.”
Emily, who lives in Edmonton, had not been back here since her husband was waived by the Bruins in 2019. She brought cannolis from Mike’s Pastry - Colby’s favorite - to welcome the Oilers’ coaching staff, and was embraced by players and coaches from both sides and staffers at Warrior Ice Arena.
“I was saying to Bergy, to everyone - I feel Colb the most in Boston. Walking down the streets, seeing his favorite restaurants, I feel most home here,” she said, standing on the concourse at Warrior Ice Arena as the Oilers practiced.
She was clutching a game-used stick of Colby’s, taped in purple from a November 2019 Hockey Fights Cancer game against the Sharks, that Bergeron gave her. The team had kept it since he left. Her parents, Terry and Gary Gill, were standing nearby. They were going to dinner at Monica’s Trattoria, another favorite of Colby’s.
The Caves lived by a saying: “Be somebody that makes everybody feel like a somebody.” That is what drives her foundation work, and to speak openly about her grief on social media.
“Colb always called me his little world-changer,” she said. “Which is so ironic now.
“The moment Colb died, I was like, I was left with this platform for the worst possible reason. But I wouldn’t be the person Colb married if I didn’t use it to help other people. If I went quiet in my grief or shut people out or got angry, that’s not who Colb married. It’s like a vow I still have to him. I’m keeping it so I can honor him.
“It’s not easy, but I try my best.”