January 16, 2024 6:46 AM

Next on the Tee, #157212

Benjamin Smith
Written by
Benjamin Smith

First off this post is a departure from our regular goodies.  It is Ben here, posting on my own about something that is dear to me.  It is about an incredible person who played disc golf and is no longer here.  It is about grief, and loss, and things that I can’t quite put my finger on.  It's a personal story about how life isn’t always fair.  I always do a lot of writing when I don't know what to do with myself, and for the last few days I have been doing a lot of writing.

Today I am writing to tell a story about my friend, Terrance Patrick Ruston.  If you were lucky enough to know him you would just call him Pat.  If you have lived, played sports, or went on any kind of adventures in Northern Nova Scotia you might have crossed paths with him.  If you have played disc golf in any Flickline event in the last 3 years you almost certainly crossed paths and probably even shared a laugh.

Pat in action

On Sunday Pat lost a match he couldn’t recover from.  He lost a 10 month battle with Cancer.  There is almost no upside to any aspect about his diagnosis or his battle.  The only positive thing I can relay to you is that because our government passed a law that allows for Medical Assistance In Dying (M.A.I.D.) Pat was able to go out on his own terms and prevent what could have been days, weeks, or months of needless suffering.  Pat saw first hand what that suffering could be like when he watched his father lose his battle with cancer far too young.

Pat was a special one.  You can tell from these videos he used to make.  He was the kind of guy that ran teams, created fun, and was up for any kind of foolishness that was on the table. He was always surrounded by people he loved.  In his own words when he was a kid he was bad.  Like make-your-parents-worry-for-real bad.  Then he got older and maybe he learned some things or just kind of figured it out but something changed for the better.  Later in his life he was the best kind of bad.  The kind that gives you that mischievous smile and lets you know he is up to something and that you should probably be a part of it.  He was always up for an adventure, he was a great friend, and the exact person that you wanted on your team, no matter what the circumstance. The last time I talked with his mom she told me that Pat had always lived his life like he knew he was going to die young.  I absolutely believe that to be true.

I first met Pat a few years ago at a disc golf tournament I was running at Wallace River.  Pat finished near the bottom of the pack and won a disc that corresponded with that result.  It was a Birdie Putter from Innova.  Initially he was pumped about winning a disc but a few weeks later he told me, ‘I get it now… and kind of smiled’.  But not long after that event Pat, Scott, and myself formed a deep bond.  It’s a funny thing about making friends later in your life.  When you are a teenager or in your early 20’s it feels like your options and opportunities are endless.  Every new person you meet might become a friend for life.  When you get to your 30’s you have started to find a routine and get more involved in the things you already love.  A few new friends pop up here and there but they aren’t as plentiful as before.  By the time you reach your 40’s you're usually too tired, too busy, or too set in your ways to make new friends.  When you do make friends it’s like a bonus gift in life.  It’s kind of like adding a new spice to your favourite dish.  You had no idea that something you already loved could be made better. Pat was that gift to me these last 3 years and most of what I am feeling now is grief for losing my friend. A friend I thought I would grow old with and planned on doing so many more things with.  It is one of the great mysteries of my life that I didn’t meet him sooner.  It seems so unfair that we lived 70 km apart for the last 16 years and I only really knew him for the last 3. we were so close to crossing paths so many times before.

What made this loss even harder was that for the entire 10 months of Pat's ordeal he was almost always in great spirits.  They caught the cancer pretty early on and had him in a bed within 48 hours.  It would have been sooner except when Pat found out on the Friday that he had cancer he asked the doctors if he would be able to play disc golf over the weekend and come in on Monday.  The doctors didn’t see a problem with that so they allowed it.  That’s Pat in a nutshell, if there was life to live he was doing it.  Throughout the entire time Pat maintained his friendships with lots of great people.  He golfed, played ball, got on the ice a few times, and made more than one appearance on the disc golf course.  Each time he had a smile on his face and varying levels of hair on his head.  I would text Pat 3-4 times a week when I didn’t see him asking if I could do anything or just to tell him that I loved him.  He would always say thank you and tell me about the good things.  What almost nobody other than his immediate family saw was the fact that those weekend ball games or disc golf events would often result in Pat getting a blood transfusion on Monday night, or sleeping for 40 hours straight.  Until the last time I saw Pat he never really looked like he was sick or in pain.  Uncomfortable sometimes, yes, but the kind of deep pain that leads you to choose M.A.I.D. I only saw on my last visit.  That was the first time I actually understood that he wasn’t long for this world.  I know it sounds stupid but until that moment I truly believed Pat was going to beat the odds and live for another 40 years.

As I started to think about memories of my friend I realized just how much life Pat had packed in.  On the last day we were together we were surrounded by a lot of his friends and family.  One of his friends said, ‘you know if anyone asked me I would tell you with 100% certainty that Pat was my best friend, but I bet you there are quite a few people in this room that would say the same thing about their relationship with Pat too'.  That was kind of the thing.  Pat loved a lot of people really deeply, in a way that made them feel special.  I was so glad to be one of them.

When Pat got sick he had some time on his hands because he couldn’t work his regular job.  Lucky for me he was up for some disc golf related adventures so quite often he came to do little day jobs with me.  Until I started to really take stock of it I didn’t realize just how many things we did together.  I taught Pat how to drive a skid steer and he helped prep the land for the Disc Golf Pro Tour event that we held in PEI.  He was like a pig in shit out there with a smile on his face.  He would come and help me anytime he was free.  He would show up in his car, and depending on the season, he would either have his golf clubs, ball bag, disc golf discs, or hockey gear all crammed in the back, sometimes he would have all of them back there.  I didn’t think about it much at the time but now I get the feeling that Pat just kind of rolled from one adventure to another, making people smile every time he showed up. He had real friendships with people who would do anything for him. People could tell you stories for hours about him and over the next couple of days, weeks, months, and beyond they will.  I look forward to hearing about the ones I don’t know.  Every time I think about the fact that he won’t be at our next event or that I will never get to play hockey with him well it just makes me crumble.  I know mine are trivial losses compared to what his family is going through.  I try my best to let those thoughts of loss pass me by and then replace those with all the good things we got to do together.

The strangest times are with the best people.

I want to leave you with three stories about Pat that I will think about on repeat for a long time.

First, Pat lost his father too young in life.  He also lost a battle with cancer and the end for him was really hard.  Pat saw suffering that no child ever wants to see and that no person should have to go through.  Pat and his family put on a memorial softball tournament every year to honour his dad and this fall he asked me if I would play on his team.  I was honoured.  I lost my dad, who was a great ball player early to cancer as well.  The funny thing about this event was that a lot of the guys and girls who were playing there knew my father as well.  Even though I had not met Pat and his crew until later in life there was a crossover of ball players who knew us both.  The other thing was that, like many times before, it was hard to find enough girls to play.  So I asked my daughter, who loves baseball but was only 14 at the time and she agreed to play with us.  It was the first time that she and I ever played on a team together.  It felt like the perfect way to honour Pat and his Dad and it was a privilege to be a part of this thing that was so special to my friend.  I know for a fact that one of Pats friends is going to continue to put on this tournament, now to honour both Pat and his Father.  My daughter and I will put in a team of disc golfers every year to play in it and to do our part to keep his memory alive.

Funny enough the second story also involves my daughter.  Last year her basketball team, the one I coach, made it to the finals of our league.  It was a big deal for Cumberland County and the 14 year old girls that play there, but in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t really that important.  Still, like all teams we had to work to get there and making the finals for us was huge.  The team we were playing was undefeated for almost 3 years.  You know who showed up to watch that game of basketball on a Tuesday night in rural Cumberland County?  Pat, that’s who.  For no other reason than he was the kind of guy that would just show up to support you, because he loved you and he made time for things that were important to the people he loved.  If I liked the guy before that night I loved him after.  We lost the game but that really didn’t matter.

The final story I want to share goes to the true character of the guy.  Something you can’t fake.  This fall I was working on a course when I had a serious accident.  I thought I broke my leg onsite and had to be carried out of the woods (lucky enough Scott was there and this could easily be a story about how amazing of a human he is).  We scrambled to make a plan and Scott took me to the hospital in Truro about an hour away.  He called Pat and told him what happened and Pat offered to drive back, get my truck and bring it to my house.  It took about 3 hours of his life and on the surface it was a pretty simple thing; except Pat was really hurting from his treatments at the time.  When my wife drove him back to his own house Pat could barely keep his head up and his eyes open.  He willingly put himself through hell just to help me.  The remarkable thing about it is after the ordeal was over and we talked about it Pat said he would have been mad if we didn’t call him and ask for his help.  There wasn’t enough time left in this world for me to repay my friend.  Maybe that is what I am writing about. Life is not fair and there is no amount of crying I can do to make it fair.

On Pats last day on earth he got to sit in the sun on an unseasonably warm Sunday in January.  From everything I know he was able to leave this world peacefully.   That was a small gift amidst a mountain of grief.  The following day Jenn and I were lucky enough to play some disc golf with Scott and a wide group of Pats friends who came together and made the trip to Tiny Changes.  Some of them had never played disc golf before.  It was funny that it took his death to bring us all together, but nevertheless that’s what happened.  Lots of the people there that day told both Scott and I that disc golf had been the final real chapter in Pat’s book of life.  Even though it was short it was a full chapter.  It’s hard to explain to people just how much influence Pat really had on Tiny Changes, so many of the baskets, tee pads, and layout were part of Pat's creation.  One of his longtime friends introduced Pat to the game years before he was a part of Tiny Changes or Flickline but as time went on Pat became more and more of a cornerstone to what was happening in Westchester Station.  Honestly, I thought Pat would get better, move in with Scott and we would have a bunch of years together to create the most fun course you have ever played. I lost a friend but Scott lost something ever more important. He will be missed by many now that he is gone and I truly believe it will take years to ever fully appreciate just how rare of a gem Pat truly was.  The last hug I ever shared with Pat was one of the greatest hugs of my life.  He gave me a part of his spirit and I truly believe he did the same with many of the people he loved. I will hold that with me for as long as I possibly can. I owe it to my friend to do just that because if he had had the chance he would have done the same for me. So if he is keep track where ever he is now I'll pay my debts next time we meet.