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Howe family stays welcoming during hard time

Open their arms to thousands of fans, media members, dignitaries at services for 'Mr. Hockey'

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

DETROIT -- After Gordie Howe's funeral ended and the dignitaries filed out of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Wednesday, Howe's son Mark stood outside, weary and emotional.

Gordie had died Friday at age 88 after a long battle with dementia, strokes and other ailments. The family had received visitors for more than 12 hours during a public visitation at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday. Now it was over, and family and friends were headed to a private luncheon.

"It's just hard, no matter how much you know this day is coming," Mark Howe said. "I'm extremely thankful that Dad was able to hang on so long at the end. I really wanted to be with him. I was rubbing his forehead when he went, and …"

Mark broke down.

"I'm sorry," he said.

A security guard put a hand on Mark's shoulder. Reporters told Mark he had said enough.

"No," Mark said. "I'm OK."

Video: Gordie Howe's life eulogized by son Dr. Murray Howe

He collected himself and continued.

"It was important to me," he said. "Our family is strong, and I dearly thank my mother and father for that."

It says a lot about the late Colleen and Gordie Howe, and a lot about their children how they handled the past two days.

Gordie Howe was not just "Mr. Hockey." He was Dad and he was PeePaw. He was a husband to one, a father of four, a grandfather of nine and a great-grandfather of five. If you've lost a loved one you know how difficult it can be, how much you want to close in and shut out the world.

But the family understood what Gordie Howe meant to the world and why. He was beloved not just because he was a great hockey player, one of the greatest who ever lived if not the greatest. He was beloved because as nasty as he was on the ice, he was kind, open and welcoming off the ice.

And so the family was open and welcoming at the hardest of times.

The visitation and funeral drew VIPs in suits such as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Wayne Gretzky, Scotty Bowman and a parade of others from the hockey world. The family also made time for fans in Detroit Red Wings jerseys and T-shirts, more than 15,000 on Tuesday, a few hundred Wednesday.

"I know how much respect he has from anybody that's ever played the game," Mark said. "I don't know of any other human being that can go and knock out teeth; give people cuts, bumps and bruises; punch them in the nose or elbow them in the nose; and they revere the man.

"But I think Dad just had a certain way about him. Not anything you can teach, not anything you can learn. He had a special, special impact on everybody that he met. And for me, that's what sets him apart from any other athlete.

"My father never once corrected anybody in our family. That's grandkids, great-grandkids. As far as he led his life, he had respect for every single person on this earth. He never judged people. He accepted people for who they are, and I think that's why he was such a beloved man."

Mark thanked the media, his brother Murray for his eulogy and the Rev. JJ Mech for his homily. He said he never would have been able to get through speaking about his father during the ceremony.

"It's a tough time, but we know what an absolute treasure of a human being my father was and we're trying to celebrate his life," Mark said. "It's hard for me right now.

"A lot of people are seeing and witnessing the outpouring of love for the first time. We have seen it for our whole lives. We've lived it. We've been a part of Mom and Dad all these years.

"Like I said in my [Hockey] Hall of Fame speech, he's the role model of everything I try to be as a human being. Unfortunately I can't live up to his standards, but I try.

"But we're very grateful to have had so many wonderful years and been a wonderful part of Dad's life. I'm hoping and praying he and Mom are just having a wonderful time together right now."

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