Barbara DiMarco took her seat at the New Jersey Devils game Thursday, just as she had many times over the past 36 years, only this time her second family at Prudential Center was preparing a surprise.
From the security guard to the ushers to the front office staff, they'd all heard about DiMarco's tragic loss just four months ago. Her 29-year-old son Garrett, who had been going to games with her for years, died of a brain aneurysm. There were no symptoms and no warnings, just the unimaginable and sudden loss of her son, an Army veteran, who they'd all come to know too.
So the familiar faces with the Devils game day staff, plus the team's new "Memory Makers" made up of part-time guest services employees, presented DiMarco with a black Devils box, and inside it was a custom jersey with Garrett's name on the back and No. 30, for the age he would have turned in a couple of weeks and for his favorite player, Martin Brodeur.
"I just cried for the rest of the game," DiMarco said.
DiMarco's brother Robert Yanus became a Devils season ticket holder when the team came to New Jersey and would take DiMarco or his wife Marge. When Marge died in 2011, DiMarco went to all the games. Then Robert moved to South Jersey and the commute to every game became too long, so he transferred the tickets to DiMarco's name and she began taking Garrett.
Garrett had always wanted to be in the service, but DiMarco urged him to get a bachelor's degree first, which he did. And when he came home from the Army where he served as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Specialist, he earned his master's degree and went to Devils games with his mother.
"Most sons when they get to that age they don't really want to hang out with their moms but he was my buddy," she said. "He was really good to me."
Now it's her husband Chuck who goes to games with her. But when the season was approaching, she asked Robert to let everyone that they see at games on a regular basis know what happened to Garrett so she wouldn't have to answer all the questions. Some people with the team already knew. The Devils sent flowers to Garrett's funeral.
"It was the most beautiful arrangement for the funeral," DiMarco said. "I sent a thank you card to the organization but I didn't even know who to address it to because I don't know who sent the flowers."
When word made its way to guest services, the Memory Makers took care of the rest, giving DiMarco a special gift during a painful time.
"It wasn't just the team, it was everyone around the team, the people you see all the time when you go to games," she said. "They did a wonderful thing."