"I have no complaints," Canadiens icon Jean Béliveau says. "I'm a very fortunate guy, blessed with my health. Because I should be gone."
The last sentence, and the matter-of-fact way it has been spoken, almost takes my breath away.
But then I remember sitting in the Montreal General Hospital room of this grand gentleman some five months ago, three weeks after he had suffered a stroke. And I recall, alone for an hour that day with Béliveau and his wife, Élise, pushing away unthinkable thoughts.
Six months ago this past Monday, Béliveau and those closest to him would have been forgiven had they feared that husband, father, grandfather, a hero to generations of fans and arguably the greatest ambassador in hockey history might not be with us to celebrate another birthday.
"I knocked on the door," Béliveau says of the stroke he suffered on Feb. 27, "but it seems they weren't ready for me."