On the NFL
11:03 PM CST, February 11, 2012
On Friday, a mother and her four children will drive to South Bend, Ind., to place flowers by a mausoleum.
They will say a prayer.
They will drive away, break bread, and then they will turn the page.
That is how Alicia Duerson and her children — Chase, 28; Tregg, 26; Brock, 22; and Taylor, 16 — will mark the one-year anniversary of the day Dave Duerson took his life.
It has been a year this family would like to forget, starting with the disturbing text messages from Dave to Alicia that began at 3 a.m. on Feb. 17, 2011. "I love you. I always loved you. I love our kids," the first one read.
There were interviews with police. Suicide notes to read. Going through his belongings and putting his memorabilia in storage. Publicity. The will.
The memorial service. Selling the condo in Sunny Isles, Fla., where the former Bears safety shot himself. Bereavement counseling for all of the kids.
"I just wanted the year to be over," Tregg said. "I'm ready for a new one."
"It's just unbelievable to me that last year at this time, we were talking, he was here, and now he's gone," said Alicia, Dave's wife of 25 years before their 2008 divorce. "It doesn't even seem real. It's hard to even talk about it still."
The year has been particularly difficult on her. In August, she lost her only sibling, 63-year-old Frank Latimer, whom she said died from a blood clot caused by a bad reaction to medication.
"I think about Dave constantly because I'm raising our daughter by myself," Alicia said. "I think, 'What would Dave say in certain situations to make it OK?'
"(Taylor) struggles with it. She misses him a great deal. She's 16, you know. She feels lost. She can't go to him for advice. He won't be here to walk her down the aisle. Those things are hitting her very hard."
There are many reminders.
Every time Tregg sees any athlete wearing No. 22, which seems to be every time he is in front of a television, he thinks of his father.
Tregg listens to his father's songs on his father's iPod. The library is heavy on jazz; his favorites included Wayman Tisdale, Fourplay and Vesta Williams, who sang at Dave's 40th birthday party.
Tregg also reads from his father's bible, in which Dave left many notations. He marked his favorite verse as Isaiah 40:31, which resonates with his son more than ever.
"But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not be faint."
The Duersons also have found comfort in the kindness of others.
A letter from Lou Holtz, who coached Notre Dame after Dave graduated, surprised and touched them.
Otis Wilson, Dave's former Bears teammate and Brock's godfather, has been a rock for the family. He even accompanied them to Florida shortly after Dave's death.
Connie Payton, the widow of Walter Payton, and her children, Jarrett and Brittney, have helped the Duersons cope with having their ordeal play out in public.
Memories have helped sustain them as well.
The Giants' recent run to the Super Bowl title brought Alicia back to the 1990 season, when her husband played on a Super Bowl champion Giants team. That team, like the 2011 Giants, got to the Super Bowl by beating the 49ers on a field goal in the NFC championship game.
"It brought me back immediately," Alicia said. "Giants over San Francisco. I remembered the excitement we had at that time. It was a nice flashback."
Duerson never went to the White House to celebrate that Super Bowl, or the one he won with the Bears. After the 1985 season, the White House visit was canceled after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. After the 1990 season, the Giants didn't go because President George Bush was occupied with the Persian Gulf War.
So Alicia was thrilled to represent her husband when the 1985 Bears finally were invited to visit the White House last fall.
"Oh, God, Dave would have loved it," she said. "He talked about it every time a Super Bowl team was going, that he wished his team had gone. I'm so thankful the Bears let me go and represent him."
Alicia had a private conversation with President Barack Obama and was surprised and impressed that he knew a lot about her husband's circumstances and even talked about how he enjoyed watching him play.
More than anything, what has given the Duerson family peace was the Boston University study that confirmed Duerson suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease brought on by trauma. The 50-year-old shot himself in the heart rather than the head, and his last wish was that his brain be donated for study.
"You always wonder why somebody would take their own life," Alicia said. "You look for that answer. Boston University really helped us have closure on that."
Said Tregg, "I understand why he did it now."
One year later, the arduous process of coming to terms with it continues for the Duerson family.
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