RIP? Not if you’re a Chicago Cubs fan in a play­off year

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Don Bab­win

If you want to know just how im­por­tant the Cubs are to Chicago, a good place to start is at the end.

In a city where fans have been known to scat­ter ashes of the dearly de­parted at Wrigley Field, fam­i­lies of those who could no longer wait ‘till next sea­son are plant­ing Cubs pen­nants and flags at the graves of loved ones or send­ing them off to the great beyond with Cubs hats and jer­seys in their cas­kets.

Rest­ing easy has never been easy for Cubs fans, after all.

Take the fam­ily of the late Nor­man and Florence San­ders. Rel­a­tives are mak­ing sure they can still do what they did their en­tire lives: Root for the Cubs.

“One of my daugh­ters went and bought a W flag and about a week ago went to the ceme­tery and put it there with them,” said Terry Ann Ar­riaga, whose fa­ther died the year the Cubs came within five outs of reach­ing the World Se­ries back in 2003 and whose mother passed dur­ing spring train­ing this year.

As the Cubs try to reach the World Se­ries for the first time since 1945 and win it for the first time since 1908, Chicago is awash in Cub­bie blue and red. Chil­dren head to school decked out in Cubs gear and many grown-ups are do­ing the same at work. “Fly the W” flags are wav­ing from car an­ten­nas, porches and mu­se­ums, while bak­eries are top­ping dough­nuts and cook­ies with the Cubs logo. Death no­tices with the names of spouses, chil­dren and grand­chil­dren now some­times have a few words about the de­ceased’s de­vo­tion to the lov­able losers.

“In lieu of flow­ers, go to a Cubs game and raise your glass in mem­ory of Mary,” wrote the fam­ily of Mary E. Fick­en­scher after she died in June.

James Apos­tolopou­los’ fam­ily not only wanted to peo­ple to know that he’d fought in the Bat­tle of the Bulge dur­ing World War II but also cheered for the Cubs. Ken­neth Mueller’s fam­ily hon­ored his wishes by bury­ing him in a Cubs T-shirt and his death no­tice last month asked those at­tend­ing the wake to try to “wear Cubs’ at­tire.”

And when Jane Anne Del Carlo Barredo died, the only thing writ­ten of a life that be­gan in Illi­nois in 1930 and ended in May in Cal­i­for­nia was this: “Jane loved Je­sus and the Cubs.”

Such a con­nec­tion might help ex­plain a sus­pi­cion among Cubs Na­tion that the re­cently de­parted are some­how watch­ing the play­offs — and maybe do­ing more.

When Miguel Mon­tero hit a late grand slam in the first game of the Na­tional League Cham­pi­onship Se­ries against the Los An­ge­les Dodgers, “my daugh­ter texted me and said, ‘Grandma’s up there pulling the strings,”’ Ar­riaga said of her mother.

Dur­ing the tense opener of the di­vi­sional play­off se­ries against the San Fran­cisco Giants, Sharon Thomp­son said her daugh­ter-in-law started pray­ing to Ge­orge Thomp­son, who died on June 1, to see what he could do.

“And what do you know, (Javier) Baez hit the home run,” she said.

The team is well known for break­ing the hearts of its long-suf­fer­ing fans. But the Cubs reached the NLCS last sea­son, too, and raced to the best record in the ma­jors this sea­son, giv­ing fans a fresh jolt of hope and, for Thomp­son and oth­ers, a very real way to ease the grief.

“We just feel like the only way we can get through this emo­tion­ally is by say­ing he is here with us spir­i­tu­ally, en­joy­ing this so much,” Thomp­son said.

Peggy Ku­cia’s sis­ter, Carol Flana­gan, died in April after decades of pulling for the Cubs.

“You want to say, ‘Oh, she’s prob­a­bly happy up there,’ but I think she’d be (an­gry),” Ku­cia said. “She’d be say­ing, ‘I sat here (at Wrigley) for 30 years and no­body would even come to the game with me. And now it hap­pens?”’

For all the talk about how dead fans now have great seats for the games, there are some things Ku­cia can’t ex­plain. For weeks and weeks, no­body in the fam­ily could bring them­selves to use Flana­gan’s sea­son tick­ets. Then Ku­cia’s brother and nephew thought they could emo­tion­ally han­dle sit­ting in those seats along the third base line in the up­per deck. So what hap­pened? “The first game they go to and a Cub hit­ter sent a ball into my nephew’s lap,” Ku­cia said. “Hand to God. My brother started cry­ing, my nephew started cry­ing.”

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A replica of Wrigley Field’s out­field ivy walls, four sta­dium seats and a home plate called “Beyond The Ivy,” is the fi­nal rest­ing place for the ashes of nine Cubs fans at the Bo­hemian Ceme­tery Wed­nes­day in Chicago.

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