TigerBlog sat next to Lindsay Bates in the west stands for the Princeton-Elon men's basketball game last week.
Bates' son Chris is Princeton's head men's lacrosse coach. His 10-year-old grandson Nick was a few feet in front of Lindsay and TB, in his role as a ballboy for the Tigers.
Nick's friend was sitting next to him on the floor, a little to the right of the basket. Lindsay joked about the friend, saying that his whole life his two favorite things have been basketball and mops, so this is the perfect job for him.
For about five minutes or so, Lindsay Bates talked about his grandson, talked about his own life, about where he went to high school and college, how he'd been in education his whole life. It was normal, relaxing conversation, probably 65% humorous, punctuated by analysis of the game and the Princeton players.
And then, there'd be a pause, and Lindsay Bates would disappear for a minute or two into his thoughts, and the whole terrible reality of what was going on would come back to him.
Fight it off as he tried, it would never go completely away. And when it came back, it was just as stark, just as awful, just as unthinkable as it always was.
"She's not coming home," he whispered at one point.
Ann Bates, his 43-year-old daughter-in-law - wife to Chris and mother of Nick - passed away yesterday after fighting cancer three times in eight years, including twice since Chris became the Princeton head coach in June 2009.
A graduate of the College of William & Mary and UVa's medical school, she was a pediatrician who worked at A.I. DuPont hospital in Delaware after doing her residency at the University of North Carolina.
TigerBlog met Ann on the day her husband was hired. Three days later, the cancer that had been gone from her brain since her first bout, back in 2003, returned in the form of a leukemia, one that forced her to undergo a bone marrow transplant and then a hospital stay that lasted from early October until just before Christmas.
Eventually, the tumor came back to her brain, and despite a fight that included daily chemo treatments, she could not beat it a third time.
TigerBlog knew her to be a warm, friendly, funny person, and he cannot remember a moment that he spent in her presence that she wasn't smiling. Always. No matter what she was going through, which more often than not was something that gave her every reason to be upset, she always smiled.
She laughed easily, always offered a hug, always asked about TigerBlog Jr. and Little Miss TigerBlog, neither of whom she'd ever meet.
There are people you meet who give off a vibe that lets you know that they are simply nice. Ann Bates was one of them.
When TB spoke to Chris Bates last night, this is what he had to say about her:
"She was the most courageous, inspirational person I ever met. She hit every challenge head on. She was really just an inspiration."
Speaking of inspirations, TB can't say enough about Chris Bates today.
If Ann Bates was always smiling, Chris Bates was the way he always is - part smile part chuckle, part shoulder shrug.
It's the last of those that really stands out to TB, maybe because TB is somewhat the same. Shoulder shrug. The idea that it's not worth wasting time asking why; it's too important to figure out what to do next and go do it.
TB saw the same reaction from Bates when injury after injury train-wrecked his team's 2010 season, and it's been there this entire fall as well. Here's the challenge. Let me attack it as best I can.
And if anyone could ask why, it'd be the Bates family. Why her? Why a woman so young, a doctor, a wife, a mother.
TB never saw a hint of that in either of them. Instead, there was only resolve, determination to fight harder.
Eventually, though, the opponent was too strong. As anyone who has ever had a loved one pass away from cancer knows, it's a heart-wrenching process.
The treatment can be worse than the disease at times. Eventually, the doctors become less about healing and more about pain management. There is a sense of helplessness from those who are trying to be supportive in any way they can, and it was this sense of helplessness that was most apparent in TB's chat with Lindsay Bates in the Jadwin Gym stands.
Some lack the mental strength to keep fighting. Others - like Ann Bates, or MotherBlog 17 years ago next week - never lose that resolve.
When the end comes, it's never easy, though it often brings with it a sense of relief.
TB heard a hint of that in Chris Bates' voice last night, a voice that felt like his wife at least had found some peace.
As for Chris?
TB has no idea how he held it all together this fall. Every business conversation was business-as-usual; every personal conversation conveyed a man of great strength, great toughness, great pride.
Media requests? He answered them all, never letting on once what he was going through. Recruiting? He was there. Department meetings? Check.
And every email or text message that asked what he needed, how TB could help? Those all came back with the same response - thanks, appreciate it, will let you know.
TB knew that was the response he was going to get. He also knew that eventually, the message that came yesterday was going to come, that Ann Bates would have lost her fight.
Ann Bates was a courageous woman. There's no doubt about that. She fought as hard as she could for as long as she could.
And for the whole time, her husband was right beside her, fighting the way he could, while at the same time helpless to stop it, all the time with a toughness, a strength of character, that TB will never forget.