New Year's Day is supposed to be a time of hope and optimism, but it could not have gotten off to a worse start for Laurie Brocher.
While revelers worldwide were still out partying in the early hours of January 1, she found herself grieving by the bedside of her husband, Don, who had succumbed to complications arising from his leukemia.
For 41 years, Don Brocher was the New England Patriots' equipment manager – nearly the entire time the franchise has been in existence – and for 23 of those, he and Laurie shared their lives as husband and wife.
Each year, Don's equipment manager colleagues across the league would hold their annual meeting at different locations around the US. Very often, the group would invite spouses to come along, and when they didn't Don usually brought Laurie along anyway.
"We would make a little vacation out of it," Laurie explained this week.
Her favorite spots included California and Florida. Over the years, she'd become friendly with at least a two of the other manager's wives and looked forward to seeing them at these annual events.
With Don's passing, it appeared her days of traveling to new and different places for the meetings were over.
Then, in mid-February, she received a surprise phone call from someone at NFL Properties, the league off-shoot that organizes the equipment manager meetings. They were inviting her to attend this year's gathering in Nashville on March 5, where Don's colleagues were going to honor him with their first-ever lifetime achievement award.
Laurie described her reaction as "shocked… overwhelmed."
"They flew me down... I felt like a queen!"
At first, she was unsure if she was expected to say anything, so, she simply went on stage, took the award in her hands, and began heading for the stairs. Someone then asked if she'd like to address the group, and she gladly did.
"Don was a quiet man, but I'm a social butterfly!" she laughed.
"I didn't really know what to say, though. Then I remembered how much Donnie loved a song called, 'Carry On.' So, I said, 'We just have to keep carrying on, because that's what Donnie would want us to do.'"
Her tears began flowing freely. The room gave her a rousing applause and showered her with hugs and affection. The plaque they gave Laurie now rests in the living room of their home. That unexpected gesture appears to be helping make 2013 a little less difficult for Laurie.
"The support has been unbelievable," she noted. "It's like he's on my shoulder every single day."