The challenge is still daunting, one Graham Snyder will face for the rest of his life. How do you turn your 25-year-old son's death in a senseless car accident into something positive? How do you forgive the reckless man behind the wheel, the superstar with his foot to the floor, the survivor?
Snyder and his wife, LuAnn, have been crisscrossing North America finding the answers and spinning them into a message about positive thinking and forgiveness. It's their way of honoring their son, Dan Snyder, who died Sept. 29, 2003, after riding in a speeding Ferrari with Dany Heatley in the outskirts of Atlanta.
The Snyders are visiting the NHL's 30 cities in a borrowed RV in an effort to raise $1 million for the Daniel Snyder Memorial Fund. The money is going toward a rink in his name in their hometown of Elmira, Ont. The pain is going nowhere, but they soldier on with their message tonight in HSBC Arena when the Buffalo Sabres play the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"It's taking the positive out of life's circumstances no matter what they are," Graham Snyder said this week by telephone. "Sometimes, they're pretty hard to find, but really that's all we can do if we're going to heal. No, it's not easy. It takes a lot of support, a lot of help, to do that."
It takes a lot of courage and compassion, too, which is what they've shown since the day Heatley crashed into a brick wall and iron fence while the two played for the Thrashers. He was spared prison time largely because the Snyders pleaded for a lesser sentence. One life already was lost, they told the judge, let's not ruin two.
Heatley has suffered, but he also has continued with the blessing of the Snyder family. He had a hat trick for the Ottawa Senators against the Sabres on Wednesday.
Graham Snyder made it clear the journey isn't about reliving the tragedy. It's also not about Heatley, with whom they expect to visit this weekend in Ottawa. It's about celebrating a life cut short and reminding parents to appreciate their children.
They've treasured the little things, the sights and sounds of hockey, while meeting people their son touched along the way. They've received letters from around the world, heard from forgotten teammates and former coaches. And they've met parents who also buried their children, the only people who can comprehend the depth of their grief.
"It's another source of great strength," he said. "It's a club you end up in that nobody wants to be in, but there are some pretty amazing people in it."
Their visit to Buffalo is hardly a first. Graham Snyder played junior hockey for the old Buffalo Tondas, based in North Tonawanda, in the mid-1970s. He took Dan and his other son, Jake, to several games at Memorial Auditorium when they were kids, remembers the cheap seats and the steep slope of the oranges. Jake Snyder is a lifelong Sabres fan.
Former Sabres forward Ric Seiling coached Dan in Owen Sound, Ont., where he became good friends with Sabres forward Adam Mair. Mair is a regular at the Snyders' golf tournament, and a frequent family contributor.
Years ago, Graham and LuAnn Snyder's dream vacation was traveling the continent and visiting every NHL arena at their own pace. This nightmare has taken them on a different mission, one that makes their world a little brighter as they turn a tragedy into the ultimate Pay It Forward. It has helped ease the pain of a wound that will never close, helped them keep the memory of Dan Snyder alive in the years following his death.
It's finding something positive. It's finding a way to forgive. It's finding a way to live.