NHL Player Colby Cave's Widow Recalls His 'Fast' and 'Traumatic' Death in Moving Essay
By Paige Gawley
Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images
Emily Cave is reflecting on her late husband's life and death. In an essay for ESPN, Colby Cave's widow writes about his April death, which came less than a week after he suffered a brain bleed and was placed in a medically-induced coma. The NHL player was 25.
Emily begins her essay by writing about the days leading up to her husband's death, when they returned to Canada amid NHL shut down due to the coronavirus. The couple had been spending time in California, where Colby was playing for the Edmonton Oilers' AHL affiliate, and returned to Canada to quarantine with her parents.
Days before Colby's death, he got a call from Oilers assistant GM Keith Gretzky.
"Keith told him, 'When the NHL returns, we're going to have you come, Black Ace,'" Emily recalls. "It makes me so happy that Colby knew that. He was going back up to the Oilers, and he'd be an injury away from playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Keith was actually the last person to talk to Colby, besides me."
That night, though, things begin to go downhill when Colby started complaining of a headache and said he was in "a lot of pain."
"Colb was never sick. He didn't get the flu, never caught a cold, he was the epitome of health," Emily writes. "I messaged my sister, who is a nurse, and started looking things up on Google. Colby said, 'It's probably just a migraine.' I remember saying, 'What if it's not a migraine, Colb? What if it's a tumor?' He calmed me down and told me it probably wasn't that."
The hockey player got "significantly worse" throughout the night, though and vomiting "about four times." By the morning, he was "mumbling," so Emily awoke her parents saying, "Something's wrong with Colb. I feel it in my gut."
"By the time the ambulance got there, he was hypothermic and completely unresponsive. It was so fast, so traumatic," Emily writes. "Colby was airlifted to Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto and underwent surgery to remove a colloid cyst from his brain."
Despite "begging" the doctors to let her see Colby, even offering to "wear a diaper" so she wouldn't have to leave, she "wasn't allowed to be with him for any of it" due to coronavirus restrictions.
"I remember begging the doctors to tell me he was going to wake up," she writes. "'He's going to wake up, right?' There would be a dead silence after every time I kept saying it on repeat. It was all I could manage to get out of my mouth."
But, "within 14 hours of Colb first saying he had a headache, I was told my 25-year-old husband was on life support."
"It wasn't until Thursday, when the doctor told me that Colby probably wasn't going to make it, that I was finally allowed into his hospital room, to physically be with him one last time, to tell him goodbye," she writes.
Emily went on to describe all the reasons why she fell in love with Colby, the biggest of which was "his character."
"He wasn't just a good person, he was incredible. He always wanted to help other people. Every morning we had a mantra that we would say to each other: 'Be somebody that makes everybody feel like a somebody.' That's how Colby and I lived," she writes. "And even though he's no longer physically here with me, I know we are together, working as a married couple, and he's giving me strength from heaven to continue to inspire and help other people."
Despite their happy relationship, Emily reveals that she wasn't interested in Colby when they first became aware of each other in 2013.
"He found me on Instagram, we must have had mutual friends, and he liked my pictures and DM'd me for two years. Apparently he called me his Instagram crush in the locker room. He even told one of his teammates he was going to marry me one day. I had no idea who he was," she recalls. "I didn't really give him the time of day at first. I was busy doing my own thing. He lived in another province. Plus, I didn't really want to get involved with the hockey lifestyle."
"... One day, I liked one of Colby's photos with him and his two little billet sisters," she continues. "He messaged me again: 'Finally, I got your attention.' We started talking from there."
The couple began their relationship with FaceTime dates, during which Emily writes he was "polite" and "had this presence about him."
"In 2015, I finally visited him. He told me that day he was going to marry me," she writes. "I played it cool, but when I ended up flying back, I told all my friends and family, 'I'm going to marry this guy.'"
Emily and Colby began a long-distance relationship then, which they maintained until 2017. They got engaged the next year and tied the knot in July 2019.
Emily went on to recall the final hockey game she saw her husband play.
"We usually sat up in box seats, but one of the girls had tickets for ice level, so we decided to watch from there. I had never been that close to the ice before. Colby scored, and I was just so excited I was screaming and cheering like crazy," she writes. "During intermission, one of the staff members told Colb, 'You should have seen how happy Emily was after your goal.' Colby said, 'Darn it, I wish I knew she was sitting there, I wish I turned around and saw that.'"
Emily describes losing Colby as "unbearable," but writes that she decided to speak out about her feelings following her death because "if I wasn't vulnerable, if I wasn't honest about PTSD and grief, if I wasn't open about our story, I couldn't continue to be the wife who Colby married."
She also praises the NHL and AHL for their support throughout this devastating time, before revealing the meaning behind the memorial fund she and the Oilers set up in Colby's honor.
"The Colby Cave Memorial Fund supports community programs involving mental health and will help underprivileged children with access to sports," she explains. "Since we were married only a year, we didn't have a chance to have kids yet, but I know Colby would have been an incredible dad. That's one thing I'll miss the most, but I know he'll help so many kids through the foundation."
Colby played 67 games with the Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers from 2017 to 2020. He scored four goals and had five assists throughout his NHL career.