After losing her husband to cancer two months ago, Luz Bove couldn’t bear to put up a tree or lights for Christmas.
Bove, 43, of Massapequa Park, told her children, Vincent Jr., 12, and Ava, 8, that this year would be different without their father. Under pressure from her kids, she put up the tree Thursday, but only strung lights and hung two ornaments for her husband, Vincent Bove.
Vincent Bove, an Emmy Award-winning camera operator for NBC Sports, died in October at the age of 54 after a three-year battle with salivary gland cancer.
Luz Bove said Thursday that she was still trying to gather presents and warned her kids they might not have as many gifts this year while she juggled work as a program manager for Northwell Health’s HIV Care program.
“It’s hard. This is the holiday that’s the hardest. It encompasses the end of the year, but it’s because I knew this was a special holiday for all of us and he loved it,” Bove said.
What Bove didn’t realize was that the team at Northwell’s Long Island Jewish Hospital Valley Stream had collected $1,700 in cash donations they'd used to buy gifts to help make her family's Christmas a little easier.
She walked in Friday to a table full of Barbie and Encanto dolls, an Easy Bake Oven, a framed Derek Jeter poster and autographed New York Rangers gear. Wrapped with the presents were four box seats to a Rangers game and tickets to Disney on Ice, featuring Encanto, at UBS Arena in Elmont.
'Makes it a little better'
Bove welled up with tears Friday as she was greeted at the hospital by staff to help her wrap gifts for her kids, who were in school.
“I wondered, 'What makes me so special?'” Bove said. “This makes it a little better for our first Christmas without him.
"This year snuck up super fast and I don't think I was ready to do it. I know it’s not about me, and I know Vin would be super happy to know I don't want to sit around moping. We can either cry that he’s not here or we smile and laugh because we know you actually had time to be loved by him.”
Chris O’Brien, the hospital’s chief financial officer, said he heard Luz Bove speak at a Hispanic Heritage event while her husband was at home in hospice care, just three weeks before his death.
'Something to offset the pain'
He said he was struck by her strength and thought of his own wife, who battled cancer, and his 8-year-old daughter.
“I wanted to do something to offset the pain of not having their dad here for Christmas,” O’Brien said. “I don’t know if I would have had the courage to come back in the manner she’s done, sporting an infectious smile.”
Bove, who has worked for Northwell for more than 10 years, thought she was ready for her husband's initial diagnosis, she said. But even doctors were surprised to find he had the same malignant tumor that took the lives of baseball player Tony Gwynn and Beastie Boys performer Adam Yauch.
Vincent Bove lost his father when he was 15, and he had vowed to be there for his children, coaching his son’s Little League and hockey teams. Luz Bove recounted Friday how her husband fought to remain with their family.
As her husband went through treatment, they decided not to tell the kids until last July, when his cancer worsened and the prognosis gave him only a few months left to live. Doctors had exhausted treatment, and he was sent home to hospice care Sept. 10, exactly 10 years to the day they had first moved into their Massapequa Park home.
'Happy birthday sweetheart'
The family knew Ava’s eighth birthday was approaching and prayed he would hold on. Her son was confident his father would hang on, even though he had mostly lost the ability to speak.
Vincent Bove survived another three days, through Ava's birthday. That morning his daughter hugged him, then surprised to find him still there when she got home from school.
“She said, ‘I just need Daddy to wish me a happy birthday before he goes to heaven’ and stayed by his bedside for 30 minutes. She kept whispering, ‘You need to wish me a happy birthday,’ and he finally whispered, 'Happy birthday sweetheart,’ ” Luz Bove said. “Then she said, ‘Daddy can go to heaven now.' ”
As Christmas nears, Bove says she still sees signs of her husband, when his favorite song, Wham’s “Last Christmas,” plays or the kids see a cardinal, which they take as a signal their father is visiting them. And she said she felt her husband with her Friday at the hospital.
“I’m a true believer that things don’t ever happen by chance,” she said. “You never realize the support around you. Sometimes it’s shocking how much support you actually do have. I know if I turn around and extend a hand out, I’m going to get more than one hand back.”