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As I wake this morning of my 41st birthday — the first I will celebrate as a married man and living in Thailand — I want to write a bit about my cousin, Doug Jablonski, who passed away a year ago today from cancer.  I'm not very good at these types of memorials, so bear with me.

In a widely spread out family, I considered Doug to be the favorite of my cousins — he married the oldest daughter (Terri) of my mom's brother's wife.  They lived in New Jersey and Doug was a big fan of Bruce Springsteen, as was I.  In fact, Doug had seen Springsteen perform many times in the small bars of the Jersey Shore in the early to mid-1970's before he became well-known on a national basis.  He hadn't been to a show since those early days and, in December 2003, when I secured extremely hard-to-obtain tickets to one of Bruce's special Christmas gigs in Asbury Park I just knew I had to treat Doug to the concert.  We drove up from Absecon in the south early in the day; there had been a huge blizzard a couple of days before (the Saturday night show had been postponed to Monday and Sunday night — the one we had tickets for — had almost received the same fate).  Doug knew some of the "historic" sites like where the marker was at the corner of E Street and 10th Avenue and we checked out the boardwalk, taking photos of Madam Marie's and having a drink at The Stone Pony (Doug urged me to climb onstage to pose for a photo).  Once we got inside Convention Hall and stood admidst the crowd before the doors of the auditorium itself were opened, I pointed out Bruce's black SUV parked opposite of us and then we could see various band members and special guests (including Jon Bon Jovi) making their ways to the entrance.  We secured spots on the floor, about 30 feet back from center stage.  The show itself was fantastic but this isn't really the place to write about that.  It was probably the greatest concert I've ever attended (and I've seen Bruce live a number of times); it was also the last weekend I saw Doug alive.

A year ago, I was en route to London for another concert (Marillion) when I received word that Doug had passed away.  As soon as I'd collected my luggage at Gatwick I was sitting in an internet cafe booking flights so I could attend the funerals back in New Jersey.  There were three in total, including a small service at his local church and a much, much larger full police funeral in a school auditorium.

Doug was an officer with the New Jersey State Troopers (as was his wife Terri) for many years.  Among his accomplishments there were stints as Master-At-Arms, Business Manager for the State Troopers NCO Association, he assisted in post-9/11 recovery operations at the World Trade Center site, and he worked several Presidential security details.  He was well-liked in his community and active in the church.  A bit more information can be found on the Web here and here.

I think of Doug quite often but last night I happened to be watching the official DVD of Springsteen Live In New York City which includes a brief clip of "Blood Brothers".  Already an emotional song (and even more so as performed as the last tune of the last show of the very long tour, the only time it was played live in 1999/2000), watching it this particular time brought back a flood of emotions and memories about Doug.  I will always remember Doug's passing on my birthday and honor him with a prayer on this day.  I do miss you Doug, my cousin, my friend...