His bags are packed. The passport is ready. Forms are filled out. The money is in the account. And they’re off.

My rugby player is heading to the United Kingdom for ten days of sport, travel and some general mischief and rabble-rousing with his friends. It’s the trip of a lifetime when you’re just 15 years old.

But it’s bittersweet, as life often is. His team’s rugby jersey bears the number 14 on the sleeve, a tribute to the memory of one of his close friends, Matt, a classmate and former rugby teammate who passed away earlier this year.

Their friendship goes all the way back to the playgroup at the Elora Cooperative Preschool, through the elementary school playground, the rugby field and hockey rink, to the glorious days of youth spent wandering their hometown free of schedules and parental supervision, leaping off bridges into the Grand River, getting into mischief – exactly as childhood should be.

On the day we lost Matt, it was a small group of boys from the rugby team that showed up at our house to collect my son and head down to the park together to help each other through their grief. I remember watching them walk down the street in a pack, heads down, shoulders slumped, keeping a steady pace together. Boyhood turned to manhood with every step. They were lost and found. I stood at the window and watched them go. Tragedy would end their innocence, but I believe it will solidify their friendships forever.

Life makes no sense to me. Loss makes no sense to me. But the image of these teammates, brothers, friends for life – that does. None of them will forget that day. All of them understand the significance of wearing the number 14 on their jersey. It’s more than a gesture of respect. It’s so much more.

These are the moments when you realize that you’ll do anything for your kids. So, after telling my son in September that we couldn’t afford to send him on the UK trip, we did whatever we could as a family to make it happen by Christmas. I was late to the gate, late to help fundraise, to even get a passport arranged. But a rugby club is a family and they made room for one more. And with the support of my family and special friends, my number 6 will fly across the pond with that number 14 on his sleeve.

And while he won’t speak of it or show it outwardly, because that’s not his nature, I know the significance of this trip is not lost on him. That alone makes it worthwhile.

Rugby is a brutal sport and one I am only beginning to understand, (watching with my hands over my eyes), but I believe this sport has given my son an outlet and a circle of friends like no other sport has before – and for that, I’m grateful.

Teamwork, respect, winning and losing, learning how to tackle and be tackled are all important life skills if you ask me. Doing this with friends? Priceless.

You may think I’m going to cry when I put my son on the bus bound for the airport. You’re wrong (I’ll cry later, like in the lane at the drive-thru). I’m excited to send him on his way. It’s his time. And this trip is more than a gesture of what a great man he is becoming. It’s so much more.