Friday, July 14, 2017

The perspective on loss and losing

      It took the death of a young woman to again shake me to reality and consider what is really important.
      Athletics -- especially baseball this time of year -- isn't it.
      Life is, how we live each day, how we count our blessings. And for us, our kids and grandkids are our greatest blessings.
      I did not know Christina, but I know her father, Gary. He was one of those (many) good kids from long ago, one of those kids -- with year-younger brother Jerry -- who took part in our games in the neighborhood and on the school grounds.
      They lived closeby. We knew Gary and Jerry's mother and father, and liked them, and after they split up, we liked the mother's new guy, Pete.
      So on July 8 -- Saturday of last week -- the first thing I saw on Facebook that morning was a photo of Gary and his daughter, with this post:
      "This is me with my child Christina, a child that I wanted and waited for and loved with all my heart. A child that I had to say goodbye to July 6th.
      "The part of me that wanted to keep her with me was Dad, the part of me that knew I had to let her go because of the cancer and pain was Father. So I cried deeply twice, once for me and once for her."
     Christina was 33, the mother of a beautiful daughter, Piper.
      I loved the name of the place where Christina died, as was included on the memorial page dedicated to her: Apple Valley, California.
      Feel for my old friend (but not as old as me). Feel for all my friends who have lost their own children.
      We experience death so often now, increasingly so it seems the older we get. It is tough enough to lose parents, parents-in-law, spouses, siblings, our friends from way back and more current ones, co-workers. And I empathize, too, with my friends who have lost their parents in recent years.
      All of it hurts some. But to lose a child ... oh, gosh. I think that's as tough as it gets.
      Could not get Christina -- and Gary -- off my mind this past week. So I wanted to write, but needed Gary's OK before I did so.
      And it made me think back to a list of losses of young people, and the parents I have known for so long and include some really meaningful friends.
      Jubilee and David (both teenagers), Lydia, Jason, our precious Amy and Jimmy -- the last three the same age range as our son Jason. Back to the late 1960s and our military guys in Vietnam -- Glenn, Trey, Harold, Eddie. And on a personal note, the baby (Melissa) my wife-to-be never knew.
       We can't forget.

       And the causes: gunshot accidents, murder, cancer, death in childbirth, complications from surgery, war explosions, an umbilical cord gone wrong.
       Tragic, all of them.
       Now for perspective, I turn to my world of athletics -- and journalism.
       When I read or hear of someone describing a team or an individual's loss as "heartbreaking," that's terrifically overblown. When it's someone "living and dying" with a team, that is ridiculous.
       If I ever wrote "heartbreaking" to describe a loss -- I tried not to -- I apologize.
       More perspective: My baseball team -- "the premier franchise in American sports" as I like to call it, irritating the "haters" -- has been awful the past month. It is discouraging, it is aggravating, it is -- to be truthful -- about what I expected the season to be ... until the team's good play the first two months teased us.
       I don't watch on TV or computer much -- less stressful that way. But I follow the progress of the games.
       "I wish it wasn't that important to you," my wife tells me. I remind her this team has been important to me for 62 years; all my teams are important to me.
       So with each loss -- and there have been 18 in a month's time -- I might sulk or rant ... but only for a minute, or five minutes. That's it. Then I go on to walk, read, write, talk with Bea, or -- yes -- even help with the chores around here.
        It's not that important anymore. I don't grieve these type losses. They're not heartbreaking.
        But Christina, and the others ... yes.
        Which brings me back to Facebook. In recent weeks, Tim Madigan -- in my opinion, the best writer/reporter among a lot of talented ones on news side at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in our time there -- has been posting about a new book he co-wrote with Dr. Patrick O'Malley: Getting Grief Right.
        "I think it could be the most impactful book I've ever written," Tim told a writer for a story in the Crookston (Minn.) Times, his hometown newspaper. And among Tim's several books are a couple on his friend Fred Rogers -- Mr. Rogers. Hey, neighbor.

        Tim explains, in part, the purpose for the book.
        "One big reason is the universal reality of grief," he said in the story. "If we live, we will lose someone. But for those who grieve, the world can still be a very lonely, difficult place."    
        My wife said to me: "This is a book we need to read."
        My friend Gary, in a note to me Thursday, told of seeing his Christina through her cremation service.

        "It was difficult and I had to 'cowboy up' to get through it," Gary wrote me, "but she deserved to know I was there at the end. Everyone is different, but for me there was not a person on earth who could have made me feel better. I did not want to have to go through a service and have to smile and console people I hardly knew when I wanted to put my fist through a wall.
        "My family was gracious enough to understand that and gave me space, just letting me know that when ready or needed they would be there."
        Here is how Gary ended his Facebook note on July 8:
        "For my daughter and for me ... do something nice for someone else today in her memory."
        He told me Thursday: "... A few responded that they did, and mentioned her during their good deed. That was what I needed to hear.

        "So for those who want to help recover from the loss of a loved one, do something and let them know what you did no matter how small, other than giving lip service. Like a pebble in the water seeing the ring of good deeds in your child's name is the only thing that made me feel better."
         We grieve about the people we've lost. We count our blessings. Do something nice for someone today.
Christina's memorial page:

Story on Tim Madigan and Dr. Patrick O'Malley's book:


  1. From Doug Bland: I reached out to Gary this week. He is now a member of a club, like Frances and I, that no one wants to be a member of. Hopefully he'll begin to deal with the grief and seek some help when the time is right for him and not when other people suggest he needs it.
    One short note from my journey. I was reading a book by, of all people, Jimmy Buffett the summer Jason died. In the middle of one chapter he explained grief and it has stuck with me ever since. Grief is like the wake on a boat when it starts. At first it is large and makes the boat slow. But as the boat gains speed, the wake gets smaller. It never goes away, but it is smaller. That explains my journey with grief.
    Thanks for another great blog. I will remember this the next time LSU loses [in football] to Bama. It's not the end of the world.

  2. From Ross Montelbano: Gary, I know that you don't remember me and other than your days as the Weatherman [on KSLA-TV, Channel 12, Shreveport], I don't remember a lot about you. However, I read your words and they are not only touching, but so appropriate in today's world. We all have our ideas of what is wrong with the world, but few of us understand what can be right with the world, and that is being kind to people.
    As a Christian, I choose to believe that everything happens for a reason. The death of a child might result in a law requiring children to be put in a safety seat in a car or a researcher trying one more time to cure cancer. The death and donation of organs results in someone inspiring others, which in turn changes the world for the better.
    What you did to honor your daughter has affected Nico, me and countless others. I am so sorry for your loss. God bless you and thank you for taking this moment in your grief to remind all of us of what is important in life. You're a better man than most of us for doing this. Take a moment to be kind to yourself.