The Olympic Spirit

As a person who normally goes to bed between 8:30 and 9:30 pm, the Olympic schedule is taking its toll on my sleeping patterns. Every morning I walk the halls of the college needing toothpicks in my eyes as I look for my co-workers who are as big of fans of the Olympics as I am. I usually start the conversation with, “Did you see……last night?” Part of me hopes that they did so we can revel in the memory together, and the other part hopes they didn’t so I can describe in second by second details how exciting it was to watch history being made. One of things I really enjoy about the Olympics is the athlete profile stories that are shown just a few minutes before the competition begins. It’s amazing how many of them mention a loved one who has died in their list of inspirations.

The announcers are still reciting their recollection of Misty may-Treanor, beach volleyball sensation, scattering her mother’s cremated remains in the sand court in Athens four years ago. The rumor is she has scattered another vile in the sand in China. I guess that’s one way to see the world, albeit you don’t know it and aren’t enjoying it.

Then there’s the amazing story of Track & Field athlete Lopez Lomong. He escaped death in Sudan as a child, but his parents thought he had died even though they never found a body. They erected a grave site where they could go to mourn him, only to find out years later that he had survived.

And other headlines read , “US Team Plays for Grieving Coach” , “Hungarian Canoeing Champion Dies at 36” , and Hope Solo, Olympic Soccer player talks about her father’s death and how she never really dealt with it.

It’s amazing how the living seek the approval of the dead. Just because a loved one is lost it doesn’t mean that they lose their hero status with us, we still wonder if they know what is happening in our lives, and if are they proud. I’m reminded of the movie “The Sixth Sense” near the end where the mother knows her little boy sees dead people. He tells her, “Grandma told me the answer to your question is, “Every day.” He said, “What did you want to know, Mom?” Crying and barely able to speak she said, “Is she proud of me?”

Helping Your Friends Through Tragic and Sudden Loss

If you had a friend whose mother died of cancer and daughter died in a car accident would your respond in the same manner, probably not. I started thinking about this after the recent loss of a family friend in a house explosion. Did I talk to the family and respond differently because of the way he died? I did. First, because of his age, he was 20 years old, and second because of the manner in which he died. I teach about sudden and tragic loss in my Death & Dying course, but thankfully I rarely have the opportunity to put it to use.

Here’s a few thinks I reminded myself that may be helpful to you as you respond to those who have had a sudden and tragic loss.

1. Shock makes people speak very slowly, so be patient. Don’t finish the person’s sentence for them even though you think you know what they are going to say. Instead, let them complete their thought in full.

2. Don’t ask for details. When someone dies of cancer we know why they died. But when someone dies in an accident we want details. What happened? What went wrong? How did this happen? What are the police saying happened? On and on it goes. The grieving person will tell you what they want you to know, don’t be nosey.

3. Speak softly. I have often talked with grieving people and can’t hear them. I have to really concentrate on what they are saying. I tend to talk loud (O.K., I don’t tend to, I talk really loud), so I remind myself to keep my volume at the level they are speaking to me at.

4. Don’t force yourself in the situation. You can offer to bring by food, pick up family at the airport, etc. but it may not be needed. Everyone is jumping to help when a tragedy occurs, but taking control isn’t necessary helpful. It can actually alienate you from the situation and the people you want to help.

5. Be wary of the media. Don’t repeat what you are reading in the media. It may or may not be accurate, or give the entire picture of what happened.

6. Don’t make judgments about the event. Within hours of the house explosion mentioned above there were rumors of a meth lab as the cause all over the internet. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, these were good kids that died in the house fire; it truly was a tragic accident. BUT, had it been something else it wouldn’t have changed the fact that the families still needed help and compassion.

Here’s an additional website that I found on this topic with great information about how people dealing with sudden and tragic loss may be feeling including a feeling of helplessness, a sense of meaning, and blaming ourselves or others.