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How We React To Tragedy

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Editor’s Note: I wrote this before seeing Blez’ Monday post. However, I am publishing it anyway because while I am writing on the same “topic,” the two posts have little in common other than the basic topic itself.

Joe Kennedy’s sudden and unexpected death forces us to confront far more than our own mortality and the basic fragility of life. It also forces us to look at how we process tragedy, and hopefully to remember that there is no right or wrong way, right or wrong time, right or wrong reason for the grief you do or do not feel.

Perhaps you were affected by Joe Kennedy’s death as if you had known him personally. Baseball is a wonderful sport in that you truly become acquainted with each player’s face, personality, and quirks, and over the course of a long season you feel as if you know them. It’s ok to blur the “as if” with reality. Grief is like that – you get to decide.

Maybe you only experienced the sympathy you would for anyone who died young, and for any family left behind to mourn, but felt no particular emotional connection to this stranger who had a chance to live many people’s dreams. Maybe tragedies closer to home, or your grief for the millions around the world each year who die younger and poorer, have tapped you out emotionally and you just don’t have room to grieve for Joe Kennedy right now, or maybe ever. That’s ok too. There are as many ways to react to tragedy as there are people left behind to react.

Which brings me to Tony, who was a bad dog. A very bad dog. And I mean this – Tony was the only Golden Retriever I have ever met who was truly mean. He fought with other dogs, and he really had no conscience or loyalty that we could ever see. He also barked and growled only at babies in strollers, men with beards, and black people. That’s right – he was a racist dog who hated babies. But I was 12 and I loved him, even though no one else did, because he was my dog,

One day Tony escaped as I opened the front door to greet a friend, and in typically willful fashion he ignored my yelling and disappeared into the neighbor’s backyard. There he found some turkey laced with strychnine, planted there by a neighborhood kook who hated dogs. My search for Tony ended when he came trotting out of the neighbor’s backyard and dropped lifeless at my feet. As my friend looked on, horrified, I looked at Tony and said the first thing that popped into my head, which happened to be, “Play dead – good dog!” About a week later, I gazed out the window and saw the car Tony usually sat in when my family did errands, and instinctively I looked for him in the back seat. And that’s when I cried, and cried, and cried.

That’s how I deal with tragedy: I tend to go numb until it hits me, and then it’s going to hit me when it’s going to hit me. I’m still numb over Joe Kennedy’s death. Over the weekend, while lying in bed, I was haunted by the image of Kennedy collapsing in the middle of the night, until I suddenly pictured the 911 call being delayed because a family member shouted, “Don’t worry, everyone – that’s just his pitching motion!” Spontaneously, I burst out laughing – partly because what I will always remember most fondly about Joe Kennedy is his pitching motion.

Perhaps some day next Summer, a manager will call to the bullpen for a pitcher who’s wearing #37, and instinctively I’ll expect to see Kennedy’s face and it won’t be his, and that’s when it will hit me. For you it will play out differently, and here I’m speaking to all of you. That’s because there is truly no right or wrong way to grieve. There is just a wrong way to die and it is at the age of 28.