Football Player's Public Grieving Teaches Us About Dealing With Loss

Posted on Oct 18, 2013

Two days after he lost his son to alleged child abuse, Minnesota Viking running back Adrian Peterson played football. A recent article in Sports Illustrated explored the notion of how athletes are viewed as "superhuman" for returning to the playing field so soon after a tragedy, which would be considered unfathomable for an "every day" grieving parent.  In example after example, the article chronicled stories of athletes returning to compensation days after losing a loved one.

The article also cites Freud, who referred to grief as "work," and Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross, who proposed five stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  The premise is that grieving takes time, and time away from the normal life routines like school and work.  However, a more recent study cuts against the long held beliefs, and argues that humans cope quite amazingly after a traumatic loss.

Professor George Bonanno of Columbia University cited his study that found little evidence that grief is totally incapacitating.  Resilience is the normal response to loss.  Granted, this is one study, and one of human behavior.  We do not know the methodology, or the basis of the findings. It is also important to keep in mind that nobody is suggesting loss of a family member is a trivial matter.

Competing against the conclusions of this study are long-held social norms that discourage a quick return to normal rhythms after the loss of a loved one. Some might even consider showing up to work days after losing a spouse or family member downright insensitive and disrespectful.  But as Peterson noted, his return to football was "something that I always fall back on."

We have met with families over the years who of lost love ones due to someone else's careless behavior. It's difficult to sit down and discuss the facts of a case so soon after a tragedy, but we find that in a lot of cases, people want to talk, and they want someone there to listen.  Each family we have worked coped in their own way, and what works for some may not for others. 

One thing we have seen consistently however, is that some "work," whether it be therapy, going right back to the routine, or pier support, goes a long way.

Joe Di Bartolomeo
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