Grief: The TB12 Way

February 4, 2018

I like to think that my daughter Leyden was an athlete.

 

 

My little fighter was determined as heck- she could get her right arm free from even the best of swaddles. She managed to poke it through her Baby Bjorn on walks.Even when at the hospital on morphine, swollen and hooked up to more machinery than one could imagine, when the nurses would position her arm downward for circulation purposes, Leyden somehow flipped it up and overhead. She had a goal and was going to find the strength to attain it, regardless of her condition. (Insert proud mamma face).

 

We called the day of her heart surgery "Game Day." And the subsequent, unexpected surgeries (one more heart and two abdominal) were termed “overtime”, “double-overtime” and “triple overtime”. Each intervention brought risk. Each risk she overcame, persevering through adversity at times when they thought it was impossible. The focus of her final battle was to remove fluids from her body so a bottle with colored water sat on the edge of her bed. It was filled with to the correlating volume of fluid that the Team had successfully removed. Next to it was a sign: "Win the Day! Get that fluid off Leyden!" We set goals, we game-planned, gave pep talks and we did the best we could to execute.

 

 

 Nurses used compression to keep her arm down. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leyden had other plans. 

 

 

My connection to sports extends beyond motherhood. I grew up spending Sundays watching football and eating nachos (shocker), playing on youth teams, captaining my high school teams and then competing at the Division One level. I coached all levels from youth and special olympics to high school and collegiate development. Now, sports are my line of work, personal hobby and chosen form of entertainment. I have preached, at length, that competition is about more than the actual game. I  encourage athletes (and spectators) to lessen attachments to outcomes and rather align attachment to process. I spent years articulating my priority of athletics as the development of life skills. Sports were an opportunity to practice for the ultimate game- the game life. 

 

Yet after losing Leyden, the game of life was not one that I wanted to play. And sports certainly felt meaningless. I stared the at empty, cruel and cold path of grief, convinced there was no persevering. After holding my daughter in my arms as I heard her last breath, my world was shattered. This was the ultimate loss. A comeback seemed impossible. 

 

Enter Tom Brady.

 

After Leyden passed away (2014), I was training for the Boston Marathon, to run in Leyden's honor.  When Leyden was alive and doing well, I promised her we would cross the finish line together, running for Boston Children's Hospital. And when I looked at her and made such a commitment, I didn't specify conditions under which this would occur. Now it was my turn to walk the talk- to let go of attachments to outcome as I had previously challenged so many others to do. 

 

 

My connection to sports predated and extends beyond motherhood. I grew up watching football on Sundays and eating nachos (shocker), playing on youth teams, captaining my high school teams and even competing at the Division One level. I’ve coached all levels from youth and special olympics to high school and collegiate development. Sports are now my line of work, personal hobby and chosen form of leisure pastime and entertainment. I have preached, at length, that competition is about more than the actual game. I encourage athletes (and spectators) to reduce their attachments to outcomes and instead align attachment to process. I’ve spent years positioning the development of life skills as the key priority of athletics. Sports are an opportunity to practice for the ultimate game- the life game.

 

Yet after losing Leyden, the game of life was not one that I wanted to keep playing. Sports certainly felt meaningless. I stared at the empty, cruel, cold path of grief, convinced that persevering was futile. After holding my daughter in my arms as we heard her last breath, my world was shattered. This was the ultimate loss. A comeback seemed impossible.

 

Enter Tom Brady.

 

After Leyden passed away (2014), I began training to run the Boston Marathon in Leyden's honor.  When Leyden was alive and doing well, I promised her we would cross the finish line together, running to support Boston Children's Hospital. When I looked at her and made such a commitment, I didn't specify any conditions under which this would occur. Now it was my turn to walk the talk- to let go of all attachments to outcome, as I had previously challenged so many others to do.

 

I needed to spend long "runs" on the elliptical machine due to injury. This made an already miserable task, more miserable. I passed the hours watching special recaps of the 2001 Patriots season. Maybe I was desperate to find something to inspire me. Maybe it was a connection to my core belief in the power of athletic experiences. Perhaps it was a combination of the two. Those hours of watching interviews and game highlights did not merely get me through my workouts. They inspired me to make the changes necessary to take control of my situation and to be the very best version of Leyden's mom. Realizing I could, in my own way, still fight to be her mother, motivated me to reenter the game of life.

 

I read books, articles and watched more specials. Among all of the different resources, the TB12 (as well as the Patriots Way) stuff applied to my grief journey most consistently. It felt productive. It fueled my healing. It offered strength. Ultimately, it taught me some fundamental strategies that would help me set and reach my goals. It may seem hard to grasp how a football team and quarterback could help me (a non-football playing female) deal with grief. In order to fully understand, you have to realize that football, or grief, were the variables. The constant became the approach- the process. The best processes are designed to encourage a person to be the very best version of themselves. Once one becomes their best self, they can fully commit to a goal. For some, the goal may be football championships. For others, it is simple survival after the loss of one’s child.

 

Regardless of your pursuits, here are some TB12 take-aways to support you in your quest to heal, to grow and to strengthen:

 

- Position yourself to feel your best physically. You cannot expect to perform well if you’re not fuelling yourself with the substances that allow you to. After losing Leyden I ate whatever made me feel good emotionally, but it wasn't necessary nourishing.  Once I discovered that my capacity for healthy emotional function correlated directly with what I fed my body, I realized I was way too shattered and broken NOT TO fuel well. Think about it: if on my "best" day of grief, I was feeling 50%, I couldn't afford to further reduce that energy level by eating crap. So in my brokenness, I sought to counter the emotional turmoil by strengthening my nutritional input. Currently, I feel comfortable with an (estimated) balance of 75% -25%. It's likely that TB is more of a 99.9-.01 or 100%-0. But that's why I am writing a blog from a modest apartment and he's In Minnesota getting ready for the Super bowl.

 

- KNOW your job. This is different than the popular phrase of "Do Your Job." Knowing your job can actually be harder than doing your job. In my line of work I have many conversations about roles and jobs. One that always stands out was when a parent paralleled their child's struggle with Tom Brady not being able to run the football well, but still starring as the Patriots quarterback. I pointed out that while that was true, he didn’t serve as our running back. My point was that we should be positioned in a role that aligns with our skill set, and we can't be skilled in every capacity- and that's perfectly ok! Assess your skill set, determine your goal and figure out what your job is, then accomplish it in a manner consistent with your abilities. As I faced a path that tempted me to surrender and lay down, I ultimately concluded that my job was to navigate through grief without letting grief win. I had to find a way to honor my daughter and let her impact be lasting and positive. Once I knew that, I could assess my skill set, which I concluded was athletics and staying active(shopping was a close second).  I certainly wasn't going to impact others positively by painting, designing, sewing, singing, dancing or baking. So, I needed to know my job before I could DO my job. “Hello marathons!”

 

- Learn. Watch film, journal, review, observe, reflect, improve, move forward. These are all ways in which we can be honest with ourselves about what is working well, and what adjustments need to be made in order to progress. It is being vulnerable in a way... yet ultimately gaining strength through that vulnerability. I believe this is where the myth of "it gets easier after a year" comes from. Spoiler alert: Grief doesn't get easier and if you know someone grieving, don't tell them that it will. Here’s what DOES happen: after experiencing anniversaries, holidays and other triggers, one can reflect upon what serves as the best supports for them when facing these unavoidable milestones moving forward. By truly identifying what you need to do your best- be it adjusting plans (or plays), not forcing things, taking advantage of an opening, scaling back, pushing harder etc. you can manage the challenges of a football game, or grief, more naturally.

 

- Draft your teammates. The biggest mistake I made in my grief journey was underestimating both the POWER and NECESSITY of teammates. We cannot do this alone. We cannot expect every teammate to be able to execute and fill all of our needs. In athletics, we often say we must exploit the strengths of every player in order to reach success. To do this in grief, we need to figure out the roles and abilities of those around us and diversify our network of supports.  Some are really great at listening, (without interjecting, projecting or judging). Some are great at distracting. Others excel at getting stuff done. Some people (my grief counselor called them "x-ers") aren't necessarily good to have by your side as they might like the drama or chaos more than anything. Even they can serve a purpose - since they're good at spreading what they see, let them see only what you want the world to see, in a way that works for you. TB12 has certain players he goes to for consistency and reliability, others for running plays, still others for big plays etc. Draft your own team. Know who can make each "play" at a given time, then make the call. This relates to watching film too... you can assess who is going to deliver when you need someone to listen, someone to laugh, someone to entertain you etc. etc.

 

Unlike the game of football, the clock doesn't run out on grief. There isn't a scoreboard letting you know if you won. Arguably, there is no "beating" grief. But if you position yourself to feel your best, identify your goals and your skill set, while utilizing teammates who can help you along the way, you can truly navigate the painful and unforgiving territory of loss. Be your own GOAT. There is a powerful energy behind grief. Find a way to channel that power into your own comeback, in honor of the one you love. If you need a little inspiration, there are plenty of elliptical machines where you can plug in and pass the time watching a 2001 Patriots special.

 

Be Your own GOAT.

Build Your Team.

Go Pats!

 

 

Unlike the game of football, the clock doesn't run out on grief and there isn't a scoreboard letting you know if you won. And arguably, there is no "beating" grief. But if you position yourself to feel your best, identify your goals and your skillset  while letting in teammates who can help you along the way, you can truly navigate the painful and unforgiving territory of loss. And you can do so in a way that allows your to be your own GOAT. There is a powerful energy behind grief. Find a way to channel that power into your own comeback- in honor of the one you love. And when you need a little inspiration, there are plenty of elliptical machines where you can plug in and pass time watching a 2001 Patriots special. 

 

Be Your own GOAT.

Build Your Team. 

Go Pats!

 

 

 

 

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