Contemplating tragedy – again – at Oklahoma State

18 Nov

Over the years, I’ve taken solace in the fact that flying is statistically much safer than driving because the air is so much less congested than the streets and because the “drivers” have to go through extensive training.

Once something happens, though, all that goes out the window. To the Oklahoma State basketball program, it has happened twice.

When the news broke this morning, the suddenness of it hit me. Out of the blue, a coach and an assistant coach are gone. But more than that, someone’s dad, son, husband is gone. Someone’s daughter, sister, aunt is gone. It is so hard to fathom because these coaches go on recruiting trips all the time. How many hundreds of flights on small aircraft had they made when everything had gone just fine?

Obviously, trying to make sense of “why” this happened is futile. That this accident struck a school who dealt with an even more extensive version of it a decade ago just makes the tragedy even more unbelievable.

The women’s basketball team’s two weekend games have been cancelled, which is the right move, I think. As it comes time to get out on the court again, it will be so difficult for those young women and the other coaches to be in the same place they always are, be surrounded by those they have adopted as a family away from home … and be missing two of their friends, colleagues, mentors.

The process of grief varies from person to person. For some, the reality may not sink in for a while. As the players get back on the court, life will seem a bit back to normal, like maybe Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna are simply still on the recruiting trip but will be back soon. For some, there will be a sharp, painful point when they recognize what this means, but somehow, some way, it will slowly fade as life goes on for everyone else. But they won’t forget.

January of this year was the first time anyone close to me had ever died. Every now and then, I still think about how I have not seen him in a while, how I would love to go back and chat with him again. Sometimes it feels like he’s still here, and I just haven’t had the opportunity to see him recently. When I follow my train of thought, the reality becomes harder to handle. If I think about birthdays, holidays, weddings that he won’t be at in the future, it makes my heart hurt.

Oklahoma State is hurting now. Throughout the process, I hope the women and men of the program and the university remember to talk about Budke and Serna. Not the general statements about how great they were, though those are probably very accurate sentiments, but the individual memories. The stories. The times that made them laugh or that made them grateful to have them in their lives.

Part of what makes coaches special is that they give so much of themselves. They teach. They care. They influence. By coaching young women for basketball but also for the daily difficulties of life in general, they have imparted their values to those around them. When someone dies, and you look at the people around them, that’s how you know what they really accomplished in life – the caliber of individuals they influenced.

In the long term, as those in the program and the families of Budke and Serna remember these coaches, as they think about what they can do to honor them in their daily lives, it is going to become clear that while they are no longer here, the impact they have made is not going anywhere.

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