sports psychologist & clinical psychology

COPING WITH A REAL LOSS

Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Jul 1, 1999 – Dr. John F. Murray – While gaining better control over a fluffy yellow ball is a very serious matter to many, we are too often soberly reminded that winning and losing in tennis is nothing compared with losing a friend. Tragedy is never welcome and many tennis icons have departed far too soon including Tony Wilding, Vitas Gerulaitis, and Arthur Ashe.

While playing social tennis with Pat Cramer last week (1972 Wimbledon round of 16), Pat told me of the enormous respect he had for another great person that left us early, Tim Gullikson. Perhaps Billy Joel was accurate in singing about those who die young!

On a more local level, Bob Speed, a regular tennis partner of Tennis Server Editor Cliff Kurtzman, recently died while playing tennis in the Houston sun. He was only 58 and left the planet doing one of the things that he most enjoyed. This article is dedicated to Bob, his family, his friends, and to all of us who must find ways to cope with a real loss.

The Grieving Process

Much has been said about how we grieve. It is more likely that each person experiences their own loss uniquely. Still, human experience often conforms to recognizable patterns. Researcher Kubler-Ross is best known for describing grief as progressing through a series of stages beginning with Numbness and proceeding to Denial & Isolation, Anger, Depression and finally Acceptance. A more contemporary view holds that grieving involves the need to: (1) recognize the loss, (2) release the emotions of grief, (3) develop new skills and (4) reinvest emotional energy in the present. Although these theories are never exact, they can provide security and add perspective during difficult times.

Time Honored Tips

If assistance in coping with real loss is needed, professional counseling is helpful. Why go to the dentist twice a year for your teeth while neglecting your whole being all year? Whether you seek counseling or not, the following tips will help:

Grief Work is Not Done Alone – Although the experience of grief is unique and personal, the process of moving forward is enhanced by having others around. Whether you share your grief with others or just have someone listen, social support is essential. Discuss what the person meant to you.

Find Ways to Express Your Grief – Expression of grief is healthy and natural, and it is far more dangerous to try to bottle your feelings up. Discuss your feelings, cry, or write a letter to the deceased. This expression is helpful in moving forward.

Accept Your Feelings of Loss – Denying loss works in the short term by helping you get through the day. Eventually, and sooner rather than later, it’s a good idea to face your feelings of loss directly. The only real way out of grief is through it.

Engage in Activities to Honor the Deceased – If your friend loved tennis, hold a tennis tournament to honor their memory. If they were active in your church, have a special prayer dedicated to them. Find activities which symbolically put you in touch with what the person meant. Memorials create lasting reminders that are very helpful to those remaining.

Reduce Stress – Since you are already likely stressed from your loss, it’s important to monitor this stress and find ways to relax. Take days off from work if possible, go on vacation, exercise, or simply increase the number of evenings you play tennis!

Coping with a real loss requires more Mental Equipment than you’ll ever need to win Wimbledon. All the best to the friends and family of Bob Speed, and to everyone who must learn to live without their friend.

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