A few days ago I had an almost cutesy pre-Super Bowl post half-drafted. Then I learned that a friend’s mother died earlier in the week. All the reasons I’d considered writing about grief and the Super Bowl coalesced in a too immediate way: Death means loss. Loss creates grief. Grief carries sadness. And yet … everybody and their brother seem to be whooping it up in celebration … of a game.
I don’t have anything against football — my dad used to play for his college team. I mean no disparagement of anyone whose livelihoods depend upon the NFL, but I have zero interest in the outcome of this game. Patriots vs. Seahawks … Seahawks vs. Patriots … Who cares when people are mourning? The loss (or win) of a football game means nothing next to the loss of a loved one.
Whatever your game plan is for Super Bowl XLIX, take time out now to make sure your strategy avoids offensive moves that sideline mourners:
O — Open your home. If someone among your regular crowd recently lost a loved one, this isn’t the time to leave him or her alone on the bench. Make sure to draw once-coupled survivors near your home field where they’ve always been (or for the first time, if you’ve been more acquaintances than friends). Even a last-minute invitation is better than being ignored or overlooked during the lows and loneliness of loss.
X — X-out penalty terms. Never say “football widow,” (or “military widow,” “grad school widow,” or “hunting widow”) UNLESS you’re referring to a real widow or widower whose spouse died on the football field (or in the military, at a library kiosk, or tracking food for a family). To those whose spouses are dead, using such terms is insensitive and offensive.
O — Offer to carry the ball. Grief is heavy to bear alone. Acknowledge that you know your friend is mourning to help lighten that load. If it’s a loss you also share to a degree, so much the better, as long as you focus not on your own loss but on your friend’s. (If, for example, you also knew and were friends with the deceased, keep in mind that the surviving loved ones’ loss is deeper and more intense than your own.)
X — ‘ix-nay on the ‘atred-hay. (Nix on the hatred.) Especially for those whose loss is recent, the rancorous animosity of American football fans can grate on the already raw emotions of bereavement. How many times have you heard overzealous fanatics yelling “Kill ’em” or “Destroy ’em” about their opponents? Imagine hearing that shouted if your loved one has been killed or “destroyed” — regardless of whatever caused the death or however long ago it occurred.
O — Offsides is okay. Everyone reacts differently to grief. Like other annual traditions, Super Bowl celebrations can evoke as much pain as enjoyment in the bereaved. For some, attending tailgating parties may serve as a much-needed connection to a ritual enjoyed by their absent beloved ones. For others, attending the same gatherings may intensify their feelings of longing and sadness. Participating may feel great one minute and awful the next. Let your grieving friends know they are welcome — whether they decline, come, or stay — and that they can participate at whatever level is comfortable for them.
X — If your bereaved friend crosses him- or herself off the roster of participants in your game, you can still offer a halftime pep talk. Call (or text) during a commercial (or during a time out, if the commercials are more your thing than the game) to say, “Hey, I miss you, but I understand that you may need the quiet right now. Just wanted to say I’m thinking about you.” Even better, before the game, set aside a plate of whatever gourmet or out-of-the-bag snacks you’re serving. Drop it off either before or after.
Enjoy the game. And the commercials. But keep them in perspective — and don’t let your bereaved friends feel forgotten.