“A group of people with different skills and
different tasks, who work together on a
common project, service, or goal, with a
meshing of functions and mutual support.”
A group of different people, who “work together” and offer “mutual support”. This is one of the most comprehensive definitions of the word “team” that I have ever come across. Having worked as a coach for many years and as an employee of one of the nation’s military academies, I have always been on the lookout for how to be better at developing the team concept. One thing that is particularly important to me is to teach athletes how to care for their teammates. It seems like it should be a simple thing to teach, but that is not always the case. And I wish I could say that all of my teams were known to be caring and selfless towards one another, but that is not the case either. But I have a recent example of what can happen when coaches and teammates invest in one another and care for one of their own. It is life changing.
This is a picture of our daughter’s college volleyball team taken August 2012. This was the day that the athletes and coaches went through their team building process to set the tone for the season. This was also shortly after Mike’s surgery in Boston and diagnosis of liposarcoma. Our daughter was a sophomore on the team at the time. She is second from the right in the back row. You can see a smile on her face but as her Mom, I can see the pain in her heart.
Mike’s cancer battle coincided with the volleyball season. Due to Mike’s physical limitations, he was no longer able to attend the matches. And so we watched many on line from home. When possible, I went to as many matches as I could. It was hard to take those first trips alone and to walk into the gym by myself. But it was always made easier by the bright smiles and hugs from players, coaches, parents, and the college staff. I felt welcome. Mike received cards in the mail from the coach weekly. Her daughter became Mike’s pen pal of sorts, sending him all kinds of pictures and notes to brighten his day:
These pictures were hung where they were easily seen and the inspirational messages were enough to make us smile and carry Mike through another day. In the meantime, our daughter was suffering much anguish in being away from her Dad during this challenging time. She came home on Sundays to visit and returned to campus with a heavy heart for another week. In the gaps, her teammates and coaches reached out to her and reassured her that they were there for her. In time, she learned to allow them to care for her with the kind of support that only true teammates can offer.
Mike’s health continued to decline throughout the volleyball season. Sadly, he passed away in the hospital the end of October, the last week of the regular season. It was a chaotic time. The day that Mike died, the state was facing the after effects of super storm Sandy. There were power outages, trees down, flooding, and destruction. But we had been kept safe within the hospital walls. We literally had peace within the storm. After our final good byes, it came time for us to leave the hospital, but we didn’t know where to go. Molly, and I did not have the energy to go home to a house without power or heat; and to the oxygen tank, walker, and hospital bed. So we ended up at our place of quiet – the lake. There was power there. And peace. We were so tired. I went to the bedroom and fell asleep immediately. I woke up to the sound of voices and dishes, and smelled food. Molly’s teammates and coaches had arrived. They made dinner. And since it was Halloween, they handed out whatever candy they could find in the house, eventually giving out granola bars. I laugh when I think of the whole scene. A couple of teammates stayed over. And stayed close to Molly. I don’t remember those days very well. But I do remember waking up at various times, always to the sound of the team. They returned again and again, to feed us and to show us that they cared. Sometimes I didn’t even get up to greet them. And that was OK. They came in, cooked and visited with Molly, and then left quietly. Always leaving a plate of food for me. I honestly don’t know if we would have eaten anything that week had they not been there. I have never experienced fatigue like that before. And this all took place at the busiest time of the volleyball season. A time when coach’s minds are on preparing their team for post season play and doing a whole lot of paperwork. It certainly was not convenient for the coaches or the team to make the time to care for us.
We waited a couple of weeks before having Mike’s memorial services. Rebecca needed time to heal after giving birth to Caleb and our family in NJ was hit hard by the storm. We settled on the week of Thanksgiving; a busy week for everyone but we had few options. We were deeply touched by the commitment of the volleyball coaches and team to drive down for Mike’s wake. They came. And they stayed. THEY SHOWED UP. They ate with us. And then they drove back to school. The next morning, they came again; to the church this time. They gave hugs and they stayed. THEY SHOWED UP. All this during a time when they were finishing up projects, taking exams, and making plans to travel home for Thanksgiving. Once again, they offered us the gift of their time, their love, and support when it certainly was not convenient for them.
I have not yet found the words that adequately express my gratitude for all this team has done for us. Their support carried Molly through the first year without her Dad. And they continue to care for Molly on a daily basis, walking with her through the many ups and downs of grief. They are patient, compassionate, and forbearing. And as they care for Molly, they care for me.
This is how I choose to end my 31 (+1) days of Thanks. To the coaches and staff of SCVB, past and present, and to the athletes; may you experience the mutual love and support that you have shown to us over this past year and may you know deep in your hearts how grateful I am to you for standing in the gap. #RollPride
“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12