I’ve pointed out before that I am a huge Iowa State Cyclone fan. I am also an obsessed March Madness fan, and I have it playing right now. Our guys lost to Ohio State today after a beautifully hard-fought game for the ages on a last-second three. I’d been wondering about something to write for a while, and it struck me that a loss in the NCAA Tournament like today has some similarities (in its own way)to loss in general, and really to the experience of losing Doria. I want to warn you right now, I started cutting ideas for fear that this would get long. When a writer says that, it means that it’s already going to be long. This gets long. You’ve been warned.
The loss is sudden and shocking. In the tournament, except for the most one-sided of games where it comes as a dull ache that finally ends, the loss so often comes in an instant. In the case of our guys today, we made a dramatic comeback, took a lead, then went back and forth until losing on a shot just before the buzzer. When it went in, there was nothing our guys could do about it. The game was over. The season was over. Everything they had been preparing for, working for, and fighting for was finished.
It’s different, of course, but not necessarily for them at their stage of life. It reminded me of the way we got the news. We were planning, preparing, and cruising along right until that moment of silence that should have been a heartbeat. In that moment, it was all over. Every bit of the preparation we had put into getting ready for Doria was shot. Doria wasn’t coming home with us. Dead children don’t do that. The whole thing came suddenly, right out of nowhere. Losing the game wasn’t an option, and losing Doria wasn’t an option.
You can do everything right and still go home with the loss. Our guys were tied, and it came down to our freshman defending their senior point guard. I’ve seen their point guard before, and he can’t shoot the three to save his life. Really. So our guy played to cut off the drive and force him to shoot the three, then got a hand up to defend it. Our guy read the play right and did everything right. The shot went in. Game over. Ugh. Our guys showed heart, ability, and bounced all the way back doing everything right. Then they lost, because that’s how March Madness works.
Our loss worked that way, too. If you’ve read other posts here, you know that everything went perfectly until the moment of silence. We accepted the shock of our lives when we learned my wife was pregnant, we were excited the whole way, made good plans, set up good processes for stuff we could, rearranged our home and our lives, saved up some money, lined up ways to make more to cover baby expenses, did all the stuff that needed done. The doctor called us his model patients, because we did everything correctly and happily. Out of nowhere, our baby girl died, because that’s how stillbirth works.
They both come with choices: Move on or not? Regret or not?
There’s no way to go through sudden loss without feeling horrible. Our guys didn’t walk off the court singing happy songs or grinning while they said “Man, glad that season’s over. This stuff wears me out.” They sat there crying. They tried to compose themselves for interviews. They cried some more. Just like we did. We cried forever, and made our attempt to run the hospital out of Kleenex. We buried our Doria. We had a funeral. Then we went on to mourn.
It all comes with a choice. Do we move on or stay defeated? Do we sit back with regret over the whole thing? To the guys’ credit, and it’s still new to them, they chose to talk about how grateful they were for the opportunity, and how proud they were of their teammates, coaches, and glad to be there for their fans and school. They didn’t take the opportunity to say, “Glad I wasted all that work just for this.” None of them acted like life was over, even though the season was over, and college is done for the graduating seniors. They’ll feel this for a while, but they made the choice to start the next part of living.
That was our choice, too, but it’s extremely difficult. We had jobs and things to go back to, so we did. We both had amazing employers that let us pick the time, but we had to get back to living. Sitting on the couch and crying still happened every day, but it couldn’t be the only thing we did. That was our choice, anyway. We made a choice not to look back at our excitement for Doria with regret. Neither of us wanted to look back at that wishing that it didn’t happen. For my part, I’m glad for everything right up to the moment of silence. I cherish every minute of hope that she (and God) provided. I love knowing that I retired undefeated in battles with my child (1-0). I love that we both responded like we always knew we would. I’m glad that we got to see all the ways God provided the things we would need, the money, and the chances we got to see people pour out His love over this thing. I love the excitement all over the place for the future that was coming. It still hurts that Doria died, but I don’t want to regret all that hope and excitement. None of it was wasted, and we learned so much. And we’re so ready for #2, if only September were here already.
It brings on a battle over memories. Do we dwell on what could have been vs. what was and what is?
The seniors this year all came from some tough circumstances that led to their transferring here. The one who had the toughest road tweeted something to our coach after the game thanking him for being there in the darkest days of his life and believing in him. Each of those guys called it the best two or three years of their lives. They spoke like brothers in their separate interviews. Each one showed the pain, but none of them were acting like it was a mistake or like they wished that they had gone down a different road. It’s still hard, and that loss will still burn at them, but they are acting like they wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ve had seven months now (I had to go back and recount—the loss really is becoming ‘normal’ now—odd thing to see) of chances to say, “This is what could have been.” We had Dori Bear there to watch the game today, and she’s ‘enjoyed’ four days of March Madness. This would have been Doria’s first time to see my obsession with the tournament without understanding a bit of it. That possibly would have lasted forever. Instead, I will never be sharing basketball with Doria. That’s not going to change. That’s one facet of the choice we make. I wish I could have shared the tournament with our baby girl who would (in her own way) wonder why her daddy cries over words she can’t know, like Florida Gulf Coast. I can’t. I never will. That does burn. It probably will next year, but that can’t be the end of it. The loss is always there, but so is life. I still have to deal with the rest of ‘what is’ and ‘what will be.’ I can wish for it to change, but this is what is.
So our loss was sudden and shocking, something we never saw coming. My wife and I did everything right, and our daughter still died. I don’t regret our choices. I don’t believe she does, either. I cherish all the looking ahead at what we thought would be, which is now what could have been. I love all of that. I miss it in the case of Doria. I’m glad to have it in terms of our life together, our working, our ministries, and baby #2. I wish it were different, but it’s not, so I wouldn’t have it any other way. Yes, it seems weird to say that.