Thursday, February 25, 2010

Skating Through Grief

Well if you are paying any attention to the Olympics at all, you know the heart wrenching story.  Canadian Figure Skating Champion Joannie Rochette's mother died suddenly of a heart attack shortly after arriving at Vancouver
to watch her daughter compete.  Tuesday night, just days after the loss, Joanie went out and skated her heart out, ending up in third place overall.

I have to admit I am finding it impossible to stay up late enough to watch skating to the end.  I think I might have to take a nap today so I don't miss the live ending of the Ladies Final tonight.  But I only watched the short program on DVR yesterday.
Yea um, no way should Miki Ando be ahead of Racheal Flatt with her cheated landings but whatever.

I think I also resisted watching Joannie's performance because I knew it was going to make me cry.  What really got me was the shot of her father sitting in the stands, alone when he should have been sitting there with his wife.  The painful combination of grief and pride etched into his face was just about too much to see.

People say "how could she go out and skate like that - I could never do that"  Well you don't know how  you will respond in grief until you actually go through it yourself.  Part of the answer is that elite athletes are not like you and I.  They have an ability to focus and shut out everything else that is beyond our abilities.  

But there is another answer and it is not that Joanie is so different than the rest of us.  First there is the shock and numbness from a sudden loss.  I had sprained my ankle a week before my husband died and was still using crutches.  The days following his death I literally "forgot" about the pain and walked around on it until a couple of days later I woke up and my ankle was the size of a football.  So it was probably actually easier for her to do this now than it would be a few weeks or months from now.   That's the thing about grief.  About the time everyone else thinks you should be "getting over it" is about the time it sinks in and is the most painful.

Also in grief you have choice.  You can withdraw into your grief and yourself and begin a descent into hell.  Or you can own the pain, but look forward and do what you have to do.  Honestly some days I think it took as much strength and courage for me to get out of bed and cook my children breakfast as it did for Joanie to take the ice the other night.   And so I admire and applaud her choice to skate.  Tonight whatever she does, whether or not she takes home a medal, she has taken an important step, she has refused to go down into the pit and decided to live.  The days, weeks and months ahead are going to be painful and difficult for her, but the strength she showed on the ice will get her through. 


  1. Great post, Joelle. Even if Joanie were not an elite athlete with a job to do, her decision to skate impresses me as a wonderful, fitting, and loving tribute to her mom. After all, both parents poured time, energy, money and passion into their daughter's career. Can't imagine her mother would've wanted her and her husband to bench themselves.

  2. I know that I can't judge how grief would affect her or me when I haven't been in that situation, and it might be different at different times. But I did think about the possible physical aspects of grieving, namely, missing sleep, and crying giving one a stuffy nose. Both of those might make it physically more difficult to do something like skating.