He looked away as his eyes filled with tears. “It’s harder than people think. Nothing prepares you for it.” That’s how Jay Scott described losing his eight-year-old daughter Alex in 2004 to a rare form of cancer. He and Liz Scott keep their daughter’s legacy alive through Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, but it does little to ease the pain. “Every parent has felt the sense of overwhelming despair for a few seconds when they think they can’t find their child in the mall” is the way Liz Scott describes it. “Now imagine that feeling never going away.”
I know far too many parents who have lost children. The age matters not. If it is a son or daughter of yours, he or she is your child. My nephew Dan Logan lost his three-year-old daughter Joanie when she drowned in a crowded Mail Line pool last year. Bobby McGowan, a Delaware school teacher, lost her son Stephen to an I.E.D. in Iraq in 2006. I saw the same debilitating grief in the eyes of both.
I have seen that same grief in the eyes of parents who lost their children to a traffic accident, murder, suicide and drugs. As a TV reporter, I have met far too many parents after they have lost a part of themselves. Losing a child has been likened to losing an appendage. I have been assured that it is much, much worse. It is like nothing else. It is the worst thing that can happen to you.
It is because of more than a hundred interviews with parents of children who have died that I can share some insight into what the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and his family are going through right now.
How 29-year-old Garrett Reid died is of little importance except to the morbidly curious. It is that he died that is all that matters. The suffering of his parents will be the same, deep and lasting. Andy and Tammy Reid and their family need space and time to heal. Both will be in short supply from an insensitive media and some fans who think of Reid only as a coach and not as a father and a human being.
Andy Reid will blame himself for his son’s death. It is the normal thing to do. He will blame football. He will attempt to suppress both feelings, but they will always be there. I know it is close to sacrilege to say this in Philadelphia, but football doesn’t matter right now. Only Andy Reid and his family matter right now. That is the most important thing for all of us to understand.
The death of a child is all-consuming and it never goes away. I can say with certainty that Andy Reid will never be the same. There will forever be a hollowness that cannot be filled. For some, talking with friends fills the void, others need to be alone with their own thoughts. Some move away to avoid all memories, others surround themselves with pictures and mementos in an eternal shrine. Some go back to work in hopes that the distraction eases the pain, others blame the work and find another existence. The path is different for everyone, but the grief, the guilt and the emptiness are the same.
All the Reids need is our support. Nothing they do will be wrong or right, it will just be their way of trying to bear the unbearable. What they don’t need is questions and second-guessing from those who can’t imagine what they are going through.
Andy Reid is going back to work. He will be back on the Eagles sideline this year. Remember that the Eagles are more than a job to Reid. The coaches, staff and players are his second family and will help him get through this. Going back to work may not be the way YOU would deal with the death of a child. But YOU cannot and should not question the way another man grieves.
Eagles fans have always been known for their passion, now let us be known for our compassion.