On Tuesday morning at 5:30 AM, I shot awake like I had been shocked.
I don’t know why. My alarm wasn’t set to go off for another hour. But I felt like something was wrong.
The sky was a deep grey.
Once my alarm did go off, I did what I normally do – smash the snooze button, and scroll through Twitter. Then I saw what I had been dreading for the past three days. Or really, what I had been dreading for the past five years.
Pat Summitt had passed away.
I sat in bed, looking at the sky as it lightened from grey to white. I blinked rapidly.
I felt…well. I don’t know how I felt. A combination of a lot of things.
Relief she wasn’t in pain anymore.
Deep sadness that she’s gone.
Blind rage at a disease that eats at who you are on the inside before it finishes off the rest of you like an indiscriminate vulture.
It wasn’t a shock. I had found out earlier in the week that she hadn’t been doing very well, but I thought she had time.
We all think we have time.
How do you mourn someone like this? Is there a way to do it?
When my best friend’s mother passed away three years ago after a furious fight against a massive stroke, my then-partner walked in to find me curled up in a ball on the couch, shaking. He pulled me into his lap and I soaked his shirt.
This loss feels more like someone settled a deep ache in my chest.
How do you grieve someone like this, who is such a part of your life and yet is so different from your life?
I feel like my life is inextricably bound to Pat in a way I could never fully explain to anyone. It’s the way that when people find out who I am, their second question was ALWAYS “What is Pat Summitt like?” (The first question: “Is your Dad really an asshole?”)
I got so many text messages and calls from people on Tuesday asking if I was okay. I was. And I wasn’t.
I am. And I’m not.
I am profoundly lucky that when I was growing up, I had two immense examples of never looking at gender as an obstacle. One of those was my Dad. The other one was Pat. I wrote more about it in a blog post, but the only reason Dad could do half the things he could is because of Pat.
Growing up in CT, it was never even hinted that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. The first movie I remember seeing in theaters was A League of Their Own. I saw female athletes and their skills, saw Pat Summitt stalking the sidelines like a cat, and it was a no-brainer that these women were special. It wasn’t until I grew up and got into the world that I realized the entire world isn’t that way. That men would dismiss women’s sports not by blasting it or talking down about it, but by not talking about it at all. As a result of Pat’s death, two highly prominent journalists, Bill Plaschke and Kevin Blackistone, have written articles praising Pat Summitt’s accomplishments while condemning their profession’s treatment of women’s sports. Plaschke even wrote “I regret marginalizing Pat Summitt’s greatness.” It’s been an incredible thing to witness, these big time journalists talking about women in our sport.
I wish it hadn’t taken a dead body to talk about a woman in our sport.
We honor people when they’re gone. We need to honor them while they’re alive to see it. While they can remember it.
You can read about Pat’s accomplishments most places on the internet right now. My feelings are all over the place and I don’t know if paying tribute to Pat would work by trying to put them all into a list.
I’m just glad the bulk of my memories of Pat are of her when she was vital. I met her once when I was twelve, and she gave me a firm look in the eye that made me feel both terribly important and terrified at the same time. My sister got to see her a few more times, and of course my Dad’s relationship to her has been written about over and over again. I’m not going to break new ground here.
It sounds selfish. But I can’t think about Pat without immediately thinking of my Dad. Like it or not they are bound together in my mind. For twelve years they reshaped and redefined the game together. That’s what got me emotional – this confrontation of mortality and the lack of time we have. This whole year for me, personally, has been about staring down the barrel of the slow-loading gun of time.
I couldn’t help watching the coverage, watching everyone talk about how wonderful and important Pat was to the game of basketball. I saw a picture of my Dad talking about Pat, and I remembered they weren’t very far apart in age.
A pitch-black thought entered my head.
Is this a preview for how they’ll speak of my father?
When my father goes, how will they remember him? How will people talk about him? Is this how it’s going to be? Me watching ESPN as colleagues and friends share their memories?
The thought made my hands shake. They only tell you about the glory when you get famous. They don’t tell you about what happens when there’s nothing left of you.
As if he could read my mind, my dad said “you can’t control who talks about you when you’re gone.”
It reminded me of one of my favorite lyrics from Hamilton – “let me tell you what I wish I’d known, when I was young and dreamed of glory, you have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”
May we tell Pat’s story. Long may she live in the minds and hearts and mouths of all who love the game of basketball. May we do better by our young women and athletes, in honor of this great woman’s legacy.
It is the very least we can do.