After Kay Yow’s funeral in Raleigh last Friday, I was talking to someone about when “the hard part” really begins for people following a significant death in their lives. People, of course, process things differently, but one can assume that for the N.C. State staff and players – plus the extended family of former players – the hard part might actually start in the coming weeks or months.
Immediately after a death, survivors usually have the opportunity to share their grief in settings that help buffer them at least somewhat from the enormity of the loss. Then, life continues in its mundane and yet relentless fashion … even if the grief-stricken aren’t ready for it.
Perhaps the best way to deal with that is to remember what the person you’re missing taught you about life.
Yow meticulously planned her funeral service, which was a rousing, passionate testament to and confirmation of her evangelical Christian faith. I don’t follow or endorse any specific religion. I’d guess that some readers of this blog don’t, either, or they practice something other than Christianity. But the positive, uplifting personality traits that Yow showed even in the most trying, painful times of her life are traits that can be admired and emulated regardless of what religious views a person has.
Although, the “emulating” part is a struggle for many of us. At one point in the service, Yow’s pastor explained that a guiding principle of her life was to “let your gentleness be evident to all” and that she was always trying to never sound harsh to others.
Which is a pretty darn difficult thing to do if you’re a Division I basketball coach. How do get your point across to players without ever sounding harsh? How do you send a message to the referees?
I was sitting in a portion of the mammoth church auditorium where many of Yow’s coaching colleagues were also seated. And at that point in the service, I thought, “Some of these coaches have to be hearing this ‘gentleness’ thing and thinking to themselves,’Uh-oh. I’m not very good at that.’ ”
But how many people are? Frankly, it would be an impossible goal for most folks – no matter what their profession – to try to aspire to be as successful and as “gentle” as Kay Yow was in her career and life. And it’s unrealistic. It’s just not in everyone’s personality to be that way, no matter how hard they’d try to be like that.
So maybe the important thing is to try to bring as much gentleness to your behavior as you reasonably can, especially in situations where – when you think about it – we tend to be needlessly harsh.
That is something to remember during the upcoming “Think Pink” initiative in women’s basketball. Kay Yow brought a powerful spotlight to the battle against cancer, but that light also illuminated the characteristics that made her so beloved by the many people whose lives she impacted.
Trudi Lacey,who played at N.C. State from 1977-81, sent me an e-mail that was a “letter” to her former coach. Lacey, who at one time worked for the Charlotte Sting when that franchise was in the WNBA, is currently the women’s hoops head coach at Queens University of Charlotte. She said the letter was something likely all of Yow’s former players would have written, and she asked me to share it with people.
Dear Coach Yow,
I write this letter to you with a heavy heart _ not for you, but for me. I know that you are OK because you are with the Lord. My heart is heavy because I will miss you. Not only me but all who knew you. You are one of those rare people who comes along only once in a lifetime, you are a treasure.
So when the treasure is gone, you immediately and profoundly feel the loss. Coach Yow, we feel the loss, all of us who are in your family, your Wolfpack family, whether we played for you or not. We miss you.
We for sure will miss you roaming the sidelines and cheering on the ‘Pack. But we will miss your laugh, the way you told a story like nobody else. The way you ended every sentence with, “You know what I mean?” Coach, we knew what you meant every time because we held onto every word.
We will miss the way you brushed away your hair when you were explaining something important, or how you always walked like you were in a hurry, or how you would forget your keys or your checkbook but knew every detail of every play or every defense.
We will remember your toughness, your dedication to a cause and your gentle spirit. We remember to fight for what we believe in. We remember to fight when the odds are against us. We will remember to think of others and to take time to listen. We will remember to put the needs of others before our own.
We will remember because you gave us the biggest testament of all: the way you lived your life. And, Coach, we will remember what we have: You, in our hearts and in our minds. The depth of your soul lives in our souls. Your strength, your courage, your faith.
Cancer knocked, and you answered. Cancer kicked, and you kicked back. Cancer came again, and you stood tall. The greatest gift you have given all of us is to stand tall in the face of adversity, to stay steadfast in hope, faith and love no matter what!
Your love for life, your love for others, your love and passion for what you did, a love for God that surpassed all things, your desire to give it all you had and to be your best all the time and to do it in love is the greatest lesson of all.
Coach, I should have told you all of this sooner. My lesson for the rest of my life is to ask the question. Take a moment to ask the question and listen to the answer. Be still enough to remember what is most important.
My biggest regret is I should have asked you more questions. You always did that _ you paused for others, and that is what made you a great coach. You did what most of us only hope to do: You lived your life your way, you did what you loved, in a place that you loved, and with people who loved you.
We can only hope to take the “assist” from you, take the ball and win “the game” in a manner that honors you! We love you, Coach Yow.