Death, sports writing and my reconciliation

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

My family suffered one of life’s inevitable tragedies last week when my 39-year-old Aunt Trishelle died suddenly of a massive stroke. Earlier in the day, she had experienced one of those excited-about-life moments, proclaiming to my Uncle Brent, “It’s the first day of the rest of my life,” unaware as she spoke those words how brief that life would be.

Always the jokester in the room, Trishelle was the kind of wacky but devoted mother who was famous for standing in lines in the middle of the night in the dead of winter, attempting to buy the “it” toy of the season. Her greatest triumph was her acquisition of the coveted Furby a few years back. She knew it was crazy, but that was Trishelle.

On Jan. 30, her speech began to slur and she lost the use of her legs. After two hospitals, a life flight and several varying prognoses later – each worse than the one that preceded it – we were finally given the grimmest prognosis of all, the one that blindsided my family and reduced us into either quiet sobbers or bewildered zombies.

A young doctor who spoke in an ber-comforting near whisper detailed what had gone wrong in my aunt’s brain and then gently delivered the coup de grace: Trishelle had suffered a stroke and was in a coma, and the situation was irreversible. Tears flowed as reality dawned on us: My zany aunt would never regain consciousness.

I’ll spare you the details about the discussion of how to break the news to her 6-year-old son, “the apple of her eye,” or how at the funeral he was lifted up to the open casket to gaze one last time at his beloved mother before it was closed forever. Or how at the hospital, Trishelle’s mother plopped down in a wheelchair after hearing the news and, in deep frustration, declared that this type of thing shouldn’t happen: Parents should not outlive their children.

The following morning, I was scheduled to write a preview for the U women’s basketball game against Wyoming and, understandably, I lacked motivation. But, still in a bit of a stupor, I went into The Chronicle office anyway and did my job.

After submitting my article, I started to wonder what the point of it was. Why was I even writing about something as inconsequential as sports? Wasn’t there something more important I could write about?

Uh oh, I thought, quickly stopping myself before heading too far down this path. This line of thinking is death to the career of a sports writer. Every play is supposed to be packed with meaning. Every game is a revelation of one team’s superiority over another.

The preceding is what we sports writers must believe in order to carry on. If not, our work becomes hollow and meaningless. Our recaps of games become lifeless, bland paragraphs in which we rattle off percentages and statistics. After submitting our articles, we end up slinking away from our computers unfulfilled.

Late week, as my family sat in a holding tank at the hospital, waiting to be ushered into Trishelle’s hospital room to spend one final moment together, my relatives began sharing memories. The subject of how much she loved to watch her son Matt’s soccer matches arose, and how, unfailingly, Trishelle was the loudest voice, always the most conspicuous presence at his games.

Trishelle was a big sports fan. She loved the Jazz and the Utes, but mostly she loved to watch Matt play soccer. Her boisterousness was well known. She was unabashedly vocal and not the least bit shy about her loyalty to her kids.

Sports are a funny thing. They’re frivolous and, in a very real way, pointless.

But fun-loving Trishelle knew their value. Sports take our minds off the sorry state this world has fallen into. They unite communities and give us reasons to cheer and to forget. Sometimes, when the weight of the world is unbearable, it’s unburdening to put aside worries about the Iraq War and check up on how the Utes are doing.

Being a woman, people like to ask me, “Why sports?” It comes up so often that I admit my responses vary to fit my mood. But the real reason is this: News writing is too real. My one condemnation of our news writers, and you’ll soon see that it’s not much of a slight, is that what they write actually matters. Their stories have concrete meanings, whereas the pluses of the sports page are more abstract.

But in a world in which tragedies leave us stricken and fumbling to find a way to continue on, I’d rather write about how Morgan Warburton dazzled a Huntsman Center crowd. Or about how, after getting beaten every game by scores like 20-0 and 18-3, the Ute hockey team finally won its first game of the season – a narrow victory in the final seconds of a game against Metro State earlier this month. After the final buzzer, the Utes went berserk, meeting jubilantly at their goal, encircling each other and embracing in ecstasy. A lone Utah player skated loops around the rink, proudly brandishing a Ute flag.

My friend gave me an odd look when he saw that my eyes had welled up. The game meant nothing. The season would likely end with this one lone victory. It’s just that I know pure joy when I see it. And that’s why I’m going back to work.