A Nation Mourns like Never Before… RIP Phillip Hughes.

This last week in Australia has seen a nation on its knees, mourning the death of a young man. Destined for further great success in the Australian Cricket Team. Phil Hughes was just 25.

Today as a mum, I stood at the cricket watching my boy play when a little knot of anxiety forced its way up into my throat. I reminded myself lightening doesn’t strike twice, does it? However it did because previous to Phil Hughes dying, 2 years ago a family in WA mourned their talented daughter who was struck by a hockey ball while playing the game she loved. Just yesterday, another tragedy occurred where a cricket umpire in Israel apparently died from being hit in the head by a cricket ball in an amateur league match. It brutally brings home that nobody not even the talented are immortal.

I’m writing this post because I want to understand why this death and not others has resonated with almost every Australian? Why have we cried over someone most of us did not know or had even heard off before last week?

As a mum of 2 sons both who love Cricket I was so incredibly sad about Phillip Hughes death. This is especially so when I think about his parents and his siblings. Those are the people who will talk about him long after the media have packed up and gone home, those are the people who will feel pain beyond what is imaginable. My heart goes out to them, especially when all the cameras disappear, all the flowers wilt and all the people simply stop coming, that is the time they will need our love and support most.

Having thought about it a lot and having talked about Phil Hughes to many friends and family over the last week. I think the reason we felt so deeply for this young man was because the following things that occurred together in a perfect storm. This perfect storm produced an outpouring of grief by a Nation like never seen before.

1. It was such a shock to us that anyone could die in Cricket. This game called Cricket is so entrenched in our culture, so safely familiar, it features fondly in our childhood memories and consumes our summer TV viewing. This game called cricket is almost a religion to many providing a place of worship and belonging. So it has been unbelievably hard to imagine that the game itself our religion, took one of its stars. In Australia Cricket is held up as the holy grail of sport this death has shaken our foundations to the core. Total and utter shock hit a nation and we didn’t know how to respond but shake our heads and say “I just can’t believe it.”

2. Phillip Hughes represented the Country lad who made it to the big time through passion and hard work. These values are the same values said to represent what it means to be a hardworking Australian. We hold these virtues sacred. Cricketers are often referred to as heroes and our Prime Minister knows them all by name. To be a Cricketer on the way up means you receive the respect of a nation (earned or not). In Phillip Hughes case it sounds like he earned the respect of many. Without taking anything away from Phillip Hughes, I wished the Prime Minister would have made a speech for Lizzie Watkins family about a young Woman, who gave so much for women’s sport. This young woman too embodied the same values of guts, determination and passion. Like Phillip Hughes she was richly talented with a bright future ahead of her.  So how could I not cry for this young life as I did for Philip? Maybe it was because Phillip was three quarters of the way to his dream. His sudden death meant the end of his dreams, his team mate’s dreams, his family’s dreams and a Nation’s dreams.  I wished I had taken the time to mourn that young woman’s dreams also.

  1. Did strong empathy play a role in why we related so deeply to this death? Strong empathy relies on us being able to identify closely with someone in a similar situation. Was Phillip Hughes easy to identify with? Did he remind us of our sons, our brothers or our husbands? Did we relate because he was a good Country lad that valued mateship and hard work? Did we empathise because he was in the media so much? Whatever the reason we did strongly empathise. Why then did we not feel the same level of empathy for the young man somewhere in Australia killed by another workplace accident? Is it because they didn’t feature in the media, is it because no one else made much of a fuss? Maybe it was because I could see my son every time I saw that footage.

  1. The final significant factor that contributed to our mass national grieving was the role of the Australian media. Along with the other reasons above the media has and continues to influence how much we identify with this death as opposed to other deaths of young Australians. I have seen some amazing pieces of writing that have made my spine tingle. Such beautiful words that his family can cling to in their loneliest hours. The respectful journalists and media outlets have helped the Nation and those close to him.

The others, the dark side of the media have let us down. The media outlet that filmed Phillip’s parents leaving the hospital after they said goodbye to their beautiful son need to know that Phillip’s Mum and Dad, (Greg and Virginia Hughes) will have that image etched into their brains as the saddest and most devastating day of their lives. I think as a nation of progressive people we can afford people some privacy in their darkest hours. The Media have obsessively bombarded us with stories 24/7 on this death. They have produced like stories as an opportunistic way to increase their ratings. This is so wrong on so many levels. Yes report respectfully, but sometimes less is more with regards to respect. I only hope the Australian media are respectful during and after the funeral of Phillip Hughes.

So I think I might have gotten a little closer to understanding why i felt so sad and a Nation grieved like never before or maybe I have just opened up more questions than answers.  I see people grieving all the time in my work but I never seen an outpouring of grief like that before by Australia. I hope once the media hype fades we don’t forget about Phillip’s family, Lizzie Watson’s family or Umpire Hillel Oscar’s family. I hope we don’t forget any family that has and is mourning the loss of a young person to sudden tragedy, because they are feeling unspeakable pain that needs to be soothed with thoughtfulness and love.

When you put your bats out this week #putyourbatsout be sure to place a hockey stick next to it and remember  and acknowledge all our beautiful young people who have fallen they deserve our thoughts.

 RIP Sweet Boy. 146158-af622a2c-74e7-11e4-b46b-0f98bfb215c4

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12 comments

  1. Thanks Tracey, for this very interesting article. I asked myself the same question as to why this particular tragedy received so much attention. You have answered that question very comprehensively and given me something to think about. I too, was appalled to see the footage of the poor grief-stricken family as they left the hospital after saying their final goodbye to their son. The media moulds our reaction to everything we read and see, but we should always be mindful of others all around us who are grieving for loved ones every day. I will always remember the day after Corey’s death when the headlines in the newspaper were all about the funeral of Carl Williams and the gold coffin in which he made his final journey. Boy…..did that make me angry? You bet. So while we grieve for someone we didn’t know, let’s never forget those friends around us who have loved and lost someone we did know. They too, were ‘heroes’ to their loved ones.

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  2. The similarities between the two accidents (Phil and Lizzie) are extraordinary. As a family we relived 48 hours in slow motion after Hughes was hit. There was never any doubt in my mind that he would not survive. Neither of the kids were saved by either wearing a helmet or not wearing a helmet. However the big difference was the media. We had a media pack gather outside the ICU at Royal Perth but made a conscious decision to speak to one outlet and only one interview on the condition that they left us alone. Then we told the media to back off. They asked if they could come to Lizzie’s funeral and we refused to allow that.(despite this one of the slippery outlets sent out a photographer with a long range lens and he snapped a shot of the casket from way outside and they put an article up on the net – I hope karma gets him one day)

    I feel the media steamrolled the Phillips family. I wonder what they will think in years to come, about televising the funeral??? Bringing Hughes into the Parliament was tasteless, what about the two young Queensland jockeys? Canberra is disgusting!

    Our hockey team made a conscious decision (with us) to play the next fixture as scheduled only 4 days after Lizzie died. I felt it was best that they get back out there as soon as possible and get on with it. It was a great decision. We won the impossible game, beating the team that ultimately won the premiership. The first twenty minutes was a bit rough, going down by two goals. Our team ultimately came from behind twice, winning 4-3. Lizzie was with them all night. It was a great celebration.

    The accident was reported all over the world, that is the hockey world. Because it happened in the west there was not any great attention from the East, no interfering back slapping politicians etc.

    We are a very private family. This is the only response I have written anywhere in the last two and a half years. (Apart from giving some blogger a blast because his blog was all about gender inequality given that Hughes had a lot of attention and Lizzie didn’t – imagine using using these two accidents as the basis for a gender inequality rant, what a loser!)

    I have sat back and watched arguments over “how Lizzie would have survived if hockey players wore helmets” (She would not have survived with a helmet because the ball did not hit her head despite every report saying that it did). I have watched “professors” pass judgement on this topic and they don’t even know the barest facts. It is sometimes amusing to see these “Experts” carry on without knowing the facts. Some of these blogs and tweets are plain stupid, however most are very caring and non-judgemental and supportive.

    and then there’s your blog – somehow compelling me to write this.

    Frank

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  3. Hi Frank,
    Thank you for taking the time to respond it means a lot to me. I have just started to do a degree in Communications and one day will hopefully be able influence some of the media organisations in which I work for. I hope they will no longer invade the privacy of grieving families at a time when they can barely move let alone speak. Naive or stupid, either way i will stay true to my values about this, I may get fired a few times but it will be worth it.

    I work with families and young people who are facing death every day and for me grief should be respected and I consider it an honour to be present a person’s funeral. There is no place at a funeral for a intruding wide angle lense.

    Being a Parent I almost don’t want to imagine the pain that comes with losing a child. Your Daughter should be mentioned with respect and integrity, I didn’t know her but from what I’ve read she was a well liked young women who was an amazing athlete, something i love to see in young people.

    The hounding by the media when people are in shock is an awful side effect of the modern world. I remember vividly the day my Father (a Rowing Coach) drowned at a regatta and the media were wanting interviews even before they found his body. A few choice words were chosen to let them know we were not interested.

    The use of people’s children to enhance political careers or to make the politician look like a hero disgusts me to the core.

    I only hope that each anniversary of Phil Hughes death you are not constantly reminded of that day when your beautiful daughter passed away, instead you are able to celebrate what’s great about her and Australian sportsmanship. I hope that the media give Phil Hughes family and your family space to breath so that they can grieve in private.
    My hopes are for a more ethical media in Australia and for families wishes to come first.
    Thank you again, your response has meant so much to me.

    Wishing you and your family a Peaceful Christmas.

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