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.
- 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.
- 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.