Matt Ryan's Master Class on Grief

Friends: I make no bones about the fact that I am a die hard Atlanta Falcons fan nor would I ever deny that I am a Matt Ryan devotee.This year’s NFL MVP has conducted himself with an unparalleled level of professionalism and class throughout the ups and downs of his 10 year career and his phenomenal success this season did nothing to change his humble and gracious demeanor. As the mother of two sports obsessed boys, I am forever grateful for the example Matt Ryan provides on and off the field.

But even  if you are not a sports fan, please don’t stop reading, because I believe a message exists here for all of us.

The Atlanta Falcons loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI this February was acutely painful for fans, like me. After a surprisingly explosive season, the Falcons took us to the proverbial “promised land” but fell short in one of the worst collapses in sports history. Those passionately engaged in the game would agree it wasn’t just that the Falcons lost, it was how they lost. Crushing is not an overstatement.

For me, the loss was devastating. Many may think that because I work in hospice and have such a daily reminder of perspective in life, a football game wouldn’t affect me so deeply. I would tell you that I have a front row seat to the heartbreak in life on a regular basis. I have said, and stand by, that I believe what I do, what I get to see and the people with whom I work is all a part of a true privilege. But I am human and my heart breaks, too. Seeing my “team”- the good guys- win was something I felt I needed. I kind of thought I deserved it. There are losses I see and can’t control. I wanted - needed- this victory to restore my own personal sense of justice. It just didn’t seem to much to ask.

It didn’t end the way I/ we/ the city of Atlanta wanted it. And it hurt.

Yesterday, Matt conducted his first post Super Bowl interview on my favorite radio show, “The Front Row” on 680theFan. ( Driving around from hospice patient to hospice patient makes radio a very important part of my day to keep me grounded.) I have shied away from all major and social media after the Super Bowl because any mention of the loss was too acutely painful. But my loyalty to our hero, Matt, compelled me to listen. And I am so glad I did.

I am glad I listened for this reason: I didn’t think anyone or anything could make me feel better about the loss. Mock it if you will, but I’ve been grieving. However, the gentleman, Matt Ryan, who one would think might be hurting the worst, came across- genuinely- healthy, optimistic and content. CONTENT. And his words actually made me feel better. A lot better, in fact.

Let me be clear. If you are reading this blog, you may have found it because you’ve been exposed to hospice and potentially experienced loss. I don’t mean to compare a Super Bowl loss to the loss of a loved one. However, grief is a universal experience and there are commonalities we all endure. Sharing healthy coping strategies is purposeful and worthy. Matt Ryan, in this interview, demonstrates the very best in ways to appropriately move on.

(To hear the interview: - go to Front Row, podcast)

So here is what Matt has to allow:

  1. He’s taken some time away after the Super bowl. He says, “don’t we all have to do that, regardless of our profession?” Yes. Right on, Matt.

  2. When asked about if he thinks the criticism of his offensive coordinator and head coach is FAIR in light of their play calling in the Super Bowl: “Well, what’s fair? This is the world we live in.” What Matt was saying is a critical message for maturation: Chase fair and you will go NOwhere! Matt’s Irish Catholic upbringing comes out proudly from time to time and his response to what is fair is a perfect demonstration of what is worthy/ not worthy of contemplation and mental energy.

  3. Matt admitted that he watched the game replay- three times the week after the game and each time alone. In the interview, Matt stated, “some people bury it” but he needed to watch the game, face the reality and move on. To be clear, when asked about the night of the defeat, Matt admitted purely, “it sucked”. He didn’t deny the pain and he didn’t rush the recovery.

  4. Finally, and most importantly, Matt’s description of the Super Bowl experience was refreshingly honest. Matt was quick to accurately report, “we were in every part of that game. I played my best. Our team was very much in the mix.” The point here, that wasn’t lost on Matt, is don’t give all the focus to the outcome. No one is denying that. But just like we preach focus on how people live, not on how they die; Matt remembers that there was more to that Sunday than just the final score. And for that reason, he sounds healthy and prepared to face the upcoming season.

Recipe for Grief: Rest. Don’t chase fair. Grieve. Acknowledge life lived that is greater than the death.

I ll beat sports analogies to death and I will praise Matt Ryan to the end of time. However, if I want this blog to serve as any form of practically applicated help, I can’t ignore the lessons Matt Ryan taught in his first post Super Bowl interview. I share them because, despite what I believed was possible, he made me feel better. His pragmatic approach to loss that included acknowledgement, seclusion, and verbalization of the facts of the day have given me inspiration for the next day.

And it isn’t lost on me that it is Holy Week. Seeking the next day- enduring the pain of loss and staying intact for the HOPE of resurrection is what this week is all about. I don’t expect most readers to find that message from Matt Ryan’s interview (but it’s there).

My prayer is for any reader, deeply feeling loss and uncertainty, to see all the examples, the Matt Ryan interview being one, of HOPE for the next day.