Grieving Through Tennis

Some items in the sports section look pretty frivolous compared to the civil wars and natural disasters in the world news section or the health care debate in the U.S. news section. But I often find sports burrowing itself very deeply into my life. Recently I’ve used sports as a tool for grieving.

Many people in my life have died in the past few years and the grieving has profoundly affected my day-to-day life. The major disturbance was a sleep disorder. I’d go to sleep just fine but I’d wake up in the middle of the night and that was it, I’d be awake for the rest of the night.

My yoga teacher suggested I have conversations with people who’d died because it doesn’t matter how old someone is when they die, or whether someone died unexpectedly or not, you always have unfinished business with them. But I couldn’t get into it. I’m a poor actor I guess.

Luckily life gives you situations in the present that allow you to resolve painful experiences from the past.

The nights before I played tennis, I couldn’t sleep at all. Especially nights before my Friday tennis group. I’d played with them for seven years but recently the leader of the group, who’d always been very inclusive, started sending weaker players off to other courts while he played with the best players.

The weaker group now included me because it’s pretty hard to run around the court on no sleep. I confronted the leader about his behavior but he acted as if nothing had changed. My father behaved in much the same way. He wasn’t big on discussion. When I’d visited him in New York City in the 1970s, he called his friend in Rome to complain that I was wearing pants (instead of a skirt) rather than say something directly to me.

The leader of the Friday group had taught me a lot about tennis and he was something of a father figure. It was painful but I told him I wouldn’t play with him until his inclusive ways returned then siphoned off part of the group to play elsewhere. My father was dead but tangling with a father figure in the present helped me resolve some of my frustration towards my long gone father and sleep returned.

Well, some of it returned. I had trouble sleeping before my Wednesday tennis game and for help with that I went, again, to my yoga teacher. He asked me to think about how wonderful I’d feel when I reached my tennis goal of a 4.5 ranking and I immediately burst into tears. All I could think about was calling up my friend Billy and screaming out my supreme delight at finally having reached my goal.

Except that Billy probably wouldn’t have answered the phone. He isn’t among the recently dead but he’s fallen into a deep depression and while he manages to take care of himself, he’s essentially a hermit. I had to transfer my possible celebration elsewhere so I asked two tennis friends if they’d throw a small party for me if and when I reached my goal.

It won’t be the celebration I was looking forward to but it was enough to restore my sleep and, who knows, maybe some day Billy will answer the phone.