Category Archives: Play

The Art of Grieving: Sports Edition







“Do the Patriots need a grief counselor now?” a friend teasingly asked me in the aftermath of their unexpected loss, after 5 wins in the Super Bowl.

This got me thinking about the entire field of sports, and their communities’ continual need to grapple with individual and community experiences of heartbreak, disappointments, and loss. Does a grief expert like me have anything to say to them and do they have lessons for me?  Of course there is the glory of the Big Win, sometimes coming years and years after the last one. But as some Eagles’ Fans demonstrated recently, not everyone is able to handle gracefully a long awaited win. Perhaps the unprocessed anger from so many previous losses got the best of them as they destroyed property at their Philadelphia community celebration.

Forty years ago the dean at Wayne State University in Detroit where I was teaching asked me, when he learned I was moving to Nebraska, “How do you feel about football?” When I gave him a non-committal response he said, “Just a warning – you may feel that, on occasion, it takes on more importance than you feel it deserves.”
This turned out to be a mastery of understatement when I moved to where the décor of every restaurant across the state was red, (as in Go Big Red!), and the population of the State Capital doubled on each home game day, due to the sea of red in the stadium.

There’s no doubt that support from the larger community is a big part of the success and resilience of sports teams and athletes. And support is the essential element when someone is grieving the loss of a loved one, a job, or a serious injury. But there can be, as it is called in psychology, an over identification with one’s team.


I see many examples of Good Grief on the platform of sports, especially in recent years. Accepting the Reality and Processing the Pain are two of the most important tasks in the grieving process. When it is clear that a loss has occurred but not a second before the end of the game, because that’s “giving up” many male athletes ignore the stupid “big boys don’t cry” notion and allow themselves to express their sorrow and heartbreak openly with tears. This gives spectators permission to grieve and enables everyone to move forward on their own healing, eventually able to invest again in the next contest.

Role models for determination against all odds are plentiful both in sports and in families when courageous members engage in death-defying treatments to gain more years of life. Whatever sports figures and teams do, this grandmother hopes they remember, the children are watching.

Give a listen to a radio conversation I had yesterday on this topic with Tom Bernard Show ) KQRS

Hard Times Demand Playful Dancing

rich-laverne-lynnTwo days after the election I awoke with muscle aches and a hint of a sinus infection I thought I was finished with. But my overwhelming sensation? A savoring, after-glow from the play-based ritual my improv troupe, Wing & A Prayer Pittsburgh Players and I created last night.

We gather for rehearsal most Thursday nights and our practice is to play with “what’s up?” Two days after the unexpected seismic election it wasn’t hard to find the theme strongly on our hearts and minds.

Using dance, song, story, and stillness, (the birthright practices of our ancestors, wherever they came from), we created a safe container and ways to express ourselves as individuals and as a group.

Here’s how it works –

  • Warm up together physically in order to get in our bodies and to create a sense of a group body. Especially necessary after highly charged experiences that may have shut down our breathing or caused us to exit our bodies.
  • Use an InterPlay improv form or “game” that allows us to hear from each person as they express in words and movements- “what’s up?” for them.
  • Play with a partner to mine our stories about the over-arching topic, elections and U.S politics. In the form, “I could tell about….” we take turns naming memories or images that come to mind.
  • Select forms that allow people’s stories to exist side-by-side, creating for the observer a sense of the larger group story.
  • Using shape and stillness, we dance on behalf of people not in the room who are particularly affected by this election. (Immigrants, Muslims, people of color, disappointed young women and old women who will not live to see a woman president.)  
  • Create a song to lift our spirits to a hopeful future – Last night the line we sang and played with was, “The farther back we pull the bow string, the farther goes the arrow.”

As Mr. Rogers reminded us, “Play is the work of children.” I’m fortunate to have adults in my life willing to join me in connecting with our child within. That’s where our fears, disappointments, dreams, and creative energy reside. Play turns out to be a secret path to accessing what we need to move forward, individually and collectively, into a joy-filled future, no matter the circumstances.

The Consolation Vacation

When a fall in my dance class a month ago caused us to cancel our European vacation, my husband worked to came up with an alternative. The doctor made sense when he said, “postpone the trip till you can really enjoy it,” but we then both had a block of free time in our calendars. And we both felt in need of a vacation. I started physical therapy twice a week with a set of homework exercises to do twice a day so the alternative needed to be not too far away and in a place where I could continue my rehabilitation regime.

IMG_1435Meanwhile, I had promised my sister, who lives in the Detroit area, that I would accompany her to the Geriatric Center in Ann Arbor where she was to receive results of testing that had been going on for over a year. Before my fall, the center had rescheduled her appointment to a date when I was to be in Amsterdam. After we knew I’d been in the country, I suggested she keep that appointment and I’d figure out how to get myself there.

On his walk one early morning, my husband came up with a plan – we could drive to Cleveland, only 2 hours away, and visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which turned out to be a “don’t miss it destination.”  We’d stay overnight somewhere near my sister’s house and pick her up the next morning to take her with us for a short vacation. On the way back we’d go through Ann Arbor in time for her appointment.

I found a town, Saugatuck, known as the Art Coast of Michigan only a three-hour drive from my sister’s  house. There would be no sailing, deep-sea fishing, kayaking, or dune buggy rides for me.  I’d need to be satisfied with a view of the water from the broad roof deck of our well-appointed condo. I was able to visit the quaint shops and art galleries of the village, survey the history and art museums, and take a ride on the country’s last chain ferry. An evening cruise on the Star of Saugatuck paddleboat was especially lovely, as were the few hours we spent on Oval Beach, one of the best beaches in America, according to systems that rate such things. But a special highlight, which seemed a meaningful chance encounter, was our visit to nearby Holland Michigan.IMG_1412

Monday’s weather forecast had been for rain so we decided to drive north a bit to a larger city where there might be more to do indoors. Arriving in a rain torrent, we drove to the Windmill Island Gardens and learned they had the only authentic windmill outside of the Netherlands. We stayed dry by finding lunch in a Dutch café and realized that on that very day we had been scheduled to disembark our river cruise in Amsterdam. To celebrate that realization, when the sky cleared we went back to the gardens to climb the windmill – no passport needed.  

As to my sister’s health, things are still not as we would want them to be but she got some good news and hope from a talented doctor who is determined to get to the bottom of her mysterious symptoms. 

Trouble in Paradise

It’s raining in paradise. I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise since the paradise I’ve been living in for the past week is a tropical rainforest in Jamaica.  Palm tree leaves blow sideways in the wind, and water splashes upward from the pool into the air as the grey clouds forcefully empty their load of moisture onto the ground.  Members of my husband’s family and I, who have gathered from various points around the U.S. for a family reunion, have been spoiled, – not only by the villa staff who have seen to our every need, but by the weather. Except for a couple of short flurries, like some that happened last night to interrupt our group’s stargazing on the beach, it has been continuously sunny and mild.


As thunder rolls across the hills, there’s still plenty to do at the villa. We’ve teased about needing to get the scissors, sparkle glue, and craft paper out to keep us fellow “campers” occupied, but between books, I pads, smart phones, cards and Monopoly games, we’ll never run out of rainy day things to do.

Truth is, I haven’t done much since arriving except relax. I’ve taken a walk most mornings, a yoga class the last two, lounged by the pool reading a book, intermittently jumping in to cool off, taking breaks for afternoon naps or a chance to chat with a particular relative. We’ve focused a lot on pictures, both taking them and reviewing past videos and stills. We’ve shared significant handwritten letters from a time when that was the preferred mode of long distance communication.  Someone in the younger generation instituted a system for sharing photos on our smart phones, though mine isn’t smart enough, apparently to get in on that system. It’s definitely time for an upgrade.

Eating is a major vacation activity, and the chef and his staff has prepared delicious meals, but my diet isn’t quite like everyone else’s, and the timing isn’t what my tummy is used to. This of course, is what Rich would call, “a first world problem,” and hardly something to complain about. I was able to bring greens from home and replenish them from the resort commissary because I had the determination and the money to do that. Not sure the staff always appreciated my interruptions of their usual routine, but then, I’m not used to having servants wait on me, so the discomfort is probably mostly mine.

And there is discomfort that outside the resort I know the streets are filled with people experiencing poverty and its effects, people who are in a state of want for basic needs like food, shelter, and education. I hope that the money my family brings in and spends here helps the economy and the people who do the work to make our vacation the luxurious, delightful experience it has been.

Gifts That Endure

We were house guests at some friends’ lake house last weekend. Having never been there we decided that instead of bringing a house gift with us, we’d wait to see what they might need. After we got home, it was great fun selecting a couple of practical kitchen items to express our gratitude for a most enjoyable time.

plateThis morning I served my single fried egg and some greens on a colorful plate, which meant the food was encircled by yellow and blue rings, creating a most cheerful presentation. This appealing visual was especially appreciated since I’m on a special eating program these days, determined to discover at last which foods are good for my body, and which ones I should avoid. We always hear that “food is the best medicine” and I’ve decided to experiment with what that trite but true saying really means to my particular body.

The plate is one of four given to us as a gift many years ago from our friend Vickie, who now goes by the name Victoria. But when she was Vickie, she was as attractive, colorful and bright as these plates. And like her plates, she made me smile to just be around her. When she gifted the plates to us, they weren’t something we needed. They didn’t match any of our other dishes, which I didn’t understand at the time, was the point. They matched one another with different but coordinated colored rings surrounding a different singular fruit in each of their centers. Because they stood out they often held a place of honor in the china cupboard standing behind the stacked china. Now, through the magic of my memory, I can have breakfast most any morning with Vickie, just by getting out the colorful Pier One plates she gave us that Christmas, that time when we were as close as family, and totally in the dark about the challenges awaiting us in our futures.


The soap dispenser we gave our friends for their lake house will most likely not endure as long as Vickie’s plates, but if it continues to work, (which is not guaranteed these days), I hope it continues to send the message of our gratitude that it was sent to represent.

Soccer Grand Mom

Here I am sitting on the edge of a soccer field outside Dayton Ohio, on the canvas folding chair I brought in my car from Pittsburgh. Weather predictions were for rain but it’s sunny, hot and humid.  Unseen and unnamed bugs are having a good lunch on me, and I’m wishing I had a big umbrella as shelter from the sun like several of the more experienced soccer moms brought.

Soccer_players_chasing_ball_3I’m doing my best to keep up with what’s happening on the field. My granddaughter isn’t playing right now but I recognize several of the girls that have played with her since they were tiny tots, kicking soccer balls on the sidelines at their big brothers’ games. Like many Americans I wasn’t introduced to soccer until relatively recently. It took my grandkids getting involved for me to start taking notice of the sport the rest of the world calls “football.” At the all girls’ high school I attended in Louisville Kentucky we played field hockey, though as a dancer, I was less than enthusiastic about the big wooden sticks we swung at one another while running across the field. The school sponsored a basketball and volleyball team as well, but the notion of having spectators come to watch girls play any sport hadn’t occurred to many people yet.

Times have definitely changed. The World Cup is in progress in Brazil and the television audiences in the U.S. are breaking all records. Watching the U.S. game at a restaurant last night with the team and their parents and coaches, I caught the tremendous sense of excitement as fortunes change quickly and near misses decide fates. These “surprises” may help explain why most of the world’s people are enamored soccer spectators.

girls-soccerThe soccer I’m witnessing is my granddaughter and her team, competing in the national tournament for high school aged girls. They won the state of Nebraska to get here but they’ve run into stuff competition. They weren’t able to score in their first two games and this one’s the final game, so tension is building. Just when I’m thinking the eleven-hour ride home is not going to be pleasant for the team members, or the parents accompanying them, the girls find their grove, and the energy shifts. No longer struggling individually, they connect with one another.  The ball zigzags across the field, from one player to the next. The girls call to one another and respond quickly. They guard their opponents relentlessly, and doggedly move the ball down the field towards their net. I’m on my feet and the sun and heat and bugs are gone. Along with the parents and other spectators, I’m cheering as they score, and score, and score. The finish? 5-2.

Taking Warrior Mother on the Road

 “How’s your new book doing?” people ask, and I don’t know quite what to say. The official reviews have been wonderful, most of them thoughtful and articulate, better than I could have hoped for. I have felt blessed by such intelligent and crafted responses as different reviewers have picked up on and emphasized, different themes from the book, rather like turning a prism to refract the light into the various colors contained therein.Sheila Performing Book

Friends and acquaintances who have spoken to me or sent me an email after reading the book have had very good things to say. Of course there may be people who read it and didn’t like it, but they’ve failed to contact me. No one so far has demanded their money back. One woman friend I ran into in the grocery store detained me for quite a while with wonderful comments and complements, followed by a pledge to bring several friends to my next book reading. And she did just that.

Amazon rankings have been all over the place, but today the book is number 51 of the top 100 books in the category of parent and adult child relationships. I had a big disappointment when one of the top reviewing companies that had spoken highly of the quality of the book, and had promised to review it, declined to do so at the last minute.  I learned they were concerned it “wouldn’t have wide enough appeal.” (I think that’s code for “it won’t sell enough books to make it worth our while.”) But in the two and a half months the book has been out, this has not been my experience.

There’s the man I gave a promotional post card to, who read the synopsis on the back quickly as we stood together on the street corner. “I’m gonna buy one of these and give it to my daughter-in-law,” he said. When I asked why he said, “She’s been having a rough time. Our nine year old grandson was killed last year in a boating accident.”  Several people have told me they were buying the book for a friend or family member going through grief, or stuck in an old grief, having trouble moving on.

Wing & Prayer Book Performance
Wing & Prayer Book Performance


I’ve become very cognoscente of the universal themes contained in Warrior Mother through a system I’ve developed for book readings. In place of a traditional reading, I connect with people in the community where I will be presenting who do InterPlay, (the system of movement, song, and storytelling that I use) and have them join me in “Performing the Book.”  We select themes that emerge from the snippets I read, and link them to an InterPlay form. The improvisational artists then add their own stories and experiences to mine.

At Performing the Book events we’ve explored relating to adult children (or being one), accompanying a friend or loved one through medical diagnosis, treatments, and death, and rituals that heal grief and loss of whatever variety. Feedback from these presentations has given me a realization that Warrior Mother is about finding ways to authentically communicate about, and honor, the human condition. And that condition is that everyone dies. Once we face that reality, we can enthusiastically choose life for whatever moments that we, and our loved ones, are allowed.

Actually Playing is Way Better Than Talking About It!

We’re just back from a Play conference where hardly anyone played. There were over one hundred sessions, and according to the topics, people talked about play, gave research papers about play, offered strategies for breaking down barriers to play, and suggestions for designing playgrounds for play. But from what I saw in the public spaces, there weren’t too many people actually playing.

What happens when we actually play? In our workshop (or what we would prefer to call, “playshop”) we explored InterPlay tools for multigenerational play. Participants let go of their self-consciousness, and fear of looking foolish (we call this having a willingness to play) and moved into the present moment with a breath and a sigh, a shape and a shake, a laugh and a song.

We noted and experienced the bonding that results from a following and leading game between toddlers and their caregivers, between grandparents and their grandchildren, between people of any age from different cultures. And when we experienced moments of blending, when no one could tell who’s leading and who’s following, we noted these are skills necessary for healthy relationships at any age. We practiced interruption, when the connection is dropped or severed, (scary stuff for our inner child), and experienced reassurance in the reconnection.

A special play expert, a “Playcologist” came to one of our workshops and invited us to stop by his exhibit afterwards. Though it wasn’t easy to find, we persisted through the back dark corner of the convention center. Gary Auerbach’s table was colorful and welcoming, full of inviting toys; hula hoops, scarves for juggling practice, Frisbees (he’s the World Frisbee Champ) and peacock feathers. (You probably didn’t know a feather could be a toy!)

“Throw, throw, catch, catch – crisscross, apple sauce.” We practice a cross lateral movement as he teaches us to juggle and I am reminded that this movement is recommended for brain development in children and continued brain activation as we age. Harder and more athletic than it looked, our attempts to juggle generated lots of laughter among this group of “women of a certain age,” as we kept dropping the scarves and stooping to pick them up. 

“Now try two scarves in one hand and one in the other; throw, throw, throw, catch.” Just like in Interplay – you start off simply, and then add complexity. And that thrilling sense of gaining mastery isn’t just for kids. We all loved the triumph of becoming able to juggle three scarves at a time. And the peacock feathers – I discovered I had a special skill, easily balancing one on my palm, then on one finger, and (though I didn’t quite master this), balancing the 3 ft. feather on my nose.