In The Face of Tragedy

What spurred my writing this piece was an article written in the April/2010 issue of Golf Digest (pp. 170-181) on Phil Mickelson. Although most of the article had to do with his playing record and style of play, a good portion of it touched on the cancer that both his wife and mother are battling and the effects on him.  Historically, Phil is very close to his family and has always scheduled quality time with his wife, children and parents.

And now, I quote: “When he came back to competition in Memphis last June after learning of his wife’s diagnosis, he admitted, ‘I’ve never felt this emotional. I’ll be driving alone and start crying. It’s weird.’…’I think the biggest thing for us is that we kind of had to mourn our old life and accept our new, and that’s been … that’s tough.’ His wife, Amy was quoted as saying “Things happened that helped us really reflect on our lives, to know how lucky we are and what is really important. We sat down and we talked about how to tackle some of the issues we were dealing with. And we decided the best option was to start fresh, totally start over and not just dwell on it.”

The article goes on to describe how, once he got over the shock of the diagnoses, threw himself into his game even more intensely to the point that he’s being touted to take over the number one spot in the golf world. How do people tend to deal with tragedy when it occurs in their lives? Some tend to go into a shell and become reclusive and non-functional. Others go into an avoidant/denial pattern living as if the tragedy never occurred. Still others might tend to push themselves into activity so that keeping busy keeps their minds off of what actually happened. However, what happened really did happen!

People have a tendency to deal with tragedy that strikes in their lives in much the same way that they deal with many other “not so happy times” in their lives. In other words, there are certain patterns of dealing with life’s circumstances that evolve in people’s lives that they tend to turn to in order to function. Now, the occurrence might be something very minimal but the same pattern would be turned to in those instances in the same manner as they would do in the face of tragedy. Is there anything intrinsically wrong with some of these reactions? Actually, in and of themselves, no there isn’t. However, people who tend to bury their emotions need to realize that the situation that represents the tragedy doesn’t disappear as a result of their peculiar reaction. There will come a point at which they must deal with it and when that time arrives, the pent up denial makes their adjustment that much more difficult.

It appears that Phil Mickelson and his wife are taking a very healthy approach. First of all, they are mourning the lifestyle that they had before the cancer diagnosis was made. Phil’s spontaneous crying is evidence that he’s allowing his feelings to be felt instead of explaining them away. Secondly, they both have communicated, I gather, quite readily and extensively about starting anew. This isn’t a form of denial. Rather it is a realization that they cannot undo what had occurred and rather than dwelling on the misfortune, they are going to deal with their lives holding onto a fresh start so as to move on past their problem. Thirdly, Phil seems to be placing his emotional energies in staying close with his family while honing his golfing skills in order to achieve an advanced position in the PGA rankings. All of that sure sounds very healthy to me. How about you?


Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.

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