Death of Eagles coach Andy Reid's son a chance to consider helping those who grieve

Published: Monday, Aug. 6 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this file photo from Feb. 16, 2007, Garrett Reid, the oldest son of Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid, leaves the Plymouth Township police station in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., after surrendering to police for 14 misdemeanor and summary offenses. Garrett Reid was found dead Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012, in his room at Eagles training camp at Lehigh University. Police say "there were no suspicious activities."

Associated Press

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As news stories across the country discuss the unexpected and as yet unexplained death of Philadelphia Eagles’ coach Andy Reid’s adult son, Garrett, Wayne Loder finds himself again contemplating the “$7 million question” that people ask about grief: “What can we do to help someone cope with the loss of a child?”

Loder doesn’t know the answer, but he certainly knows the pain. In 1991, his son Stephen Loder, 5, and daughter Stephanie Loder, 8, were killed in a car crash. He's been dealing with that question in the two decades since.

He has grieved the deaths of his parents and his wife Patricia has lost a sibling, said Loder, who is a public awareness coordinator for the Illinois-based national organization The Compassionate Friends. The organization offers grief support for parents, siblings, grandparents and guardians through nearly 650 chapters across the country. The death of one’s child, whether a minor or an adult, is different, he said.

“There is nothing that you can say that will make it better. So you have to just be there and try to let them know that you care,” said Loder. As for wanting to help someone, he warned that “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” will never get a response. If you truly want to help someone, be specific. “They don’t know what they need at that point; a person is just in shock.” Pick a task and offer to do it.

Garrett Reid, 29, was found dead in his dorm room at the team's Lehigh University training camp Sunday. Police said the death was not suspicious and an autopsy is expected to determine the cause of death. His funeral was scheduled for Tuesday.

Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie told reporters that the coach planned to return to work by the end of the week. He was quoted in an article in USA Today: "I expect Andy to be coaching this week and back. I know he feels that way. And he is very, very focused on both his family and his profession." He told the newspaper that Reid just wanted to talk about "how incredibly excited he is for this football team. That's been obvious from the beginning of training camp. But he wanted me to know that.

"Second, he treasures these practices. And he feels bad that he is not going to be at practice today and probably tomorrow."

Although that announcement has raised some speculation about work-life balance and the grieving process, returning to work right away is not such an unusual action.

"Grief is a very personal thing," said Loder, who noted that "what works for one person will not work for another. Some go back to work right away — that's a way of escaping from reality and continuing to do something normal in what is now an abnormal world. Other people can't go back to work. They can't function, can't think properly, can't process the information" because of shock. "If going to work works for you, then that's the way to go about it."

"Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid was a figure of strength, elevating his stature in the eyes of his players when he addressed them in an emotional team meeting five hours after learning of the death of his eldest son, Garrett, Sunday," wrote Jim Corbett in The Huddle, a USA Today blog about pro football.

Loder said he and his wife grieved somewhat differently. She talked more about the loss, while he often sat on his lawnmower tractor and cut the grass for hours as a way of "getting away and thinking about things." An advantage to talking, though, he said, is it brings up "the good things and when they are recalled, that's how you start to get better."

Those who want to help someone cope with a loss as devastating as the death of their child should be mindful that the biggest fear a parent has is that the child will be forgotten. But even close friends and relatives avoid speaking the dead person's name, as if it would trigger pain. Instead, that contributes to the sense that the child is, indeed, forgotten, said Loder.

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