What Kyle Korver Reminds Us About Grief

What Kyle Korver Reminds Us About Grief

“It has been quite a month for me personally.”

Before Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers, Kyle Korver met with Cleveland media for the first time since returning from his brother Kirk’s death on March 20 after a sudden illness.

Giving arguably the hardest post-practice interview of his life, Korver’s pensive attempt at processing his brother’s death for Cleveland media was somewhat difficult to watch. Stepping into someone’s still raw grief is always an invasion of sorts, an attempt most are untrained to navigate well. Contrasted with the typical banality produced during these interviews, the moment almost felt too sacred to be stepped into with the usual superficial and/or accusatory questioning that occurs between media and player in these settings.

The media were courteous and just doing their job, but even asking the kind of sensible questions that follow a person returning from delivering the eulogy at his brother’s funeral and grieving with his family seemed out of place. Questions that make sense in the context of pastoral probing, but feel almost offensive when being asked to meet journalistic deadlines.

“How hard has this all been on you Kyle?”

“Yeah, it’s been a hard month. You come back from dealing with death in your family and you hold that in one hand and then you hold the playoffs here in another hand and it’s uh—it’s interesting to kind of balance both of those at the same time and try to get yourself ready to play basketball. And I’ve been (physically) hurt. Yeah. It’s been a very complicated month in my mind. I feel like I’m in a good spot right now—I’m ready to play.”

Never does the exaggerated importance placed upon sports seem more absurd than in a moment like this. Isaiah Thomas faced it last year after his sister died in a car accident. Gregg Popovich faces it now after the death of his wife. I read Korver’s “interesting to kind of balance both of those at the same time” as a kind way of saying, “What in the world am I doing answering your questions and giving energy to a game right now when my guts were just ripped out?”

Basketball itself can be a type of positive distraction, a healing refuge in a time of grief for someone who has played it everyday for decades (see: the disciples going back to fish right after the death of Jesus). As Korver admitted, "It's good to have something now to kind of sink into, just for a little bit of every day to kind of get lost in." Yet, while everyone has to go back to work after a death at some point, coming back into this playoff setting three weeks after unexpectedly losing a brother has to be especially disorienting.

“What’s been the key for you to get through this time?”

“Yeah, I have strong faith and I have a strong family. I’ve got a great wife. I can process things and talk about things and cry about things and be encouraged about things so…”

No formula exists for exactly what a grieving person needs, but Korver’s list is not a bad place to start: process, talk, cry, be encouraged. To have a faith that doesn’t run from or ignore grief and loss; a strong family that sticks together; a spouse who knows how to be present. Blessings that have no price tag.

“I don’t know if you guys want to talk about all that. The grieving process—what is good? What is good? You know, that you don’t cry? That you don’t think about your brother—is that good? I don’t think that’s good. I think I’m in a good spot on this path. I’m trying to go through all the emotions and all the stages and waves that people tell me about. I understand that it’s a part of life.”

Death is a part of life, but most people—especially people in First-World circumstances—are incredibly ill-equipped and poorly trained on how to navigate its waters. Like Korver, most of us are thrown back into the stream of life wondering how to swim in water that suddenly seems contaminated with never-ending pain. Baltimore-based mental health professionals Litsa Williams and Eleanor Haley suggest we need to understand the role of persistence and patience in grieving well—character traits we collectively lack more now than perhaps at any point in American history.

They suggest you need persistence to:

  • Keep getting out of bed
  • Continue to care about the minutia
  • Try new coping tools until you find the ones that feel right for you
  • Keep believing you’re doing okay even when it seems like you’ve moved two steps backward
  • Insist others don’t pressure you into moving faster than you feel comfortable with

They propose you need patience to:

  • Understand that it will take time to feel better
  • Understand that sometimes you will have no choice but to focus on life
  • Understand that sometimes you will be unable to avoid focusing on the loss
  • Allow yourself to have bad days, fail, and grow
  • Be present and experience the painful feelings associated with the loss days, months, and years after the death

Korver reflected on the comforting role others have played in sharing their own stories with him.

“When you go through something like this, it’s amazing how many people come up to you and talk about their own stories that they’ve had. There’s been so many...they’re hard and they’re hard to hear, but it’s also been comforting that you’re going through this with a lot of people and a lot of people care about you.”

Through his own pain, Kyle Korver reminds us not only of the one connection we have with all other human beings, but also the reality that our own grief can be redeemed in the stories of others’ suffering. There’s a strange comfort available in shared sorrow, in knowing that others feel the same pain in their own way. So strange that death, the one reality we avoid and attempt to fend off as long as possible, is also the one thing that binds us together as humans more than any other shared characteristic of our journey.

“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Indeed. But blessed also are those who are comforted, for they shall be in position to comfort others.