Mamas on Bedrest: Heartbreak for 3 Mamas

January 16th, 2012

Ever begin reading something that so grosses you out yet you can’t put it down? That is how I felt reading, “Death On Ice” an article in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Men’s Journal.

According to this well written article by Jeff Tietz, in the Span of 16 weeks last year, the National Hockey League saw 3 of its players-Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard-die. Belek and Rypien took their own lives. At this time, it is unsure if Boogard took his own life but with a substance abuse problem and depression, odds are moving in this direction.

These were big guys, “enforcers”, guys paid to go out onto the ice and “beat down” players on the other team in defense of players on their own teams. They played little hockey. Their main task was to “defend” the honor of their teams. But the repeated blows to the head that each man endured likely contributed to his demise. The article describes how each of these men had likely suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) a brain disease often connected to massive blows to the head and is known to exacerbate if not cause depression, rage, addiction and memory loss.

The article described and showed photos of, often in more detail than I was used to stomaching, gruesome bare knuckled battles between these (off the ice) “gentle giants”, colleagues and friends . The last to lose his life, Derek Boogaard, was a mere 29 years old but holds the dubious distinction of delivering the most devastating blow in hockey history. In a battle with another enforcer from an opposing team, Boogaard delivered a punch of such force that it shattered opponent Todd Fedoruk’s face, shattering his eye orbits, his cheek, jaw and his nose. Plastic surgeons had to reconstruct Fedoruk’s face using titanium plates.

I’m no hockey fan. I’m neither a fan nor a subscriber of Men’s Journal. The subject matter made me physically ill as I read it and more than once I felt as though I would throw up. But in the midst of reading about the brutal battles and the sad endings of all of these young men, I couldn’t help but think aboout their mamas.

As I sat there, watching and waiting while the dentist applied sealants to my almost 6 year old son’s molars, I couldn’t help but wonder, did Mrs. Belak, Mrs. Rypien and Mrs. Boogaard ever imagine in their wildest dreams that their darling baby boys’ lives would end in such tragedy? The irony wasn’t lost on me. As I sat there waiting while my son’s dentist applied sealants to his 6 year molars, I swallowed hard when I read that one player had lost 7 teeth during his career in Hockey. When I considered all that I went through to conceive and carry my babies to term, I just can’t fathom them being involved in such brutatlity. Did Mrs. Belak, Mrs. Rypien and Mrs. Boogaard ever imagine?

Mrs. Belak, Mrs. Rypien and Mrs. Boogaard were mamas just like you and me. I don’t know if any of them had difficult pregnancies or were on bed rest, so I don’t know if they endured steroids, repeat ultrasounds and the fear that comes with knowing that you may lose a child that you desperately want. But I am willing to bet that they did all within their power to bring their baby boys into this world. I know that they loved them beyond measure. And I say without hesitation that they nurtured their boys to manhood. Perhaps they nursed them as babies. They changed their diapers, held their hands as they learned to walk, stroked their cheeks when they were sad or ill, kissed boo boos and soothed all the ills of childhood. They may have even been the ones to teach their sons to ice skate; on ponds and rinks in their hometowns, their young sons wobbly and weaving as they learned to balance. I am sure that they were as proud and thrilled as anyone when “their boys” made it into the National Hockey League. What mama doesn’t want her child to live his dreams? But I wonder if their joy turned to dismay and then sheer horror when they realized what their “baby boys” were being asked to do.

As I sat there, looking at my own little boy, my heart just broke for these women. I can’t imagine anyone hitting my son, and not with the force and intensity that these men endured! When I look at my son’s smooth, cherubic face with the scrawly adult teeth growing in and I know that I could kill anyone who even looks at him cross-eyed! I suppose this’ll change as he gets older, but I wonder if these mamas felt that way? And what of Todd Fedoruk’s mama? She must have been horrified when she saw her baby’s shattered, bloodied face.

The National Hockey League is reviewing it’s policies and procedures in light of these deaths . So far, there has been no ruling on the role of “enforcers” and the brain trauma these men endure (let alone the depression, substance abuse and behavioral disorders).  But one can’t ignore the fact that the repeated blows that these men’s bodies endure-the brain not withstanding-is brutal and had to have been contributory if not causal to all of their deaths. Boogaard’s family has donated his brain to Boston’s Center for the Study of  Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE). Perhaps Boogaard will contribute more in death to hockey than he was able to contribute as an actual player to the sport.

Somehow I doubt that will be much comfort to his mama or to Mrs. Belek or to Mrs. Rypien. From all of us here at Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond, our hearts go out to you on the lost of your baby boys.

Additional information on the tragic life and death of Derek Boogaard came from Nick Coleman.