I used to be a concierge at a hotel in Waikiki Beach. When people came on vacation they would come to me to discuss all the various activities they could enjoy and I arranged their schedule, recommended my favorites, and made their vacations memorable. I love Hawaii and I got to weave history and legends of ancient Hawaii into our discussions. It was the perfect job for me.
One day a man came to me to book a scuba tour. They either have to be a certified diver or do a starter course in a hotel pool to make sure you can breathe through the snorkel and other basics. You also have to sign a waiver that you have no health issues such as asthma or a previous heart attack. This man signed off on everything. I had this nagging feeling that he should not do the dive. It was going to be a choppy day and he had florid cheeks, was at least 60 or 70 pounds overweight, and looked much older than his age. I suggested other activities such as snorkeling with the dolphins or whale watching but he only wanted to dive. There was no real reason to deny him the chance so I swiped his card and off he went. I finished my busy shift and went home never giving the portly gentleman a second thought.
His tour left at about 6:00 in the morning or so and I started my shift at 7:00. An hour into the shift I got a call from the divemaster or someone in his office asking me if the man had been traveling with anyone as there was an immediate need to talk to them. My stomach dropped, my heart began to race. I just knew this was the news no one ever wanted to get and especially not on an anniversary trip. I gave him what he needed and hung up.
Throughout the day I kept checking online and, sure enough, learned that my guest had drowned while diving. It seems he had a heart attack. I was devastated that I had not said something. It was horrific dealing with his wife of thirty years. I processed refunds as she cried, I listened to stories about her children, I helped her make the long-distance call to Australia from our desk phone. I listened to her near-hysterical conversation with her children. I helped her change her flights and call the embassy about getting the body back home.
I didn’t really know the man and had barely spoken a word to his wife before their dream trip turned into a nightmare but it took me a long time to book a dive tour again.
On Sunday as the news of Kobe Bryant’s death flooded my Facebook feed I felt the same as I had when my guest had his heart attack. I didn’t know much about Kobe beyond that he was an exceptional basketball player. I knew he was married and had children and my first thought was about his family. As details continued to emerge I learned it was also his daughter and seven other people, all with families who loved them.
A foggy day, pilot error, nine people dead and lives shattered. Each family is grieving in their own way. The pilot’s family must have a heavy burden to bear and I ache for them. I never told anyone that I felt as if that man should not have gone on the dive. I had ignored that inner voice. On Sunday I felt guilty all over again. Maybe it’s irrational to feel this way but I did.
I don’t know these people but I hope they are surrounded by people who will just be. Not try and explain or encourage them to sue or tell them that it will be okay. Just let them cry and rage and hurt.
You know what I really want for these people? I want them to all have a dog, a dog who will let them wet their coat with tears and allow them to hug and rage and be who they need to be today and tomorrow and beyond.
I wish I would have had my dog when I learned about my guest’s untimely death or when my mom died or when my husband cheated or when my life was unraveling due to brain damage.
Dogs are like that. The best thing about a dog during and after a crisis is that they are just there loving you with all their hearts. They look at you with those bottomless eyes and they communicate their love in ways we humans can’t.
For those of you who love basketball, Lakers fan or not, for those who admired Kobe, who have families who would hurt like all these families are hurting if you were taken away, please run and hug your dog. Just grieve in your own way as silly as some might say it is to grieve about someone you never knew. Your dog doesn’t care why you are hurting. They won’t ridicule or try and make the pain, the grief, the guilt go away. They will just be your dog. And that’s enough.