It was a sad day in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where a community mourns the loss of four members of the Oklahoma State University (OSU) family. Kurt Budke, Miranda Serna, Olin and Paula Branstetter were killed in a plane crash while on a trip to visit a basketball recruit. Budke was head coach of the OSU women’s basketball team; Serna an assistant coach and outstanding recruiter. The Branstetters were alumni and donors who supported the program and piloted the aircraft.
When the news of this tragedy circulated, those who have followed OSU athletics probably had a similar reaction to mine: not again. Just a decade ago, January 2001, another plane crash took the lives of 10 people associated with the OSU men’s basketball program. This community has learned how to grieve through experience. The pain of that tragedy has diminished in 10 years; the memory of those lost has not. Now with great sadness we add four more to the list. We are all asking, “how could this happen twice?”
Bill Hancock lost his son Will in the OSU plane crash a decade ago, and wrote about the pain of his loss in “Riding with the Blue Moth”. I read his book just over a year ago, nine years removed from the event, but still I could not make it through the first 30 pages that recounted that tragedy without choking up. Reading Bill’s account helped me understand that I cannot really understand the depth of pain he and others felt at their loss.
People grieve differently. Bill’s grief led him to embark upon a cross-country bike ride in an attempt to chase the “blue moth” – his metaphor for grief – away. It was a journey of healing. Now, the blue moth has returned to the OSU community. Reason tells us it won’t stay. But we feel it never should have returned. While it is here, we would do well to take something from its unwelcome visit.
Perspective is what I gain from this time. We are reminded, if briefly, of what really is important. The trivial that bothered us yesterday doesn’t matter for the present. We shed the yoke of the minutiae that normally enslaves us. Those things that make our blood pressure rise don’t matter like they did yesterday. This is a healthy, even needed perspective. But what an awful way to get it, and for most of us, the cares of the world all too quickly find their way back to the center of our attention.
Something else I take from this event is that grieving is a team sport. Certainly, we all need our private moments to grieve, but we aren’t meant to do it alone. Today, standing in Gallagher-Iba Arena with thousands of mourners, it was quiet enough at one point to hear a pin drop. It was a powerful, unscripted moment of unity.
I am saddened by this tragedy. I am grateful for a university and its leadership that understands it is people who have souls, not organizations. And we are all ready for the blue moth to flutter out of Stillwater and forget its way back.