This past week my grandmother Helen Wells passed away. My Dad’s mother had always been a great friend to me and someone with whom I often confided. She was married three times to three awesome men and outlived each husband. Imagine, she’s been to a funeral for her husband on three occasions. Each died of natural causes. That must have been tough. On Tuesday afternoon after practice, my mom called me and gave me the news. My grandmother was 91 years old, and was in great health. She got sick with pneumonia and tried to tough it out like she had so many other things. When she finally checked herself into the hospital, the sickness had taken too strong a hold, and it was too late.
When I heard the news, my mind flooded with questions. We were scheduled to play Dallas at home the next night. Maybe I could play the game and catch a red-eye to Utah and be there the next morning for the 9:30 a.m. funeral. Or maybe I could play the game and fly out at 5:00 a.m. the next morning and still make everything work. I did not want to miss the funeral, but I was torn with my commitment to the team. What should I do?
My first phone call was to Coach Dwayne Casey. He offered his condolences and told me to “take whatever time I needed with my family,” and that I could rejoin the team “whenever it was appropriate.” It was very nice that he and the entire organization were so supportive. My grandma was very connected to Minnesota, as she was born in Eveleth up on the Iron Range. Her family moved to Utah when she was eight years old. It was in Utah that she met my grandpa and where they went on their first date together and eventually got married.
The funeral was both beautiful and emotional. It gave my family and I the last bit of closure we all needed. The service turned into a true celebration of a very beautiful person and her great life. My dad was one of the speakers and shared a lot of stories about my grandma, including the one about the time she beat all the boys in her school in a long race.
The strange part was after the funeral when I got to the Salt Lake City Airport, it dawned on me that I needed to get to San Antonio and get mentally ready to play the Spurs. There were Texas Longhorn fans everywhere at the airport catching connecting flights back to the Lone Star State. My flight was the last available and it turned into a “show and tell” with Longhorn fans regaling stories about the Rose Bowl the night before, and showing off digital photos from the game. When I told a Longhorn fan I thought Vince Young would declare for the NFL draft after this, his junior year, the fan said, “Yeah, I think he’s gonna stay… I have a feeling…” I guess I was right on that one.
The next morning I joined Kevin Garnett, Trenton Hassell and Ronald Dupree for breakfast at the hotel before our morning shoot around. KG asked me all about the funeral and shared with me about one of his own family funerals years ago. Kevin is someone who really understands when someone is going through something and he always reaches out to sympathize or empathize. He told me that longevity runs in his family, as he’s had great grandparents who have lived well past 100. I think he said that one of them lived to be 107, and that his great grandpa not only lived on his own until his passing, but was still “cut” or in great shape. When I came back to the team, there were hugs, embraces and kind words from everyone. It makes my transition that much easier in such a team/family environment. More than anything, I want to thank all of my family, friends, and teammates for their support during the passing of my grandma.
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