"It's been hard." Roy Williams during Sunday's celebration of Dean Smith's life. "We've grieved a lot and it's been hard."
The fortnight since Dean Smith passed has been difficult for those closest to him and highly emotional for the Tar Heel basketball community at large. The loss of the basketball program's patriarch was coupled with tough losses to Pittsburgh and Duke, both of which included pre-game reminders of Dean Smith's passing. Describing the two weeks for the Carolina basketball family as "hard" might be an understatement.
This weekend helped to bring closure to what had been an extended period of initial grief. Starting with a win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, Carolina began the process of moving on. Roy Williams, with the Tar Heels clad in 1980s era uniforms, had directed his team to run Smith's famous Four Corners offense. It was a simple gesture and one that seemingly assuaged some of Williams' grief.
"It's something that I've been thinking about...for two weeks. Williams said on Saturday. "Some way to do something that would mean a great deal to him and would mean a great deal to me."
The offensive set was run to perfection with Brice Johnson getting a backdoor layup off a pass from Marcus Paige. It was just the first of several plays the Tar Heels executed in a way that honored Smith whether it be a run and jump trap or an unselfish pass for an assist. The game that began with four fingers raised had plenty of single fingers pointing to their teammates as the Tar Heels played hard, played smart and played together on the way to a 29 point win.
At Sunday's celebration, the Tar Heel family gathered together to remember the man they have and would always call "Coach Smith." It was a mixture of laughter, tears, lighthearted stories and even challenges to live Smith's legacy in our own lives. One recurring theme throughout was the idea that following Smith's example and acting on the things he taught not only would have made him proud but it continued his legacy forward for years to come.
Anyone who has experienced the death of a close relative, especially a parent understands there the first morning you wake up following their death there is an adjustment to a "new normal." Coming to terms with the loss of someone so invested and instrumental in your life is incredibly difficult. One of the ways we process our grief in days just following great loss is to sit with family and friend sharing what that person meant to us. We talk about our favorite memories, tell the funny stories, listen to a song or look at pictures. There is laughter and tears as we walk the full range of human emotion. But we do it together and in doing so we find some measure of comfort.
Sunday's celebration in the building that bears Dean Smith's name was just that. It was the family sitting together talking about memorable moments and telling the funny stories. There was laughter remembering the blessing of knowing him, tears when realizing how much he meant and grasping how large the void he left behind. It was cathartic for a Tar Heel family that had carried the burden of great sadness and grief for two weeks.
Closure doesn't mean the grief goes away. Funerals and memorial services aren't magical cures for the profound sense of loss felt and sadness that comes with it. Time and the company of family are often the best ways to ultimately find healing. Healing also comes by choosing to fill the void left behind by living our lives in such a way that honors their memory and keeps their legacy alive.
On Sunday, the Tar Heel community honored Dean Smith's life and in doing so found closure. With that closure came a challenge breathe new life into the legacy of Dean Smith by living out the same humility, selflessness and loyalty he exhibited.