“Life is uncharted territory. It reveals itself one moment at a time.”
-Leo F. Buscaglia
I am not sure those words have ever been more pertinent then they are now. As alumni of the Pennsylvania State University what you have been feeling since November is heartbreak. People handle these feelings in several different ways. Elsabeth Kubler-Ross outlined the grieving process in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying” and it offers some advice for the Penn State faithful. According to Kubler-Ross there are five stages of grieving that one goes through and each of them are applicable here. It may sound absurd to some and even a little self righteous to compare the feelings of the alumni and students to grieving, however after burying my father and going through this myself recently I was amazed at the similarities. However, please note that no matter how awful you feel there are victims at the heart of this tragedy and we must acknowledge that before you can even begin to think of yourself.
Stage 1- Denial and Isolation
This initial and to some stead-fast reaction was clear from the beginning. As we scoured the Grand Jury Report in November, stayed glued to the television for the verdict in June and finally the release of the Freeh report in July most Penn Staters stood in denial of the events unfolding before them. Some are still in this stage and will remain there for a very long time. “There is no way Joe could have done this” or “he did the right thing by reporting it to his superiors” we all told anyone open-minded enough to listen. We were not willing to make assumptions until “all the facts have come out.” We all stuck together blindly defending our coach and our school administration because the truth was so inconceivable to us that “it couldn’t possibly be true.”
While the rest of the court of public opinion was already drawing their own conclusions (right or wrong) we, like loyal family members to an accused perpetrator, exercised caution and chose to await further details. We hoped that there was some shred of evidence somewhere that they tried to do the right thing but couldn’t or that the failings and blame could be easily explained.
Stage 2- Anger
If you are anything like me, anger came early and often. I would routinely take on ignorant comments by friends and family and sometimes by complete strangers. I was angry that people were trashing my education and my values. I was tired of hearing people say “if you support Penn State, you support child abuse.” The fire raged on for months as bits and pieces were made public only to recharge the public firestorm about someone and a place that I cared so deeply about.
Stage 3- Bargaining
Most Penn Staters have or will begin to feel this as they read the full Freeh report. “Well some many other people failed to see this” or “Curley, Schultz and Spanier made the actual decision and we don’t know Joe’s story” creep through our minds as we try to grasp at straws for ways to possibly explain this horrendous incident.
Stage 4- Depression
Something we will all go through as the court of public opinion casts shame upon all things Penn State. We will be powerless as trials, lawsuits and sanctions flow in for several years. I don’t know that I or any Penn Stater is prepared for this step or ever will be. Sad, dark days are ahead.