Tailgating helps heal a family tragedy.
As a Missouri alumna and former Golden Girl, I was determined to introduce my four children to all things Mizzou. My husband, Michael, and I love Tiger football, so we made Homecoming festivities an annual family event. In the early days, we pushed a stroller along as we enjoyed house decorations, watched parades and participated in Marching Mizzou traditions. In time, our three sons and one daughter proudly proclaimed MU their college of choice.
The next thing we knew, it was 2005, and our oldest son, Kurt, was a freshman. Like true fans, we purchased season tickets and began tailgating. It started small, with just the six of us, a van, lawn chairs, football, cooler and small grill. We staked out a site in the University Hospital parking lot before it was an official tailgating zone. I guess that makes us founders of Lot X.
Kurt, BS BA ’09, had bigger dreams. He bought a Mizzou tent, invited friends, and our humble Lot X plot became a bona fide tailgate. We spent Friday nights buying food, mixing dips and loading coolers. On Saturday mornings, we drove with a full load from our home in St. Louis to Columbia, with a tiger tail hanging from the back of the van. During those weekends, we enjoyed meeting Kurt’s friends, and in no time they felt like family. Our second son, Todd, BS ME ’11, had enrolled in 2007, then Eric in 2009 and Heidi in 2012.
As the tailgates grew, so did our love for football Saturdays. Each fall we met new students and kept in touch with those who had graduated. We followed their academic progress, careers and social lives. Although preparing for these parties was a lot of work, the laughter, appreciation and memories kept us coming back. I often remarked how lucky we were to share our weekends not just with our children but also with their friends. It kept us young.
In January 2011, when Eric was a sophomore, we lost him to suicide. It was tragic, devastating and shocking. He had no history of depression, earned straight As and had a fabulous group of friends. As we pulled together and regrouped, we found ourselves surrounded by family, friends and the church community. However, it was our MU tailgate crowd that made a difference. Their familiar faces flooded the funeral home and church. They would not leave our side. Many came by the house to share happy stories and reminisce. For months, handmade gifts, photo albums and letters poured into our mailbox. Our tailgate family rallied around us and provided more love and support than we ever could have imagined.
That fall, we resumed tailgating, even though we no longer had a child enrolled at MU. Although our daughter wouldn’t enroll until 2012, we saw no reason to break the tradition. Those first few weekends were emotionally rough. Memories flooded back of how Eric would wave and greet us with a big smile. But his friends and all the regulars were there to ease our pain. Hugs, silly stories and happy memories warmed our hearts. The young adults readily shared their pain at losing Eric and their desire to keep his memory alive. Their youthful spirit and smiles continue to heal us.
Our tailgating tradition continues. New faces, just as fine and just as hungry, join familiar ones. It is with love and gratitude that we give back to our tailgate family. Nothing is better than a hug and Tiger football on a Saturday afternoon.