‘The tragedy of Hughes’ – lessons learned

The shared emotional response is not about the intrinsic qualities or achievements of the person who has died. It is about the fragility of life and the capacity of some events to knock us down not as individuals, but as a community. We learn from these things.

(Malcolm Knox ‘Players will find it difficult to move on from the tragedy of Hughes’. Saturday Age, 6/12/14, p.57).


Phillip Hughes’ tragic death impacted on many people. I suspect that, unlike those who knew him and were affected directly, many of us, whose connection with Hughes was solely through the extensive media coverage of his death and related events that preceded and succeeded it, have ‘moved on’ now. I wonder if children who were touched by these events have moved on quite so quickly and easily.

Educators in services for school-age children, and some who work with children under school age, will have had conversations with children and overheard conversations between children about this tragedy. These conversations no doubt have been both expressions of sadness and efforts to make sense of something that seems so random and so wrong.

I tried unsuccessfully to talk myself out of being caught up in the media coverage. I invoked the usual clichés about people dying unexpectedly every day and our inclination to over-revere sportsmen (it’s hardly ever women). I think a major part of the story of Phillip Hughes was the fact that his story was straightforward, ‘ordinary’ – a loving family, a country upbringing, a passion for cows and cricket, seemingly a man who was not complex. His cricket success was only one component of the story. I was aware that much of my sadness as I watched the funeral was because I am the mother of adult sons – that’s all.

For some children the powerful message from the death of Phillip Hughes is that people can die unexpectedly, tragically and long before it’s time. I recall very vividly the moment when I was a child when I understood for the first time that a much-loved person close to you or someone you admire at a distance can die totally unexpectedly and seemingly without reason. Can you recall that moment in your life? That awareness was for me temporarily shattering. I suspect that, contrary to the erroneous stereotype of children as carefree human beings who have no worries, some children may not move on so easily from the death of Phillip Hughes. Many will need wise help to make sense of horrible events.

Do you know children who may be experiencing awareness of the randomness of death for the first time? What is your obligation to them?

How do you decide what to say and when to say it?

Do you initiate discussion about death or wait for children to initiate it?

How do you model both moving on after a tragedy and ‘constructive grieving’ — holding on to the memory and learning from it?


Additional resources

Pam Linke’sEveryday learning about loss and grief’  is an excellent resource for families and friends and educators of children coping with loss and is available on ECA’s online store.

The resource provides insightful advice assisting our understanding of what loss means to children, as well as outlining positive strategies to help children cope, including:

  • the emotions produced by loss
  • how children understand grief
  • the ways children may respond
  • cultural differences in the ways children may experience grief and loss
  • what parents and carers can do to help children cope.

State and Territory Governments have information and support available for children and families coping with a loss.

You may also wish to follow links below to some other resources. Families may wish to seek professional support and advice.

Other resources

Where to go for help

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Anne Stonehouse

Anne Stonehouse AM lives in Victoria and works as a consultant, writer and facilitator of professional learning in early childhood. She has published many books, articles and other resources for educators and parents. Her main professional interests are the nature of good quality curriculum for babies and toddlers and family-educator relationships in early learning settings. She was a member of the writing team in the Charles Sturt University-based consortium that developed the national Early Years Learning Framework. She is currently engaged in a number of projects related to the national and Victorian Frameworks.

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