Lessons From Loss
Struck by tragedy—not once, but twice—a UNH couple seek to pass on what they've learned.

Bookmark and Share
Easy to print version
Make a comment

Also read: A Symbol of Goodwill: Operation Hat Trick is a bridge between soldiers and citizens
Also see UNH Athletics' Operation Hat Trick page

Donna and Steve Hardy, 2009

Donna Hardy feels herself welling up as she stands on the threshold of the rehab room at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital. Before her are young men without arms, without legs, struggling to strengthen the limbs left intact and learning to use the new limbs with which they've been fitted. She holds on to her husband, Steve, a UNH kinesiology professor, asking if they could stick together until she gets her bearings. Even though these determined warriors, just home from Iraq and Afghanistan, are expecting the visitors, it is too difficult. She needs to hear Steve say the words first.

And so he does. "I'm Steve Hardy," he says. "My son was killed in action, and our university has developed a program in his memory to give you hats. I'd be honored if you'd wear one."

A blue and white baseball cap is accepted, condolences are offered and questions asked about Chief Petty Officer Nathan H. Hardy, a Navy SEAL who was killed during a raid on an al-Qaeda suicide bomb cell. Handsome, mischievous 29-year-old Nate, Steve and Donna's youngest son, has been dead 16 months. But what his parents can't believe is that this soldier before them, this amputee as young as the students Donna tends in her administrative post in the UNH psychology department, is intent on comforting them. It takes Donna's breath away.

And so she summons her confidence and begins delivering hats—to the soldier with a new prosthetic leg, to the fellow who lost an arm from a roadside bombing, to the young burn victim so bloated from steroids he can't speak. How do you compare their losses with mine? she wonders. You can't. Life is sometimes filled with overwhelming challenges, but you can learn from them. Or at least that's the philosophy that has pushed her, and Steve as well, out of bed each day, and not just since they faced the phalanx of Navy officers in a Hewitt Hall conference room that February morning in 2008, but also since the early hours of another winter day 15 years earlier. The day when their eldest son, Josh, their artist-surfer-skateboarder, died in his bed after a 17-month battle with brain cancer. They have been struck by the unthinkable twice.

But it is not pity they seek from these wounded veterans, or those attending memorials, or the audiences at speeches Steve is asked to make. They do not want pity from Durham neighbors and friends. What the Hardys want is to share the lessons they've learned from this long journey through grief. As they wind their way through Walter Reed, they know that—to quote a SEAL slogan—the only easy day was yesterday. But they also know you can't give in, which is what their sons have taught them, and what they hope to convey to those who care to listen.

Lesson #1: Face your challenges honestly

At 61, both Steve and Donna Hardy look fit and strong, a reflection of the daily exercise regime they have followed for as long as anyone can recall. Their middle son, Ben, who is 32 and a writer in Burlington, Vt., remembers childhood friends stopping their play to watch his parents jog by. No one else's parents did that. Donna still runs four miles every morning, calling it her therapy. Lithe and muscular, she is barely 5 feet tall, yet Nate's friends think of her as the boss, always cleaning, always laughing, always behind the wheel of the orange Volvo named Gertrude, chauffeuring kids to soccer games or to Harvard Square to buy music. When she told them to take off their shoes, they did.

Steve is the philosophical one, soft-spoken and wise, forever interested in others. Nate's friend Matt Renner remembers many conversations with Steve that began with "What do you want to do, Matty?" And when they weren't talking careers (which for Renner turned out to be co-producing TV's "The Deadliest Catch"), they were talking sports. Steve Hardy loves sports, whether it is competing (he played hockey as a youth in Waltham, Mass., and later for Bowdoin College) or teaching (sports marketing, the history of hockey) or writing (two books and countless articles). Yet while his students say he can talk eloquently about any aspect of athletics, what has endeared him to them, says former student Maja Hansen '96, is his calm.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 Next >


blog comments powered by Disqus