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Through loss and losses: life and death and soccer

The Red Stars are on another losing streak and I lost my grandma while trying to cover it all.

Shaina Benhiyoun Photography

NWSL action returns this week, and I’ve missed it.

Congrats to the U.S. Women’s national team on continuing their victory tour in front of thousands, but the club teams is where it’s at for me, and frankly, I’m ready.

Through the Loss

I lost my grandmother last weekend - my father’s mother - and we are laying her to rest this week. Over this past year the grandmother I knew had slowly began to fade away throughout various moments. The year has been particularly difficult, especially on my two loving aunts, who were her primary care givers.

However, after numerous hospital visits, and constant home care, her health began to dramatically decline and her memories fade. A fear settled within me that should I visit, she could not know who I was, and so perhaps selfishly - I stayed away with the rationale that I didn’t want it as my final memory of her, a grandmother who didn’t know who I was.

So, this week I’m preparing myself to say goodbye, be with family, and begin a new chapter of life that will include her only in memory. In short it’s been emotionally draining. I’ve been blessed to have all four of my grandparents as I grew up, something that I always knew was rare since so many people would tell me or let me know how unique that was. After my grandmother’s passing, I’ve now got one grandmother remaining with me.

The finality of the loss has never gotten easier or simpler to comprehend. If anything, for myself, it’s gotten more convoluted and sometimes stifling. How is the woman who took care of everyone now gone? It’s a question of life I have no answer to.

Among The Losses

Throughout all this, there is a part of me that feels anxious, to get back to something that is familiar, that has become consistent - covering a team and sport that has become part of my existence and identity in the way others perceive me. It oddly comforts me in the face of feeling like I have lost a piece of my own personal identity through my grandmother’s passing.

Seeing her face when I look in the mirror, or knowing some folks out there are seeing “Herrera” on bylines, has oddly brought stillness in my currently blurred brain, especially when people have reached out in support during the difficult times outside of the context of “Content.”

I’ve welcomed it, and makes me appreciate that some people care a bit about the person behind the words to keep up with the league and my work. Specifically when it comes to the Chicago Red Stars, the team that I’ve covered for years now, a team that happens to be dealing with their own losses as they currently navigate their second slump of the season with their most recent three-game losing streak.

This same team that was on the verge of setting an all time club record of consecutive wins just a few weeks ago, has instead actually gone on to set a different record of its own. Two consecutive three-game losing streaks in one season, the first time that has ever been achieved in Red Stars NWSL history. Yikes.

Admittedly so, I’ve missed their most recent loss, a 3-0 thrashing on the road against Portland Thorns FC in front of thousands of Rose City faithful, and even thousands more as it was broadcast on ESPNews. I slept through the entire fiasco.

I had received the news of my grandmother’s passing with family while being out of state for the weekend. By the time I eventually arrived home, I submitted to the grief in a several hours long nap.

When I awoke, the Red Stars had lost their third in a row, eighth overall on the season. They had gone through losing streaks without their “World Cup stars” and have now gone through a winless streak with those same “Big Names.” Oh and my grandmother was really gone, it wasn’t all some terrible dream, and on a rewatch to try and take my mind off things, I had so many questions about so many things.

Will I still be who I am without my grandma? Will the Red Stars just keep losing? Have I brought honor to the surname I hold with so much pride? Is this what it’s like watching something you love fade away? My Abuelita isn’t coming back, but her memory stings in my brain. The Red Stars are coming back, but their losses still sting too.

And Out Again

As the regular season nears its end, rumors and discussions of what next year can bring the league are accelerating. It’s the eventual inevitable of expansion that is most concerning, because the truth is no matter what happens this season for Chicago, whether it’s accepted or not, this current Red Stars club window will be closed.

League growth, and different opportunities for individuals means change. Change for various clubs and players in the league, especially ‘Top tier’ teams like the Red Stars.

Players who have “belonged” to this club and city might not be here next year, because that’s just how expansion works. Retirements well before a players’ prime aren’t uncommon in this league. If the Red Stars find themselves with the same ending to their season, the coaches we’ve come to know might not be there anymore either.

Greatness doesn’t belong to just one place, it belongs to the world. So, if you haven’t made peace with the eventual reality that Sam Kerr will leave to seek other opportunities, do it now. Go to games if you’re in Chicago. You’ve still got a chance to see the supernatural Sam Kerr in action, but if you can’t, and are only able to admire from afar, that’s okay too.

I’m not a psychic, I’m not meta-gifted, and I can’t predict the future. So, I don’t know if any of the aforementioned will actually happen. Maybe it’s just the concept of coping with eventual loss and preparing for the final goodbye.

I don’t know if the Red Stars are going to keep losing a bunch of games and fade away this season, or if they’re going to maintain their playoff position. I don’t know if they’ll get into the semifinal round and end up eliminated in what has become a predictable end to their seasons.

I don’t know if they’re going to finally end up telling everyone to metaphorically fuck off and go on one of the most epic end of season runs ever - playoffs, first finals appearance, and NWSL championship. I don’t know who this team will be or what they will look like come next season as things like expansion and expansion drafts become more real.

For now however, I do know that the Red Stars will keep waking up for game days and that they’ll keep punching forward.

I know that on FIFA’s list or not, Julie Ertz and Sam Kerr are currently two of the best at their jobs. I know that Casey Short is slowly proving doubters wrong on her attack game while being the best defender in the league. I know that Sarah Gorden is faster than all of us, and I know that Morgan Brian is quietly running the midfield. I know that Yuki Nagasato is literally the link, and that Tierna Davidson is the future.

Loss and losses, streak or not, there’s still games left to play, a life to fully live - and I know that I’ll be watching. I’ll be covering and producing content, I’ll keep punching forward too, and I know that I’ll always have my querida abuelita with me. I will always be her granddaughter.