A tough as nails Scottish born immigrant, the only thing Al Adamson has ever loved more than playing ice hockey is his family. When his wife of 60 years died two years ago, coming three months after the suicide of his granddaughter, it took him more than a year to make it back to the rink.
Adamson’s fear of breaking down in public, as he once did while standing in line to buy groceries, led him to stay in his house more than he knew he should. His psychologist and psychiatrist grew concerned about Al’s increasingly agoraphobic behaviour, which is why is why they encouraged him to head back to the rink and hang out with members of the Nite Owls ice hockey club he’d been part of for more than 40 years.
‘At first I thought that was about the worst advice they could have given me,’ he said, discussing his first time back to watch a Nite Owls game at the O’Brien Ice Rink in Melbourne’s Docklands precinct.
Admanson received a couple quick hellos/goodbyes from club mates after they left the changing room, but he felt that a few were trying to avoid him which made him feel worse. ‘One guy turned around like he saw a ghost.’ Eventually Admanson realised that it was simply their inability to know what to say to him that made them nervous.
This became apparent to Admanson when one of the Nite Owls, also a Social Health team member, spent an hour listening to him at the rink on that first night back. A few days later they went out for pizza. Al brought his scrap book along. Stories ensued; many having to do with wife and family. Surprisingly to Admanson, the simple act of telling another human being about his circumstances somehow made him feel better, and without making him feel like something was wrong with him. Soon he began to see that what he was experiencing, awful as it was, was also a normal part of the human experience.
Al feels even better these days, knowing that he has inspired Social Health to develop a program to upskill members of sporting clubs in social health first-aid. The idea is for them to be able to support fellow club members dealing with those predictably unpredictable life crises, which always feel worse and do more damage when experienced alone. Al is confident in the changes his work can bring, “If we can get hockey players to learn CPR, I’m sure we can teach them the shut up and listen.”