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After a loss, a family learns to widen its embrace

By JIM LITKE, AP Sports Writer Published: January 6, 2013
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“Sadness, I guess is what I remember most about that time,” Notre Dame lineman Mike Golic Jr., said. “Declan's a guy we all miss a lot and it's hard to imagine what they went through. I have all the respect in the world for his family, for the way they carried themselves and how they've handled it since.”

In the immediate aftermath, there were fingers pointed, calls for accountability and speculation about lawsuits. The Sullivans anguished over mistakes made, knew only too well his death could have been prevented. Yet they remained quiet throughout.

“We heard it, all of it, the speculation, the liability claims, but that was not our first impulse and frankly, we never found reason to think any differently,” Barry Sullivan said. “We kept quiet first out of a respect for privacy and also because an investigation was going on.

“But we never felt the need to pursue any legal action. We never felt like we had to teach anybody a lesson. … At every juncture, they treated us with kindness and concern, sympathy and obviously, they accepted responsibility for what had happened. We had great sorrow of our own to deal with, but it was plain that they were suffering, too. Maybe if we'd been confronted with a cold, unfeeling institution, we would have felt different.

“But Alison (Drumm, his wife) and I looked at each other and we just kind of realized,” he concluded. “‘If we don't pursue this, nobody else can, either.“'

The state of Indiana and university conducted investigations. Notre Dame paid a $42,000 fine to the state for safety violations.

A moment of silence was observed before the next game against Tulsa, when the Irish came out with shamrock decals with Sullivan's initial on their helmets. The gestures that meant the most to the Sullivans were the private conversations with the Rev. Paul Doyle and university president, the Rev. John Jenkins, whose candid admission in an email sent to the Notre Dame community concluded, “Declan Sullivan was entrusted to our care, and we failed to keep him safe.”

Some people are dismayed to this day that was enough for the Sullivans. Yet they never looked back, determined only how they could go forward. They wondered about whether they could return to South Bend and find even traces of the joy the place held for them once.

“We had questions, `Would the place seem as special as it did before? Would there always be a cloud over it?“' Barry Sullivan recalled.

“Then, the day after funeral, our daughter took the lead. She had classes the next day and told us, `That's where I want to be.' And the first few times, there was that sense of sorrow. But the memorial helped, the warmth showed by the people who embraced us helped.”


Read the rest of the story on Oklahoman.com
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