CHICAGO

Brian Urlacher Rejoins Team After Mother's Sudden Death

09/15/2011 01:11 pm ET | Updated Nov 15, 2011

Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher returned to the team Thursday after rushing to Texas earlier this week following the sudden death of his mother, Lavoyda Lenard.

“My first priority right now is to be with my family as we mourn her loss and make the arrangements to lay her to rest,” Urlacher said in a statement released by the Bears. “This is a very difficult and emotional time for us and I sincerely ask that you respect our privacy. Thank you.”

Urlacher was in Mount Pleasant, TX following his mother's death on Monday and missed the team's first practice Wednesday, but ESPN.com reports that he was back at practice Thursday and appears to be planning to play in Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints.

Urlacher has always cited Lenard, 51, as an inspiration, and often spoke of their close relationship. After his parents' divorce, Urlacher and his two siblings moved to Lovington, N.M. with his mother, who worked three jobs to support their family, ESPN reports. "My mom is my heart," Urlacher said in a 2002 ESPN Magazine article.

The Bears issued a statement Wednesday announcing that Urlacher would be taking time off from the team to spend time with his family, and refusing to rush him to decide whether he'd play in Sunday's game in New Orleans. Coach Lovie Smith, who lost his mother Mae earlier this year, encouraged the player to take all the time he'd need.

“Right now we’re just there supporting Brian," Smith said in the team's statement. "He’s with his family, which I want him to do. He’ll let us know where we’re going to go from there.”

Urlacher played a key role in the team's season-opening victory last Sunday, scoring a touchdown on a fumble and logging 10 tackles, earning NFC defensive player of the week honors. He has played all 13 seasons in Chicago and is considered one of the most popular players on the team, according to ESPN. Bears receiver Roy Williams called him the team's "emotional leader" and said that although someone would take his spot if necessary, Urlacher is a vital part of the team.

“You can’t replace a guy like that. You can’t find a guy like that in the league,” quarterback Jay Cutler said in a statement. “He’s the heart and soul of this organization. We all know he’s going through a tough time right now. But we’re going to respect his privacy and when he gets back we’ll be here for him.”

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