Tag Archives: Grief

The Second Lap

The shoes in the image above are mine. I’ve run more than 1800 miles in them over the last three years. I’ve learned much on the journey. My skill as a runner has increased significantly. But there is still room for improvement. My Ironman training regimen is designed to help me finish stronger than I start. The workouts tend to have tougher components toward the end. Such was the case Sunday afternoon. I was scheduled for a two hour run. The first hour was to be run as a warm up with low intensity just to get good and tired. The second hour was split into three, twenty minute intervals at race pace (or faster) intensity. I started at 1:30 PM in the afternoon on a mid-80’s degree day to simulate the race day run timing. The Texas humidity made sure I was warm right from the start.

I kept my pace measured and easy as I clicked through the first hour, marked off by my regular refueling every fifteen minutes. Then came the work. I laid out my run to have more hills in the second hour. That’s how the course is in Chattanooga in September. Just as I hit the first twenty minute interval, I was heading up one of the steeper hills of the day.

When you’ve been moving at a slow and steady pace for an hour, your body adjusts and kicking it up to a fast gear pushes everything out of whack for a bit until your body acclimatizes to the new pace. But I held it; I hit my pace goals during all three intervals. My software tells me my fastest kilometer of the day was my last one. I was speeding up as I finished! Yes! Real progress! But that second hour, that second lap was tough and demanding on my body and concentration.

Now that I look back on it, the first year after Kristi died was all about survival. I was thrilled just to get to this date last year. So much change. So much hurt. So much adjustment. I wasn’t sure I could do it. But I made it. We made it. Together and smiling! I knew we would be OK.

But as this second year without Kristi has drawn to a close, I realize that it has been much like the second lap of my run. This year wasn’t just about going through the motions just to make it to a certain date on calendar. This year was about making real progress toward thriving again. And we have. But it has been hard. The pace has picked up and life is churning onward. We’ve had to adjust to the new pace and the reality of the new normal has settled in. This isn’t a sprint. Its about endurance. However the path to thriving again is in moving forward, not back. I know it. Its exciting to have progress. But there’s a price to pay. I’m willing to pay it. My goal is not survival. My aim is to thrive!

To Move Forward

In the finish chute at the Pflugerville TriI train to race. I race to move forward. Its that simple.

Life went sideways the day Kristi was diagnosed. A sideways life is out of sync. It requires WAY more effort to simply complete each day than synchronization did. After eighteen years of marriage we had our processes figured out. We moved in synchronization. Our processes and methods may not have been the most efficient and certainly not the best, but they were ingrained, they were habitual (in the best use of that word). Two parents, two mates, two lives working as one, raising four more made a lot of forward progress.

But then there was just one. One trying to survive. One trying to keep all the old processes in motion but finding out that one cannot do what two did. One trying to keep the other going. But one ending up just trying to make it to the end of each day. One trying to keep hope alive in the other four. One trying to keep hope alive in himself. And then hope died.

One found himself adrift, floating sideways. But there was a race coming for the one. Because there was a race, one got up before the dawn to run and swim and bike. When the gun went off, one found he was racing, not to survive, but to thrive. The reality of the forward movement captured the spirit of one and rekindled hope that life could be synchronized again. Each finish line was more than just the completion of a race. It signified forward momentum.

The race demands the focus of the one be kept looking forward, to live in expectation of growth and new achievement. The race instills discipline in the one to rise and train. And one has found that in the rising, in the training, in the racing, life moves forward, not sideways. Forward movement provided a rebirth of hope. And hope does not disappoint.

I race to move forward.

 

 

Just a Recovery Run…

My quads are sore! That was the predominant thought on my mind as my feet hit the floor at 5AM yesterday morning. It was time for my post-race recovery run. I was headed to run with the tri group. I knew I needed to do it, but it sure didn’t sound fun. My legs were sore after all from the general thrashing I gave them on Saturday during the race. Its just a recovery run I thought. No biggie. Not much to learn here. Hobble through, move on.

As we started off at a very easy pace I figured we would go for 15-20 minutes and turn around for an easy 3 to maybe 3.5 miles. Left to my own devices I would have put in two miles and called it good. But each of us had raced 70.3 miles over the weekend and we had stories to share. Trotting along at a slow gate, our breath was easy and we chatted it up. Next thing I knew it was time to turn around.

“Wait, we’re at the low water crossing?! This is 2.5 miles in. That means a five mile recovery run! I’m gonna pay for this!” We had gone much farther than I expected. I actually felt good. The longer I ran, the better I felt.

I woke up this morning and my quads were almost entirely pain free. Wow! It worked! The five miles actually paid off; they didn’t cost me!

Three years into endurance sports and I’m still learning, still growing. I’ll tuck this nugget of experience away for future post-race and heavy training session recovery. Go a little farther than you think you need. Do it with friends if possible.

Sounds like grief recovery too! The emotions and body are often frayed and worn down after a significant loss. There will be a recovery period. There needs to be a recovery period. The pace needs to be slower, and it probably needs to go longer than you thought. But you’ll survive. Yes, its painful to work those exposed nerves and broken hearts, that’s why you need a friend along for support, but there’s healing on the other side.

Its a choice. How you live each day is a choice. You don’t have to work on those broken and injured spots. But if you just bury the pain, it can’t ever come out and leave you free to live and thrive again.

Yeah, it was just a recovery run. Right.

Down The Rabbit Hole – Three Years Later

While yesterday was a day of wonderful memories, today marks three years from the day we received Kristi’s breast cancer diagnosis. I remember the phone call vividly. The solemn monotone of the doctor, the look in Kristi’s eyes, the immediate tightness in my gut. Here’s the post about that day. My first post.

I’m encouraged as I read that post that even on day one I was looking to work with my Father above to bring about good in the situation. Boy has that turned out differently than I thought, planned or desired.

I didn’t realize it then, but grief arrived that very day. I didn’t know it was grief, but it was. We were planning to go out on an anniversary dinner, eighteen years plus one day late. Since we already had the children looked after we went to dinner anyway, just so we could process the news. It was a miserable affair. Without knowing anything about how serious her fight would become, that phone call ripped joy and peace right out from under us. We sat and stared at each other, pushing our food around our plates, appetites gone. We mumbled to each other, our breath too weak to form words properly. We stared blankly at the waitress, her cheery words falling on wan smiles.

It fundamentally altered our marriage. She became the patient and I became the caregiver. All those changes brought grief. Grief of days wasted, time lost, changed roles, new responsibilities and so many more changes, little and big that are in the rabbit hole of fighting cancer.

I was determined that it wouldn’t define our relationship. We would beat it and move on. Living and loving each other more deeply for the scare she’d had. Nope. Didn’t work out that way either. And yet, by giving vent and voice to the grief over the years I’ve been able to let it flow on by. Feel it, own it, experience it and let it go. It will come again. That’s cool. I’ll dance with it again and then send it on down the line once more.

And in the letting go of grief, love remains. Life remains. Cancer hasn’t defined our relationship. We fought to make our marriage great for 19 years and three months and we succeeded. Cancer didn’t change that.

But the premature end of Kristi’s life has put a spotlight on how precious each day is that remains. My goal is still the same as it was on 18+1, three years ago today. Labor in love with my Heavenly Father to bring about all manner of good in this life.

Don’t avoid your grief. That will derail you. Meet it head-on. Let it come. Experience it. Soul-shaking sobs. Heart-rending cries. Whatever it takes. So you can let it go. So Love can remain.

“Now these three remain, Faith, Hope and Love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

 

Taking Steps

As I climbed out of the pool after this morning’s training session I thought, “Man, my shoulders are worked!” On the way home I could feel the tiredness seeping into my entire body. “I shouldn’t feel this tired after 3100 yards. Fatigued yes, but tired like I want to go to sleep for hours? Nope.” 

After devouring my three-egg omelet I was still feeling as wilted as the spinach I had just cooked. Hmm. I don’t think this chest cold has truly gone away. So I called and managed to get an afternoon appointment with our family doc. He heard the wheezing in my lungs and ordered a chest X-ray to make sure I don’t have pneumonia or any pre-cursor to it.

My first triathlon of 2015 is in two and a half weeks. I need to be better by then. So I’m taking steps now to deal with this. Prayers are fully welcome!

Grief isn’t an illness or disease, but it can sure take you out of your normal routine and cause significant fatigue. To thrive again after loss, make sure to take steps now to deal with your grief. Don’t stuff it, ignore it or pretend you’re good and don’t need to grieve. Talk it out, write it out, get active! Pray. Rest. Take time to nuture your emotions and spirit. You’ll be back on your game soon enough. Give yourself time and grace.

Peace!

Should You Pull The Trigger?

In less than twenty-four hours my father and I board the plane in Romania and head for home. Its been a fantastic week. New friendships started, old friends greeted, new foods eaten, lives shared, encouragement given and received for the journey ahead. As I prepare to leave, I find myself energized and expectant about the future.

Three years ago I was in the same position. My father and I had just completed a similar trip to Romania. I returned home full of excitement about what was to come. One month later, Kristi was diagnosed with cancer and we were plunged down the rabbit hole that is cancer treatment. Expectation was thwarted, dreams crushed and hope smothered.

That was an awful time, not so far removed that the emotions are deeply buried. It doesn’t require much effort to dig them up. If I wanted. But I choose not to. I choose to not burden this experience in Romania with the negative events that followed my last visit. “You are wise, Chad. You would be foolish to live in such a way.” I can hear the comments now. But that choice wasn’t automatic or quick. Loss and grief of this magnitude color all your decisions.

Obviously this trip has brought to mind the previous one and the events that followed. Its been a natural trigger. I knew it would be before I even agreed to come. I knew I’d be faced with this situation again. But rather than cowering in fear of what comes next, I’ve chosen to walk through this trip and the events that follow with expectation of a different outcome.

When dealing with loss and grief, you encounter trigger events all the time. As I wrote here, many of those events are little things that surprise you. You have two choices when you encounter trigger events, especially those you see coming: Avoid or Embrace

Avoidance can be especially helpful, especially when the grief or loss is fresh. I took my children and skipped out on the usual Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations the first year by going to the other side of the world. We still celebrated but in a way that was so new and unique that it didn’t drag us through all the emotions and pain we were still processing.

But this year I embraced all the holiday celebrations. We fully decorated the house, even doing it before Thanksgiving. There were many trigger events throughout the season that I had to wade through and process. But I was prepared this year and we had a wonderful time together as a family. Poignant with loss yes, but filled with joy nevertheless.

As you approach an event that you know is going to trigger feelings of grief and loss, ask yourself, “Is it OK to pull this trigger?” “Am I ready for this?” There’s no shame in saying no. Its your call. Don’t feel obligated to move forward when you’re not yet ready. The time will come. You’ll know it. And then you can pull the trigger, step into the event and live. If you’re not there yet, know that the day will come. There is hope.

If you’re trapped in fear of trigger events, avoiding them at all costs, and have been stuck there for a while with avoidance your only coping tool, try some training. You’ll be amazed at how good a brisk walk, bike ride or jog will make you feel. You’ll feel better prepared to face those events and pull that trigger to get life moving again.

“PULL!”

Designation VS Definition

My dad turned seventy on Friday. I gave him eight birthday cards, one for each decade he’s lived plus one for his special day. Each card had a title with a prominent name or position he wore for that decade: Donald (0-10), Donnie (10-20), Daddy (20-30), Dad (30-40), Father-In-Law (40-50), Pawpaw (50-60), Personal Trainer (60-70).

Within each card I listed other names and titles he used during that decade of his life. For the eighth card I titled it simply, Friend. Out of all his titles and names through the years, the one I like best now is that one. It’s how we relate to each other.

What started as a cute idea quickly became a profound lesson as I reflected on all his names and titles. I’ve worn many of the titles he has and many of them I hope to wear some day. But right now I’m wearing one he’s never worn: widower.

I never planned on having this title, at least not at this age. This is something that only happens to people my dad’s age, right? Right. But hiding from it doesn’t help. Denying it doesn’t deny the reality of the circumstance. It’s the correct designation. But what does it say about me? Will I let it define me and my future?

There it is. Designation versus definition.

With a life change as significant as Widower, you can’t help but be affected. It is certainly a defining moment. How I choose to handle this will affect the rest of my life. Will it be a designation for this period of my life or define the rest of my existence?

Widow and widower both are terms that grate on the nerves. They portend deep loss, broken hearts and dreams, grief, sadness and fear of the future. Will that be the definition I saddle on my life?

Its a hard place. But in that place I have found resolve. Resolve to continue to love, to expect restoration, to heal my heart, to laugh again and to build new dreams. Where did I get that resolve? Love.

The opposite of fear is not fearlessness, but love. In fact there’s an ancient Jewish saying that says, “Perfect love casts out fear…the one who fears is not perfected in love.” Where do you find that kind of love? Only one place I know. It was demonstrated perfectly in the life of one person. Jesus.

In the tumult of care-giving and fighting Kristi’s cancer and in the wilderness of fresh grief and loss, love is hard to hear and easy to let slip out of sight. Training helped me find it again. Training won’t heal your grief. The love of Jesus can. Training can help you find your way though until you discover it.

I don’t know how long I’ll wear this designation, widower, but it won’t define me. How about you?

On Being OK with Being OK

As we finished up a family devotional time yesterday morning, it came up in the conversation that it has been eighteen months since their mother died. My ever-energetic eleven year old son shouted, “Best eighteen months ever!”

I grinned. But inside I thought, “Hmm, should I be OK with that? Am I OK with that? Shouldn’t he be devastated, heartbroken, weepy and desperate to see and hug his mother?” But I’ve worked hard over the last year and a half to connect with my children and make sure they understand that they are OK and that life hasn’t stopped for them. Certainly not to forget their mother, but to know that she wanted them to keep living. So I was stoked to hear his spur of the moment judgement.

But there you have it. The seeming dichotomy of grief and life. Oh he misses his mother. He tells me that often, usually at bedtime when he also whispers that I’m the most important person in the world to him. But at the same time he’s been able to keep living life. He’s been able to keep living because I’ve chosen to keep living.

And being OK with being OK is a big step and big part of the choice to keep living life fully and fulfilled. If you’re not there yet, I understand. But know that you don’t have to throw a wet blanket on your life with feelings of remorse or regret at being OK.

I remember the first day where I thought, “Today was OK. It wasn’t horrible. I made it to the end.” It was weird. Once that thought was out there, the questions immediately hit me: “Is it OK to be OK?” “Is this somehow downplaying my grief?” “Am I belittling the love that Kristi and I shared for two decades?”

Yes, No and No.

Give yourself permission to be OK.

This Deserves A Response

Another benefit to letting go of your anger is you’ll find space to respond to life instead of reacting. A response is driven by thought, faith, and deliberation. A reaction is driven by emotion. Rarely will you regret your responses. However reactions, especially those driven by anger, are often embarrassing and hurtful.

Navigating widowerhood demands a continuous string of responses throughout each day. Life does. But when you’ve been used to sharing the burden of those responses with your wife and she’s no longer there, having to handle them all alone seems daunting, overwhelming and impossible. It tires you out.

Trust me, choosing to react rather than respond will only magnify the burden of choices flowing your direction. And yes, its a choice. Anger is a choice. Many people employ it as a tool in relationships. I’ve found it to yield the poorest long term benefit. But that’s another discussion for another day.

Again, if anger is your go-to coping mechanism, you need to Take Time To Train. #4T. I’ll keep saying it, and don’t mind being stuck on the “Repeat Continuously” setting. Its a key component in living Fit, Faithful and Fulfilled. Anger will derail you. Choose to respond. That’s an action that’s fit for a widower.

Don’t Be Afraid

…to talk about your wife, especially if you have children. My youngest was barely seven when Kristi died. But he was only five when she was diagnosed with cancer. He can’t remember what he had for breakfast, let alone remember what his mom was like, especially before she got sick.

It breaks my heart that most of his memories of her are from fighting cancer. Every once in a while though he’ll come up with a memory from earlier. So I don’t try to stop the other three from talking about Kristi. They need to remember her as well.

I don’t try and force it either, I just let it come naturally. When one of them does something or says something or gives me a look that comes from Kristi, I let them know. Yes, of course it reminds me that she isn’t here any more. But dealing with loss is part of the landscape now. In fact I just posted about it a couple of weeks ago here.

Keep talking about your wife. Its important in the grieving and healing process. God knows. And you’ll find He provides the strength to do it.

Be Strong and Courageous

Fifty-four weeks ago I was in this same position. My gear was packed, I had my race number and I was ready to go. My first triathlon, my Race for Kristi, which many of you so graciously supported, would start just after dawn on a cool Sunday morning in October. It was a 400 yard swim, 11 mile bike and 4 mile run. I was sweating the swim and unsure about the run.

This week during morning Bible study with the children we’ve been going through the book of Joshua. It opens in chapter 1 with God prodding Joshua to get moving by telling him three times: “Be strong and courageous!” The Father has been gently leading me to get going as well. The message this week to be strong and courageous was timely. It really hit home when I realized the context. Joshua had been mourning the death of Moses. God tells him its time to get past the mourning and get to leading!

I shared this wake-up call with the children, explaining that it doesn’t mean grief is gone or finished, but that its ok to move forward with God in anticipation of the good He’s going to continue to work in, with and through us… to look for and live in the joy that He gives.

Tomorrow my family will be there cheering me on at the finish line…minus one key person from last year. But I take courage and strength from the fact that my Father is with me. That tomorrow its ok to race with joy, excitement and energy.

A year ago I was a tri-newbie, tomorrow will be my fifth race this year. Last year I was hoping to finish 15.25 miles. Tomorrow I hope to finish 70.3 miles. Last year I quailed at the thought of exercising for more than an hour. Tomorrow my goal is to finish in six hours.

Last year I was focused on helping Kristi in her battle. This year I’m focused on moving forward. Taking one day, one step at a time. Tomorrow is a microcosm of life…don’t look at the whole stretch of open water, just keep swimming until 1.2 miles are down and my feet hit bottom. I can’t regard the entire 56 mile bike course, I just have to keep spinning my legs until I wheel in to the transition area. And I certainly can’t dread the 13.1 mile run… I must simply keep focused on the moment, choosing to be strong and courageous by putting one foot forward at a time until the finish chute swings into view.

Be Gone, B-9, B-Healed… its a way of life!

Taking Out The Trash

Megan burst through my bedroom door this morning exclaiming “The garbage truck is coming!”

“What?!” I launched myself out of bed and raced outside to grab the can. My mind was racing along with my body “Why are they coming today? We had a holiday on Monday and they normally come a day later on holiday weeks! I don’t get it! This doesn’t make sense…” and then fortunately my situational awareness pushed aside the questioning daze and I realized if I pulled the garbage can out to the curb clad in my pajamas… well lets just say I would have been inappropriately dressed.

I jumped back inside, threw on some athletic shorts and as I burst back outside I saw that Megan had beaten me to the job and was steps away from the street with the trashcan in tow. As I jogged down to help her (Its 70 yards from our door to the street) Katie started hollering my name. I turned and she hefted a full trash basket aloft from the children’s bathroom.

I shifted into high gear, grabbed the overflowing container and made a personal hand off to the garbage man in the nick of time! We smiled in greeting as he handed me back the empty basket and pushed the large can, now empty, to the curb. Megan was already back to the house. She normally won’t touch the garbage can, but grasping the need of the moment, she seized the initiative and got rolling.

Mission accomplished… trash removed.

Our days this past week have been full and busy with but few “fire drills” like this morning. But I realize that my internal thought process at times track similar paths to this morning’s events. There are moments when I think “I’ve got this wired. We are sailing along just fine!” and then the garbage truck rumbles into earshot and my thoughts jump into overdrive…then I find I’m racing to take out the emotional excess.

Like trash, my emotions are incredibly useful during this grieving. Our trash is mostly packaging, containers or mail. What is now in the trash once served a key purpose. It held something together, conveyed important contents or communicated needed information. My emotions accomplish all three things as well: They help me hold together by being a stress relief valve, they wrap precious memories, imbuing them with value and they remind me of important truths.

The tricky part of each day however is that I never know when the garbage truck is going to come rumbling along. On Tuesday morning this week, two months to the day after Kristi died, our dear neighbor from Liberty Hill also passed away from breast cancer. Her battle had stretched over 10 years or more and she had almost reached 90 years in age. But it didn’t matter. I wept when I received the news. Another husband bereft of his love, a son left motherless.

I remembered how Mrs. Beebe welcomed our children into her home for root beer and Oreos in the afternoons when school was finished. The evenings spent rocking on their porch enjoying the Texas hill country twilight while they told stories about growing up around Austin, fighting in World War II or praising our Lord together will remain cherished memories.

I just let the tears flow Tuesday. It was cathartic. And as the tears dried, I didn’t try to keep crying or stay in that place of deep mourning. The day kept moving and I needed to keep up. I know the opportunity to weep will come again, but that moment passed. The sorrow and aching were fit for the moment, serving their purpose and then they needed to be released. To remain artificially tethered to the period of weeping would be like not taking out the garbage. Eventually it piles up, gets in the way of progress and starts stinking. You have to take it out, let it go.

That’s what I’m learning to do. Let the emotions come, and come they do…then let them go. Let them serve their purpose and then release them so life and healing can continue to flow without getting stopped up by rancid emotional debris.

Mission accomplished… trash removed.

B-Gone, B-9, B-Healed… Its a way of life