They tell you not to cry – he’s just a dog, not a human being.
They tell you that “the pain will be over” – that animals don’t know they have to die, and it’s important not to let him suffer.
They tell you that “now there is no more pain” – that you can adopt another dog and you will forget all about this moment that you are in right now.
But they don’t know how many times you’ve looked into your dog’s eyes – or how many times you and your dog have turned and looked into that darkness alone.
They don’t know how many times your dog was the only one who was by your side – or how many times he slept in your bed or within arms reach on the floor right beside you.
They don’t know the fear you feel when you’ve awakened suddenly from sleep, to look for and listen to him in the darkness of night.
They don’t know how much you’ve changed since your dog has become a part of your life.
They don’t know how many times you’ve hugged him when he was sick, or how many times you’ve pretended not to see his face getting whiter or his eyes clouding over.
They don’t know how many times you’ve talked to him – the only one who truly listens and never judges.
They don’t know that it was only your dog who always knew when you were in pain.
They don’t know how much he loves you and how it was always enough for him to be happy, simply knowing that you loved him back.
They don’t know what it feels like to see your old dog struggling to stand up just to greet you with his toe-tapping, tail-wagging “Hello”.
They don’t know that, when absolutely everything was going wrong, the only one who didn’t walk away was your dog.
They don’t know how much your dog has trusted you in every single moment of his life – especially his very last.
They don’t know that crying for your dog is one of the most noble, significant, truest things that you will ever do.
They don’t know that the last time you moved him, you made sure it didn’t hurt.
They don’t know what it feels like to hold his head in the final moments of his life knowing that, as you pet him and kiss his face for the very last time, an irretrievable piece of your heart was departing with him.
“They” don’t know any of these things – but you do. And how lucky are you to have had a friend that makes saying “Goodbye” so damn hard.
(*Edited and adapted from the original poem by Emanuele Spud Grandi.)
“We must always welcome the end of all things – for sometimes, knowing that nothing lasts forever, is the only way that we can learn to fall in love with all the moments and the all people that are meant to take our breath away!”
My name is Runner, but you can call me “RunRun”. I’m a retired racing greyhound. You probably already “know” me from social media. My humans tend to post a lot of photos of me and, way back in the day, they even created my own hashtag:
I was born on January 15, 2010, the largest in my litter. I was bred to run, but born to love. They named me “AMF One And Done” and started training me right away. I competed in 100 races during the first 3 years of my life, traveling all the way from St. Petersburg, Florida to Wheeling, West Virginia. I’ve won 10 of those races and placed “Top 3” in 46 of them. It was fun in the beginning but, after awhile, I had to make it clear – I’m a lover, not a runner.
I retired at the age of 4 and, by the time I was 5, I met Mary, (aka “the matchmaker”) at Going Home Greyhounds. She’s interviewed many applicants throughout the years but, this time, she knew exactly with whom I belonged.
I met my humans in April of 2015, and it was love at first sight! We moved in together immediately. Time really does fly by when you’re having fun – and we sure have had a lot of really good times throughout the years!
They’ve shown me what it’s like to be loved – and I mean, REALLY LOVED! Not because of how fast I can run or how many races I can win, but simply because I’m me – and who could not love ME?! They used to call me the “gentlest giant” and, weighing in at 98 lbs. when they adopted me, they really were not wrong. Most greyhounds don’t get that big. They just smiled and said there was more of me to love!
I am very patient, highly sensitive, and I avoid conflict as if it were the plague. We have several cats that live in our home, but I pay them no mind – so long as the fluffy one doesn’t bite my legs. A couple of years ago, we adopted my brother, Quint – he likes to play with toys, so I gave him all of mine. Sometimes he steals my favorite bed, but the humans have taught us both to share.
I’d like to think I’ve taught them a thing or two, as well. Like how to live in the moment, right here, right now – not worrying about the past or wondering about the future. Sometimes, I think that maybe I’ve done TOO GOOD of a job at teaching them this…because, sometimes, they seem to forget that nothing lasts forever. Not even me.
I’m 12 & 1/2 years old now, which is like – I don’t know, “really old” in human years. The fur on my face is almost completely white, but I still love it when they kiss me. Mama tells me that I have “almond eyes” and I can almost see, looking deeply into her’s, how they really do reflect back at me.
My back now hurts a little and I like to sleep a lot. Sometimes my joints will swell and I’ll struggle to get up. But I still love it when my people touch me, scratch my neck, or rub my ears. I like when they take naps with me, and throw pillows at the kitty who’s always sneaking up to attack.
My toes might drag when I walk, but I still prance when it’s time for treats. I’ve lost a lot of weight this year, despite how much I eat. My skin hangs off me now – like a well-worn, favorite T-shirt, stretched out so far that it no longer fits. I know that this saddens them, but they still tell me I’m beautiful and, as always, I believe them.
I gave them the biggest scare this past week and, I’m afraid, I may have taken it too far. It’s hard to watch them suffer, but now I am suffering too. I can not live forever. They’re going to miss me when I’m gone. When the time comes for me to be on my way, I need to know that they’ll be strong.
I need to know they’ll be okay – and ready to make the call. So I’ve stressed them hard, I’ve made them cry. I’ve pushed them to the brink of whispering goodbye. I had to be certain, and they need to understand, that sometimes the greatest love you will ever know can only be expressed by the grace of letting go.
We’re getting by on borrowed time now. Truth is, there’s not much left. Let’s be grateful for every day we spend together… even if hours are all we get.
It’s no secret that running has been a struggle for me since becoming injured 11 months ago. To this day, my spinal injuries have yet to be fully diagnosed. Xrays show compression fractures to T-10, T-11, and T-12, as well as, a probable traumatic lower lumbar spondylolisthesis. We are awaiting the full diagnostic report on an MRI that is to be taken next week. In the process of trying to heal while still remaining active, I have re-discovered a lot of very simple truths.
First and foremost: YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE EXTREME – JUST CONSISTENT.
This applies to practically everything, but especially exercise. Twice per week, I show up at FitBody BootCamp and do what I can. Sure, I have to modify a lot. I don’t lift nearly as heavy on the weights as the majority of their other clients do, and I focus more on maintaining good form than I do on maxing out reps or going for multiple speed rounds. But this is what works for me. This is how I am able to keep going and not injure myself further.
Four days per week, I run. A year ago, that would have meant any number of things – easy runs, tempo runs, speed intervals, long slow distance… but always 100% running with little to no walk breaks. Now? Well, it is what it is – and even I don’t know what it is or what it will be until I lace up my shoes and take a few steps. Nowadays, I always start out walking… then I test my back out with a slow paced run. Some days it’s good and I can run for several miles. Some days it’s not so good and I am humbled back down to a walk. Some days I can go fast and it feels better that way – other days, 10:00 – 10:30/mile is the best that I can do. I’ve learned to include regular walk breaks in order to reassess and readjust my running form, even if I don’t feel like I need them. I’ve learned (the hard way!) how vital these little checks and balances are for me now… because what’s the point of one “good” run, if it takes my body an entire week to recover from it?
Needless to say, my physical training for the half marathon in Pittsburgh this year has been much less intense than previous years. Mentally, however, I did not need to prepare myself at all. I’d made up my mind that this was something I was going to do and it didn’t matter what kind of day I was having – good or bad, for better or worse, I was going to run this course. So I did – and I give all the credit for my positive experience to the fact that, day in and day out, I have remained CONSISTENT. I may not be able to do everything that I want to do, or in the way in which I would like to do it – but that will never stop me from doing all the things that I CAN do in the meantime.
Another major factor in my positive Pittsburgh half marathon experience this year has to do with CLEAN EATING HABITS.
John L. Parker Jr. once wrote that “if the furnace was hot enough, anything would burn – even Big Macs.” – meaning that distance runners could, if they ran enough, eat pretty much whatever they wanted and still stay healthy and lean. But this really isn’t the case at all. The truth is, you simply can not outrun a bad diet. Your body does not lie, and poor nutrition will always show – perhaps not always in your physical appearance, but most certainly in the way that your body physically functions and athletically performs.
Since becoming injured, clean food choices and accurate portion control have become even more important for me. It’s a lot easier to keep excess weight off your body when you’re running marathon distances and training for events, but take that ability away and you simply can not continue to consume foods on the same level and not expect to gain weight. In these past 11 months, I’ve lost a lot of muscle tone and strength due to the severity of my injuries and the absolute need for several months of rest in order to recover – but I have still been successful at maintaining a healthy weight. I’m definitely not where I want to be, or hope to be again someday, but I’m proud of my ability to read labels, plan meals, and prepare well, day in and day out. This year, my husband has even joined me in this endeavor, taking an active role in improving his own diet and health. He’s lost a significant amount of weight, no longer suffers from acid reflux, and hardly even snores anymore! We both love the way it feels to eat a primarily plant based diet with just a few servings of fish per week.
And now, the CORSET – which is kind of a funny story.
I’ve struggled with my spinal injuries so much these past 11 months that, on one particularly “bad” day, I found myself popping open the prescription bottle of painkillers left over from my previous surgeries to repair my shattered wrist. I know that this is not a longterm solution. It’s literally the equivalent of placing a bandaid on a bullet hole, and that is not how I want to live out the rest of my life. I am not one to take medications. It’s actually a really big deal for me to pop a single ibuprofen but, on this particular day, I knew that it just wouldn’t be enough. I went straight for the Schedule 2 opioid narcotics.
That was a wake-up moment for me.
I have seen way too many good people go down this road and I sure as hell do not want to be one of them! I began my search for the best neurosurgeon in the Pittsburgh area and I made the call. They listened to my story, pulled my previous medical records, and ordered diagnostic tests. They have already prefaced me for the probable need for surgery at this point and, pending the results of next week’s MRI, we will schedule an appointment to discuss my potential options. Spinal surgery is something that I am not particularly confident in or, in any way, comfortable with. I can not say that I will agree to this – but I am open to exploring the possibility of some less conventional, “experimental” treatments – like PRP or Stem Cell Therapy. Regardless, all of this information had me researching the details of surgical interventions, statistics, and outcomes. While they seem to boast a high rate of pain relief, the recovery does not seem particularly promising to me – meaning that high-impact activities, like running, are still cautioned against, and athletes who have returned to running did so about 6-months post surgery but still required spinal bracing in order to tolerate it.
Wait. Spinal bracing? Why hadn’t I thought of this?
I immediately began my search for a highly recommended back brace suitable for running. There was literally nothing in stock in any store within 100 miles of me! All of the sudden I had an epiphany – why not wear a corset? Adapt and overcome, right? This was Saturday afternoon. With less than 24 hours left before the race, I decided that I was going to test this out on race day, as an experiment. I found an old corset that I had from a previous costume party, several years ago. Not the personally fitted, cinch me up and make me look sexy kind of corset – but, rather, the wrap me up and hold me tight, spanx like, body shaping kind of corset that can be found in the lingerie section of your local KOHL’s department store.
I told Strealy about the corset as we were preparing to head downtown, early Sunday morning. I warned her that, if it was too uncomfortable or impeded my breathing, I would need to stop, take it off, and throw it away. But, as Strealy and I took off running through the first few miles of the race, I quickly realized that this was an absolutely genius idea! I felt amazing and we were running way faster than we, realistically, should have been.
We made our first stop just shy of the 3-mile mark. A small group of incredible men had set up a “hydration station” and were handing out dixie cups of beer – I.C. Light has never tasted so good!
A few site-seeing murals, high-fives and hugs from friends spectating along the course and we were off and running again!
The weather was interesting, to say the least, with an ever changing mix of light rain, heavy downpours, sunshine and rainbows, followed by thunder and lightning, periodically steamy conditions, and some light fog. We incorporated multiple walk breaks in order to stretch and reset, as Strealy is also nursing chronic pain from a previous spinal injury of her own. Just two years ago, this incredible woman could barely even walk! Yet, on this day, she was running a half marathon right by my side!
Miles 4, 5, and 6 ticked by and I was still feeling very little pain! The corset that I was wearing offered great comfort through compression and and stability, preventing any excessive leaning or twisting movements originating from my spine.
Strealy, however, was in a significant amount of pain and, by Mile 7, I was begging her to let me give her the corset. If it helped me so much for the first half of this race, perhaps it could help her suffer less in the final half? Stubbornly, she refused. Like the natural born warrior that she is, she insisted upon pushing through her own pain rather than allowing me to increase the amount of mine.
We entered Mile 8 and she became very quiet. I was a few steps ahead, pacing us forward, but in my mind, I was right there beside her. I know the “pain cave” very well and I know that nothing anyone says can or will pull you through it. You have to find your own way through. In moments like these, it’s best to simply share the silence. In quiet support, I watched her and waited as she found the strength to power through.
We entered the South Side and another locally famous mural at Mile 9 offered us a photo-op!
Mile 10 was filled with cupcakes and cold brew, jell-o shots and beer, conversations with old friends and some really rockin’ bands! This is just what we needed to find our second wind.
As we crossed the Birmingham Bridge at Mile 11, and made the left on 5th Avenue, the first touch of sadness seeped into my soul. For the first time, at Mile 12 of this particular race, I simply didn’t want it to end! As we turned onto Grant Street, with the 13th Mile marker not far ahead, we saw my husband waving and taking a video of us. A fellow runner friend, at the final turn in the course, was screaming my name. With a quick hug and a lot of encouraging words, he sent us on our way.
We picked up the pace as we headed for the Finish Line and I have never been so proud of us in all my life! We had every reason NOT to run this race. We had every reason to give it up halfway through. Considering the extent of our injuries and the severity of our struggles, not a single person would have judged us for bailing out. But that is simply not who we are!
As we held onto each other and made our way through the finisher’s chute, our emotions were rising high. Accomplishment and relief, bittersweet disbelief – but, most of all, immeasurable gratitude for each other’s friendship and shared fortitude!
A short time later, after securing our spot at a local bar for lunch, I returned to the course to cheer. Our employer had sponsored the Marathon Relay and several of our friends and team members were participating. I arrived along the 26th Mile just in time to catch sight of our 5th and final leg participant making his way towards the final turn. I called out his name and re-entered the course. He welcomed my company along his final half mile and graciously allowed me to share in his Finish Line moment.
In the past 10 years, I have run so many races. It amazes me now how, in each and every one of them, I’ve wasted so much energy stressing about my pace. Wondering if I can? Worrying that I can’t. Always pushing for more and better – as if it ever even mattered to anyone but me. In reality, all that really matters is that I simply enjoy the run itself and that I always finish whatever I start. This is where a person’s true character is revealed.
In the words of the late, great David Clark:
“The real heart of any race is not in the lead – it’s in the back of the pack where the pace may not be world-class, but it will always be fast enough to out-run the excuses that threaten to steal your hope.”
I’d like to tell you a story. It’s a true story, which is exactly what makes it so great.
Strealy and I met nearly two years ago, as she was hired to be the Office Manager for the chiropractic clinic where I work. I knew absolutely nothing about her, but I liked her energy. We “clicked” almost instantly.
I’m a cautious person when it comes to relationships, patient when it comes to friendships, and I do not chase love when it comes to anybody. In my opinion, what’s meant to be will always find a way – and, when it comes to Strealy & I, it most certainly did!
It definitely helps that we see each other 4 days a week at work – and text (in Gifs) on the “in-between”.
It helps that she is the extrovert to my introverted personality. It helps that we both have similar personal and professional background experiences and can read each other’s minds just from the looks in our eyes.
It helps that we can talk about anything, and the other will never be seeking to judge. It helps that we can be silent, and the other will sit in comfort and solidarity there.
It helps that we are responsible adults – but love to laugh, joke, prank, and look at things through the eyes of an immature child.
Where I am weak, she is strong – and where she may falter, I hold strength for us both.
Several months ago, we decided that we would run this year’s Pittsburgh Half Marathon together. Both of us are recovering from significant spinal injuries, so the goal has always been to simply have fun and finish this epic hometown race together.
Recently, however, Strealy mentioned that she would love to complete at least one full marathon in her lifetime, just to know that she can. I assured her that she could, and stressed that the biggest factor in completing any long distance event truly is your mental capacity to simply believe in yourself.
As race weekend approached and bib numbers were assigned, I logged on and looked ours up. Imagine my surprise when I found Strealy’s bib registered for the full marathon! I immediately called her phone.
“I think the Universe is giving you a sign.”, I said. “Is it now or never for that full marathon you want to run? Because you registered for the FULL.”
“The f*ck I did!”, she replied.
“Yeah, you f*ck*ng did!”, I laughed back. “If you really wanna do this, I need to know right now so I can transfer up, because there’s no way in hell I’m letting you go alone!”
“No…”, her voice trailed off, “I’m not ready to do this now. I need to transfer down.”
A part of me (aka: my spine!) was relieved, but my heart still yearned for more. “Okay. Text me when it’s done.”, I replied, and we both hung up our phones.
This morning we drove to the Expo. We picked up our packets and explored the vendors. When we looked at our bibs, we realized that, by transferring to the half marathon she no longer had the option to personalize her bib – so there’s just a blank space above her number.
“Whatchu’ wanna call yourself?”, I asked. “What’s your street name gonna be?”
“I don’t know. You think of something.”
By the time we arrived back in Cranberry, I knew exactly what it was going to be.
And now we are ready! If you happen to see us out there on Sunday morning, running the streets of Pittsburgh, feel free to say “Hello!”, offer a high-five, or cheer! We should be easy enough to spot – we’ll be the ones having all the fun, running just half the miles, and drinking all the beer!
You’re the strong woman you are today, and you’re holding her small hand through a great fire.
And this season, you’re going to leave that place together.
He came to live with us in the mid-1980’s. His entire lifetime consumed by the use and abuse at the hands of his mother and her plethora of boyfriends. His entire life was riddled with bullet holes, shot from the gun of their addictions.
He filled the hole left in my mother’s heart, following the death of her son. She could relate to him and his life of abuse, as she was still suffering the after effects from years of her own.
She combed his hair and kissed his wounds. She gave him all the things he deserved, but so desperately lacked – like food, clothing, and shelter. Love, hugs, and the freedom to simply be a child.
The one thing my mother refused to see, however, was how none of these things could change the damage that had already been done. His mind was already too far gone. I could see it… but I didn’t have the heart to tell her. Would she even believe me if I did?
He told me not to tell… when he tricked the lunch lady into comping him free meals – and then stole the money from her tray when her head was turned.
He told me not to tell… when he stole candy from the corner store, placing a few pieces into my own coat pockets before pushing me out the door, as a way of making me an “accomplice”.
He told me not to tell… when I found him in the alleyway behind our house, with a knife in his hand, pulling the internal organs out of some fleshy mess of what used to be a cat.
He told me not to tell… about the time I walked into the closet to pick out my dress for church and he stepped in behind me, closing the door.
He told me not to tell… about the time he crawled into my bed in the middle of the night, saying he’d had a bad dream and, as I awoke in the morning, his hands were beneath my pajamas.
He told me not to tell… about the time we were exploring the woods and came upon his friend, who was drinking a beer and hunting squirrels.
He told me not to tell… about that one October evening, as we were playing in the clubhouse that our Pap had built for us, when his friend showed up and wanted to “play” too.
He told me not to tell… as I stood there, in that room full of our family, covered in dirt and hay from the floor inside that clubhouse.
He told me not to tell… as my grandmother screamed about how dirty I was and the mess that I was making in her house by coming inside.
He told me not to tell… as I awoke from my nap, on the top bunk of our bunk beds, to find him climbing up on top of me.
He told me not to tell… as I kicked and screamed and fought back against him for the first time in our very young lives.
He told me not to tell… as my body was hurled from that top bunk, my skull crashing against the corner of our desk, on its way down to the floor.
He told me not to tell… as I locked my dizzy and disoriented self inside the bathroom of our Beaver Falls home, screaming at the top of my lungs for my mom to come and save me.
It took me 10 minutes and 21 seconds to complete. It’s what I could do, after yesterday’s fast 5K. This is what running looks like for me now. Some days are good, some days are bad. Most days are a blended mixture of both, coming in waves, mile after mile. Some miles feel easy, some miles feel hard. I’ve learned to balance what I used to call “the survival shuffle” into more of an interval run.
I ran a mile today and, even though it wasn’t my best mile, I still ran that mile today. Even on my “bad” days, it’s always worth remembering how much worse this actually could be.
Shep continues to remind me, time and time again, that not racing is better than not running – and walking through a few miles is better than not being able to run at all.
Today, I ran a mile. Just one mile. It wasn’t far, compared to my history of runs. It wasn’t fast, in comparison to my previous paces. But I ran a mile today – and that means more to me right now than anything else.
Today, I ran a mile… and then I walked 5 more. It’s what I could do, so I did it.
I ran a mile today… and I am so grateful that I could.
Today, I ran a mile. Perhaps tomorrow I can run more?
I can not even begin to count how many times Shep has told me this – just know that it is a lot! But today’s run is proof of this truth.
Since sustaining multiple spinal fractures in a skydiving accident last summer, running has not been easy for me. Some days I feel good and can run fast. Some days I feel bad and walking is the best that I can do. Most days are a minute-by-minute, ever-changing mixture of both.
It is what it is though and, when it comes right down to it, I am just happy that I am still able to run at all… but a part of me will always be hoping for more.
Today was an exceptionally good day. I started off walking, then eased into an easy run. As I shuffled along, the cramping in my back eased up and, as I picked up the pace, the aching in my right hip subsided. In anticipation of this upcoming weekend’s Pittsburgh Half Marathon, I decided to strap on my watch and time myself with a 5K test run. I listened to my body and found the most comfortable pace but, halfway through, I began to realize that I could potentially run it in under 25 minutes – something that I have not been able to do since sustaining these injuries. This is when I began to push – and, therefore, succeeded.
I have done nothing spectacular as far as training goes. I simply show up, day after day, and see what I can do. Long or short, fast or slow – the distance and speed no longer matter to me. What matters is that, every day, I keep moving forward.
I may not be running full marathons anymore or even any new PR’s, but I can still kick out a respectable 5K finish and this gives me great hope for my running future!
I was 4 years old when I found out that I had a brother. I found his birth certificate as I was flipping through a photo album that my mom had made. There was no photo of him – just an envelope containing a small lock of hair and, on the very next page, a death certificate.
David Alan Hudson was born on March 16th, 1977 – nearly a year and half before I came into this world. But on March 19th, 1977 – just three days later, he died.
I often wondered what he would have been like? I imagined him being tall and athletic, with brown hair and light eyes, much like our father. I imagined that he’d like basketball and football, riding bikes with me and playing “run-down”. I imagined us talking and laughing, becoming the best of friends and, as my big brother, I just knew he’d be fiercely protective of me.
I often wondered why my mom didn’t talk about him? And anytime I brought it up, my Dad or my sister would “shush” me.
“We don’t talk about David.”, they’d say.
Then Dad would add, “It will only make your mother sad.”
No one wanted Mom to be sad – so we never really talked about David.
Until one day, when we were visiting my Pap at his farm, I overheard my dad and him talking about David. I had been playing in the haystacks inside the barn but, when I overheard this conversation containing my brother’s name, I wandered out by the horses and put my arms around my Pap’s legs. He smiled at me, like he always did, and I asked him what happened to David? Why isn’t he here?
In that moment, my Pap and my Dad did not treat me like the child that I was. They did not “shush” me or shrug me off. They did not push me away or tell me to “Go play”. They spoke to me like I had seen them speak to other adults – like an equal, understanding, human being.
They told me that, in the beginning, mom’s labor with David had gone very slowly. So, after several hours, my Dad left the hospital to take his mother and my sister (who was just 14 months old at the time) home. While he was gone, mom’s contractions increased in frequency and severity. The Staff at the hospital were not very attentive and brushed off mom’s reports of pain, stating that she had several more hours before it was time to push. Unbeknownst to all, the umbilical cord was wrapped around David’s neck several times and he had become distressed. He had a bowel movement during the delivery and had aspirated meconium into his lungs. Mom ended up delivering David in a hospital room all by herself. He was blue and not breathing. She screamed for help and chaos ensued.
“We revived him! He’s alive!”
“We’ve lost him. He has died.”
“We revived him! He’s alive!”
“We’ve lost him. He has died.”
This went on for at least 4 hours, my Pap had said, before he lost his temper and screamed at the hospital workers to stop.
At this point, my Dad looked at me with the deepest sadness in his eyes. He told me that David was “alive”, but only because his heart was still beating. Further tests revealed no functional brain activity. The prognosis was poor. If he were even to survive, he would require a ventilator to continue breathing for him, his entire life. His body would grow, but his brain would never mature. He would never speak, interact, or understand. He would never taste, talk, or touch. He would need a feeding tube to eat, a catheter to pee, and diaper changes his entire life. He would never sit, stand, walk, or play. He would never even get to come home.
My Dad shook his head and rubbed his eyes, “That’s no way to live. That’s not LIFE.”
“So we told ‘em to pull the plug.”, Pap said.
“If he breathes on his own, we keep him.” Dad finished.
As I stood there, looking and back and forth between their solemn faces, I came to realize that these were two of the greatest men I had ever known. To put an end to the suffering of another human being, at the expense of breaking your own heart – if ever there is greater love than this, I simply do not know it.
“Does mom know?”, I asked.
“No.”, and their jaws tightened. “She thinks he died on his own.”
“Then we must never tell her.”, I said as I held on to each of their hands, feeling bonded by this secret between us. And we never did.
We also never talked about David, because it would “make mom sad”. Little did we know, that our “not talking about David” made her even sadder.
It wasn’t until many years later, after she and dad had died, that I came upon this entry in her journal.
Hindsight is always 20/20.
If we only knew then, what we know right now, we’d say and do everything just a little bit different. It wouldn’t change the outcome, but it could have helped her heal.
“This is what it’s all about. It’s about knowing that everything you ever have, every moment, every material thing, will pass and you will lose it, and there’s nothing you can do about it. All you can do is close your eyes and live it, feel it, smell it, taste it as much as you can while you have it, and then never look back. And not even forward because all you will ever have is here and now, and that’s where you have to be.”
Charlotte Eriksson, “The Glass Child”
Hindsight is always 20/20.
If I think too long about it, it makes me sick to realize all of the time and money I have lost throughout the years, chasing all the wrong things. Sure, I was a single mom and had to earn a paycheck in order to care for myself and my daughter. And, of course, there were things that she wanted throughout the years that I worked overtime in order to give her. There were dance classes and uniforms, books and toys, ipods and music. Then came her interest in Nintendo games and Wii, brand name clothes and shoes. Then I started running – so I also took on race registrations, running shoes, moisture wicking clothing, and travel expenses to and from events.
It wasn’t until we lost our parents, when my sister and I were faced with clearing out their houseful of STUFF, that I realized how pointless everything really is – and how I’d do anything to give it all back in exchange for the time that could have been spent experiencing, rather than acquiring.
In the years since, my vision has cleared greatly. I’ve simplified my life and am beginning to experience greater peace and happiness because of it. I used to work 50-60 hour weeks. I now work 23. I used to carry balances, drowning myself in debt, with a credit score in the mid-600’s. I now pay off all of my expenses monthly and maintain a credit score in the mid-800’s. Sure, the amount of my monthly paycheck has greatly decreased – but the experience of living my life on my own terms, according to what make me happy, has greatly increased.
In a world where everybody seems to want for everything, it’s such a relief to realize how very little I actually need.
Some might take a look at the material things in my life and say that I “have nothing”… but I know that, in reality, when it comes to the quality of my life – which is full of love, joy, happiness, peace, and gratitude – the undeniable truth is that I lack nothing!
“Traumatic events, by definition, overwhelm our ability to cope. When the mind becomes flooded with emotion, a circuit breaker is thrown that allows us to survive the experience fairly intact, that is, without becoming psychotic or frying out one of the brain centers. The cost of this blown circuit is emotion frozen within the body. In other words, we often unconsciously stop feeling our trauma partway into it, like a Movie that is still going after the sound has been turned off. We cannot heal until we move fully through that trauma, including all the feelings of the event.”
– Susan Pease Baritt, “The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD from the Inside Out.”
There is a kind of cold you’re overcome with when you see your first dead body, and it has nothing to do with the temperature outside. You keep that cold with you for the rest of your life.
It was the summer of 2002 when I began my journey working in emergency services and, while I’ll never forget the things I’ve seen, I’m finally starting to feel far removed from it all now. It’s crazy how much your life can change when you really put your mind to it. It’s been three years since that pivotal moment when I realized that I could no longer continue down the path that I was on. It was a rude awakening and a harsh reality to face – which is probably why I’d put it off for so long, choosing to lie and deny the ever obvious truth to myself. Like a fish not knowing it’s in water, you simply learn to breathe… until you can’t.
On April 15th, 2019, the fragile facade of my perceived reality came crashing down. I remember it like it was yesterday. That was the day my life changed forever.
The events that occurred that day were unfortunate and tragic, but it is because of this experience (and the events that followed) that caused me to open my eyes to the reality of my situation. It made me realize that I could do so much better, that ignorance is not bliss, and I deserved so much more than the painful existence I had come to know as my life. I consider myself lucky that I had a few good friends to confide in and an incredible therapist, able to recognize the volatility of my state of mind. It is because of these few beautiful souls, and the open minds and hearts of the people I was about to meet, that I chose to step forward from that darkness.
There are some memories that never seem to fade, and I am not certain that they ever will? There is a kind of cold you’re overcome with when you see your first dead body – but it is not the dead ones that stick with you the most. It’s the mangled ones. The ones too ill or too injured to live, but who have yet to take their last breath and die. The ones you find who are still alive, yet unable to be saved. The ones who look like your mother, your brother, your sister, your friend. The ones whose time is running short, and who need more than what you can give. These are the faces that haunt your mind. These are the ones whose memory makes your blood run cold. You keep that cold with you for the rest of your life. It reminds you to live your life more cautiously, to cherish every beautiful sunrise and every smile from a friend, because no one really knows for sure what happens in that moment when our eyes go dark. You never know what you’ll be allowed to bring with you into the unknown… what if it’s nothing?
It’s crazy how much your life can change in just a few short years. April 15th, 2019 was, in fact, the day my life changed forever… because on April 15th, 2019, I made the conscious decision to change my life!