A picture is worth a thousand words; but when I look back on this one, I have none…just a thousand emotions.
The past few weeks have been difficult, to say the least. I was just a few days past my recent half marathon PR (1:57:35) at Buffalo Creek and feeling really good. My recovery for that particular race was impressive. I rebounded so quickly and was feeling great; so great that I was already making plans to pace with a friend in another half marathon PR attempt just four weeks away and truly believing that I could do it. But, in an instant, my world was suddenly turned upside down.
On Thursday, October 26th, while I was about to finish up my shift at work, I received a frantic voicemail on my phone from my sister advising me to call her back “right now”. The tone of her voice made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I called her back with a sick feeling in my stomach, not knowing what information she may be about to relay to me. I don’t remember exactly what she said or how she broke the news but the room began to spin and the walls suddenly felt like they were closing in on me. I felt like I could not breathe. Our mom and dad had been involved in a car crash; neither one of them had survived.
The next few minutes, hours, days, even weeks now, are a blur to me; perhaps because I don’t really want to relive all of the details again. Things happened so fast, yet, time seemed to crawl all at the same time. If that does not make any sense, maybe it’s because so many things were not making sense to me at the time either. What happened that day? How? Why?…and what do we do now? I don’t know. I just…I don’t know; but I had to find out. I had to remind myself to breathe. JUST BREATHE; and take each day, each moment, one at a time. And so began the next phase of planning, preparing, and executing a multitude of tasks required in order to find some semblance of order and a plan in moving forward. My sister and I are very different and possess different coping skills, yet, our ability to work together in taking on all that needed to be done was very complimentary of each other. She took up residence in our parents home, getting their financial affairs in order in preparation for the team of attorneys we were going to need to retain, while I began to tackle the immediate tasks of retrieving our parents bodies, obtaining the police report from the crash, and arranging for their funeral and burial.
In amidst all of this, the “Paramedic” in me began to take over, trying to make sense of this story that had unfolded in my absence. None of this seemed real to me. I was going through the motions of everything that needed to be done, yet, kept feeling like I was on the outside looking in; watching a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad movie. I kept waiting for, begging for, someone to wake me up from this awful nightmare. I needed to see everything, touch everything. I needed to put the pieces back together in order to believe. So, supportive as always, my husband got behind the wheel of my Jeep and we took a day to “go off the grid”, so to speak. He had no idea where we were going or what my intentions were that day. (In all honesty, neither did I.) But he stood beside me every step of the way, holding my hand, and displaying an enormous amount of patience, understanding, and quiet strength that I have come to know and love about him through the years. We revisited the scene of the crash. I took pictures and videos, chronicling in my mind (and on my phone) the events that occurred that day.
We tracked down the remains of my parents car and sifted through the wreckage. We visited the Fire/EMS service that responded to and handled the call. I met the EMT who was second on the scene. I asked my questions and explained my thoughts. They answered and listened. I found comfort in their presence and closure in their answers. It’s hard to explain to those outside the field of emergency services why reliving the details: seeing, touching, and painting the picture of the incident in its real life, unedited version yields comfort, peace, and paves the pathway towards closure in the heart of the emotionally wounded Paramedic. But these people understood; my EMS family. Regardless of “putting the pieces together” in my mind, however, the heaviness of the situation continued to weigh me down. I was not eating much. I was not sleeping well. Even showering had become a chore that I did not have the energy or interest to do on a daily basis. I had no desire to do much of anything really, aside from plan and prepare the “perfect” final resting place and ceremony for our family. Despite all of this sadness, I was enveloped in an outpouring of love and comfort on behalf of my friends, family, and co-workers. My husband endured each and every moment by my side, clearing his schedule of everything, ensuring his ability to be with me through it all. It was in these dark days that I realized just how many people truly love and care about me. 15 years ago I walked away from my parents religion and, as a result, became “disfellowshipped” from all of my previous friends and family. That was the first day of the rest of my life and I was forced to face it completely alone. Through the years and down the many roads my life has taken me, my path has intersected with many people. I have always tried to make the best of any situation or scenario I have found myself in but always considered myself a bit of a “loner”, not really getting emotionally attached to alot of people, perhaps out of fear of losing them, like I lost my own friends and family all those years ago. It was not until all of this occurred recently that I realized exactly how many true friends I have actually made along the way and for how many different reasons/aspects of my life. It would take me days to name each and every one and to explain why, how, and to what extent we have become friends and explain how their friendship shined for me in this time of ultimate darkness. But I don’t need to do that. They know who they are, as do I. So for the specific purpose of this blog, I shall simply focus on my running friends; “my crew”.
Shep, in particular, was not going to let me face all of these things alone. Yet, rather than allow me to wallow in my sadness and filth, he gently persuaded me to pull myself from bed and run. I did not want to run. I dreaded the moment I arrived, knowing that everyone KNEW. I was dreading that “moment of truth” when you look into the eyes of your friends and you see the pity. And you know that they know. And the wave of emotion washes over you and you can’t help but to cry because everything hurts, and everything sucks, and everything seems pointless, and why even run when you can barely even stand without shaking?! This was my fear. I had just spent the past few days crying in front of, or rather, in spite of who or what my surroundings have been. An emotional mess was simply who I had become this week. (Aside from the day that my Aunt and Sister had arrived to handle some specific issues and arrangements, and for some weird coping mechanism beyond my understanding, I was almost unable to cry at all and, instead, found everything confusing and hilarious, unable to understand, follow, or retain, and therefore, could not stop laughing. It was absurd and borderline disturbing.) So as I arrived at Shep’s house for the “regularly scheduled weekend long run”, I was relieved to find the atmosphere light with no pressure to “talk”. We began the run and I fell in step beside Shep, with him securely on my right, as always. The banter between our runners was comforting; easy and light. The focus was not on ME; rather, it simply included me, with no pressure to speak. Just footsteps pounding the pavement, breathing in regular pattern, and continual forward motion with each and every step. I felt sluggish and heavy, but never alone. Afterwards, I was able to discuss with our group some of the difficult decisions that I was facing in planning my parents funeral and the deep seated desire to reunite them with their son who had died shortly after his birth in 1977. This lead to a brief overview of my current relationship in recent years, or lack thereof, in regards to my parents and their religion, yet the desire of myself and my sister to honor their memory and their beliefs when laying them to rest. Some things that were said that day, imparted words of wisdom, empowered me to make and stick to some serious and difficult decisions, despite what others might think or say. Seeds of confidence were planted…and would bloom just in time for the final moments at my parents funeral that week. I can not stress enough how invaluable this group (“Shep’s Flock”) has become to me; as a runner, as a person, and as a friend. I am right where I need to be in this life; surrounded by those who are meant to stay. These precious friends were with me on this day, sharing in my grief, as well as, the day we buried my family. (Mother, father, brother; together.)
Once the funeral was over there was this “silence”. Like, now what? I felt like, after having spent the last week struggling and crying, it was time to pick myself up and move on. Yet, I just didn’t WANT to. It was hard to get up in the morning. My mind would not let me rest at night. Everywhere I went, it felt like everyone was looking at me; like they KNEW. I wanted to be around people and the commotion that living life brings, yet I, also, just wanted to be left alone. I felt empty. I had been pre-registered for months to run a race (Santa 5K) that Saturday; just two days after my parent’s funeral. I didn’t want to go, but I knew that if I did not at least show up and run this race that I would look back with regret and disappointment. These are not emotions that I can live with, especially when it comes to running, so I got up, I showed up, and I ran. One foot in front of the other, start line to finish line. (24:59)
Not my best 5K result but, so far, the best that I have ever done on this particular race course. When I had originally signed up, it was with the intent to win an age group award. I wish I could have, but it was not my time. I placed 5th in my age group, but I can not be more proud of the “all that I’ve got” race effort that I expended on this particular day, under such stressful conditions. I arrived at this race not knowing if I even had the ability to run strong, yet I performed in such a way that I left it all out there on the course; the grief, the sweat, a few tears…and walked away with a great deal of respect for myself. No matter what happens, always remember: you are capable of way more than you think. So don’t think, just run.
I was, also, able to return to the course after I had finished, along with my festively dressed greyhound, Runner, to help a friend by running with her in the final quarter mile of her own race; yielding her a 5K PR by nearly 5+ minutes!
In an attempt to return to “real life” in the aftermath of our parent’s deaths, my sister and I began to busy ourselves with the enormous tasks of sorting through our parent’s estate and financial affairs. I attempted to go back to work but could not focus on my job when the tasks at hand required so much more attention than I had anticipated. And then, as if to add insult to injury, “Life” took another horrible turn; just two weeks after the deaths of my parents, my friend/Coach, Shep, lost his wife, Sharon, during heart surgery. They had been married for 38 years. I try to make sense of it all, but I just can’t. “God has plan”, people say, and “God is never wrong.”. I don’t know about all that and am still uncertain as to exactly what I believe, so I can’t really say much for or against it. I just take it all in and do my best to keep my head up and my feet moving forward. I, along with many other friends/runners in “Shep’s Flock”, answered the call to lace up our shoes, surround our friend/Coach, and run him through the miles that will keep him strong in this heartbreaking time. Just like in life, we can not run the miles for him (nor face the things presented before him) but with all of us by his side, he will never have to run those miles (nor face such things) alone.
While it breaks my heart that this happened to Shep, I must admit, it has helped me begin to “rise again”. In making efforts to help him through his own struggles and grief, I have come to find my own inner strength once more. And in moments when the sadness returns, it helps to know that he is feeling it too. We have found “the answer” together; just keep running. We have aborted our previous training plan and resorted to simply lacing up our shoes and running comfortably. No pace goal. No distance set. No interval training or speed work. Just run till the heaviness in our hearts subsides and we feel as though we can breathe again. Repeat as often as necessary…even in the cold, the dark, the rain, or right after work in JEANS. No limits. No excuses. No questions. No reasons required.
“Running is therapy”, some have said. And I am here to confirm that they are right. When sadness and questions and doubts fill my mind, the only way to ease the burden has been to run. Sadly, the recent events have derailed my plans and, therefore, I no longer hope to PR my final races for this year. But as long as I can keep running and continually moving forward, I know that I will be alright. Shep will be too. Today is proof of that. The inaugural Greenway Trail Grin & Bear It Half Marathon in Leetonia, Ohio. I warned Shep a week ago that I was “kidnapping” him and we were going a long way for a long run. True to his nature, he gave a little smile, shrugged his shoulders, said “Okay”, and went with it; no idea what the plan was. I sent out the “all call” and, true to their nature, “Shep’s Flock” responded. So first thing this morning, we packed into my Jeep and went for a drive.
We had no plans to RACE this half marathon. We just wanted to run. We have been craving a real good long run for several weeks now but, considering all of the “other things” that have required our attention, it simply has not been possible. That ended today. We went out comfortably. No sense of urgency or competition.
We talked, laughed, and encouraged other runners along the way. The struggle began in the back half (final 5 miles of the race) but it was nothing we weren’t able to overcome with tiny breaks and corrections. Mile after mile, despite the cold and the snow, we ran together. And for the first time since October 26th, I felt no sadness. Today was a good day.
The end result was 2:02:33 (9th in my age group), which was a pleasant surprise to me because I had honestly expected a 2:10-2:15 after all that we had been through and all the miles we were not able to run recently. So this is “baseline”, Shep says, and that’s not bad. We’ve got a long way to go to attain our Boston Qualifiers, but it was good to run without any pressure today. It’s not always about the miles, or the time, or the pace. Sometimes it’s simply about the run itself, and our ability to keep moving forward even through the most difficult times in our lives; and being grateful for the people who are willing to bear these times (and these miles) with us, no matter what. This is what “family” is all about; and I have never been more thankful for mine.
#ShepsFlock #ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun