Monday, January 16, 2017

What grief feels like: Joy comes in the morning

To pick up where my last post left off, not every day is like Disney. Just a few hours after I felt like I was deluding myself and that my grief could suffocate me: I ran 6 miles through Epcot with my heart as full as it could be. I certainly did not think that was possible - but it just goes to show you that the Psalmist knew something when he penned: "Though sorrow may last for the night, joy comes in the morning."

What I learned about grief from Disney is this:  not every day is like Disney - and not every day is like Disney.
Meaning: not every day does grief have a strangle-hold on you...and not every day do you feel like life-is-the-most-beautiful-gift-and-what-a-privilege-it-is-to-live!

Perhaps, there is a play on words present here: it is this: joy comes in the mourning. If we let it. We do not have to let our hearts be touched at all - either by grief or by joy. In our sorrow, we can choose to let our hearts be entombed in stone, so that nothing can penetrate or hurt us - or heal us. In our sorrow, we can resist healing. We can put up the shield to joy.

But if we choose that, we miss out on the greatest gift we can receive from grief: it is all gift - given to you to be lived. This gift was what I encountered while I ran through the thoroughfares of Disney and the streets of Epcot.

My friend Karen, who was running the half-marathon, got up with me at 2:45 IN.THE.MORNING so she could be present with me before and after the run. Talk about dedication! When she was setting her alarm Thursday night, I asked what she was doing. When she explained that she was getting up to run with me, I thought, "oh.... um... i was not planning on doing that for her. i was just going to sleep and then meet her at the finish line. uh-oh...." [thankfully her race was canceled, so we could both sleep in!]

We rode the bus from the resort to the start (just outside of Epcot)...and we waited for about 2 hours. I thought that someone would ask me about Dan - or at least why I was running - but no one did. In fact, no one talked to us at all - which I think is kind of weird, now...but, then again, I guess I wasn't initiating a conversation with them either.

About 4:45/5am, I walked to my corral to wait. ...and wait. ...and wait. There are 6 corrals (I think), and I was in #5. They release a corral - then wait a while to release the next. I think our corral finally started just about 6am. While I waited, I centered my thoughts by the praying the Rosary.

Then, the run started. We started by running along a "highway" (aka 2-lane road) toward Magic Kingdom. Along the way, there are character stops - I ignored them because there were lines at least 30-people deep. While I wasn't running for time, I also wasn't not running for time! As long as it felt good, I was going to run.

Here's one of the great things about running Disney: it's not a run you do for time. There are thousands of people so the odds of you getting a PR (personal record) are pretty slim - unless you are a cold-hearted jerk who wants to take zero pictures.
However, even though you're not setting out to PR, you still feel really great about yourself because you're passing all these people because you actually trained for the event (technically, you trained for more than the event) - which, let's be honest, DELIGHTED me!

That day, it just felt so good to run. 

Just after mile 3, we entered Epcot. The sun was just beginning to rise, so they had everything lit up. It was beautiful!

While running past "little China" (or whatever they call it), they were playing one of the themes from Mulan, "I'll make a man out of you!"

EPCOT! PURPLE EPCOT! [Purple is the official Team-in-Training color, and thus became the theme color of the weekend.]

While running down this road, I had the thought overcome me: 
THIS is what it means TO LIVE.
One of my friends/former TRIO colleagues was helping with a water station at Mile 4.8. I was so excited to see her! I planned my water breaks so that I could stop at hers. I was glad I spotted her right away! She was stationed at the "French Quarter" and had this awesome sunrise view.
The only time I walked was along this wooden boardwalk. It was wet and very slippery. I wasn't really interested in injuring myself beyond the tendonitis!

Approaching the final stretch!
One final selfie before the kick to the finish line. At this point, my hips were starting to tighten up - but I was going to push to the finish line!

As I approached the finish line, I started to quicken my pace/sprint. With each step I took, I kept repeating, "For Dan, for Dan, for Dan, for Dan....!" until I crossed. After I crossed, Karen shouted to me from the sidelines - and then I was knighted with my medal. (okay, it's not like getting knighted, but what do you call it? medaled? you bow your head and they place the medal over your head)

Thanks be to God - the author, the sustainer, the perfector of our faith! 

"I have come so that you may have life, and have it to the full." (Jesus in John 10:10)

It is all gift, my friends.

All of it.



Sunday, January 8, 2017

What grief feels like: a thousand times

Well, if we're Facebook friends, then by now, you've seen the jubilant photos from Friday:

I ran a 10K at Disney! For the Leukemia Lymphoma Society as part of Team in Training! It was a very jubilant time. I mean, runner's high + happiest place on Earth = jubilation.

But what these photos don't show you is the amount of...depth of pain and grief that I was experiencing on Thursday, the day I traveled to Orlando. You may see my posts and know things about me that I don't know about myself. Like that I am strong enough and brave enough - that I am enough to do hard things. ..and participating in this race was one of the hardest things that I have done post-losing Dan.

Because on Thursday, grief was choking me. It choked me in the morning...on the plane...on the bus to the Expo to pick up my runner's packet.

For lots of reasons - this race...I didn't think it would actually come, and yet, here I was working toward it. Running has given me a focus. Something to keep me pushing forward. . ..and it also marked a milestone of sorts. It's been nearly 6 months. I don't even know how that it possible - but it is. I guess back in August when I thought about running this, I thought that maybe some things will be different. Maybe this will be a major turning point. Maybe...I don't know.

When I say the grief was choking, I mean it - literally. I felt an intense pressure on my throat as I tried to not completely break on the bus to the Expo. The depth, the intensity - and the doubts pulling me down - all said that I could not do this. I couldn't. It hurt too much. In the happiest place on Earth - how ridiculous to be surrounded by the bright shiny people. I felt so isolated in those moments. My ankle hurt. What if I couldn't do it? What if I failed? What if I didn't train enough? I could not do this. How stupid of me to have even tried.

The best way to describe these times: it's like Dan is dying all over again. That when I face these "milestones" I am facing his death in a new way again. The reality of the depth and intensity of my loss/his absence is more pitched than before.  ...and I think that's what grieving is: we lose them over and over again, in little and big ways. Some describe it as waves coming over you.
[either way, it sucks]

So, as I drown on Thursday, I reached out to some very close friends and told them how alone and inadequate and grief-choked I felt. ...and my cousin Valerie called me and got me talking to break the choke-hold. ...and Heather sent me motivational words. So, I checked in. ...and started to feel more peace. Allisha called me and talked me through the run itself. I could do this. I am going to do this.

I found this shirt and knew it was for me:

Never, ever, ever give up; Eventually you learn that the competition isn't about the other runners; It is the voice in your head urging you to quit. Run - until you're done!

Grief hits us a thousand times. At times, grief overwhelms us. At times, grief steals all the good, the light, the joy, the peace. But, it is not eternal. It is temporary. It will come - but it will not win. Run - until you're done!

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3