Sometimes Marathon Are About More Than Running

Marathons are 26.2 miles. The journey from start to end doesn’t change, but at times, the journey looms large and feels almost impossible. On the days when everything goes well, there are sparks of joy and wonder. Other days, the plodding feet seem to grow more painful by the minute. Today, I took back the Boston Marathon finish line, but not one step was easy. I struggled mentally, spiritually, and physically. I felt the weight of this week–the week that marks Phil’s third year of being gone and the events that unfolded last year as I ran to use Heartbreak Hill as a metaphor for my life. From the onset of my journey from Hopkinton to Boston, I struggled. My body hurt and I felt fatigue seeping into my being. I struggled with wanting to run at all, yet I pressed on even when the heat began to cost me. My time was slow, but when I crossed that finish line, I knew that it was the right thing to do. I faced my fears and I faced my ennui of wanting to run, and I just did it. Running that marathon is like my walk of loss. Sometimes, it is about making a choice and pushing through the hard times even when the spirit longs for rest. Sometimes it is about digging deep and taking a deep breath and trusting one’s self to make it to the end. In a marathon, the finish line comes just as the body is ready to give up. When that 26 mile marker is passed, something happens. The legs want to go and cross that finish line. The body hurts and a bone chilling fatigue takes over, but that feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that the body was pushed to its limits is indescribable. My grief journey has been like this. I totally broke and I still break. This month will never be my favorite and this week is the hardest week I face all year, yet through the darkness, I have learned that if I hold on, if I trust myself, fall into my faith, and lean on my friends, surely I can make it to the end of the pain that hurts every where. Like a marathon, the heart and body hurt for a while, and then spring comes and morning comes. Hope is renewed and the body can look ahead to the next race, the next day, the next mile.

The Resilient Warrior

The Resilient Warrior.

The Resilient Warrior

Jesus wept. The shortest verse in the Bible says it all. Jesus knew what was in his future and he prayed that the fate that awaited him be changed. He knew and was willing to do what it took to save each and every one of us, but the cost was an agonizing death that went on and on. While all none of us will bear the sins of the world, we will all have body slams if we live long enough. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.


My body slam looks different from other people’s, but make no mistake. Everyone has a story and scars. Everyone hurts and is walking wounded somehow. Some scars are deeper. Life isn’t always fair. Young children go to school and are killed by a madman. Young children get sick—really sick and suffer. Really good people, people like the nine that died on 27 April 2011, are assassinated by someone they should have been able to trust, are gone far too soon. Those are the facts and there is no changing the outcome.


How does a person begin to live again and to move through the darkness? It is all about that magic resiliency word. Coping skills are learned in life and are developed through practice. They are not learned when one’s life falls apart. Each person is born with a measure of hardiness (which is resiliency) which is why some babies who seem to fragile to live, thrive. Resiliency is developed in families. Families that spend time together, eat together, laugh together, invest in one another, do sports, civic activities, church, vacation, talk, etc, have children that have more tools to fall back on during the hard times.


We are like rubber bands that stretch and rebound over and over until one day we do not come back quite so far or we snap and can not be fixed. We do not know when that magical pivotal moment is going to occur. We do not have a looking glass into our own future or the future of those we love. Nobody wakes up thinking that today I am going to die or get sick. Nobody. We have many practice runs and sometimes those practice trials can feel like the real thing. The tools we have and the tools we use to cope help us to grow deeper roots. Think about the Biosphere in Arizona for a minute. The Biosphere was supposed to be an enclosed self-sustaining community for people to live in for ten years. After just about two years, an interesting phenomena happened. The trees and plants started to die and the project had to be abandoned. It turns out that the trees and plants need the storms to develop strong roots. People need the small storms to practice for the big storms.


Not every person is raised in a home like that. Not every person is the same. One person has a sense of optimism and hope naturally; others have to fight for it. Humor helps. Humor develops optimism which develops hope. Hope is part of the spiritual resiliency component. Spiritual resiliency is about more than religious faith. It is about purpose, meaning making, and our value system. What motivates a person and what does the person do when things are bad. For me, that is where my rebounding started. As I heard the news, I fell to my knees keening and one thought went through my heart. That thought was how could I claim to have faith if in my darkest hour I turned from that faith. I chose. In that choice, healing began even though I didn’t recognize it at the time.


The second thing I did was to run. Running is healing for me and it helps me to fall into my faith. Faith to me is exactly what a person thinks it is. I simply chose to believe that God would carry me some how. It did not fix the loss of the one person I had built my world on and it did not negate the choice a person made or his vile act. I am not a Pollyanna, but some things have no answers. Running gave me the grounding and calmed my soul. It made me happy—not right away, but it helped me tame the sense of hopelessness.


I didn’t feel like running right away. The best gift a person gave me, was the Air Force Family Casualty Officer who met me in Dover. She told me that I wouldn’t feel like running that day, but that I would “feel better” if I did. She offered to pick me up and take me to a path that I could run on. In lacing up my running shoes, I was able to ground myself enough to plan Phil’s funeral and to face the dark moments that came next. I could barely stand up, but in the choice of pushing forward, I started step two of my recovery.


The third step of my recovery came with writing. I was unable to voice how I felt, thus I wrote how I felt. While I ran, I listened to music that helped calm my soul and over time, I developed a music play list that I go to in my darker moments. The music often fueled the words I later wrote. That writing became a book and helped me to honor Phil’s memory. Writing helped keep be grounded and then it gave me direction and focus to my purpose and making meaning out of a tragedy that ended every dream I had for my future.


The last pillar of resiliency, the social resiliency component was the least developed component I had. While I am naturally shy, I am not the only one with this struggle. Many people do not even realize it. I got very good at three year friendships. It was the military way. I could go all over the world and know people and I could carry on conversations that spoke of history and small roots of attachment even after years of not seeing someone, but I invested all I had into Phil and my children. My home became Phil. He was the same way. Let me ask one question. What happens when the one person, the only person you have invested in with any depth is the one that dies? What then?


A person thinks they have their family, but my extremely close knit family imploded. Three years later, we are finding our way back into our family, but it will never quite be the same. Someone is always missing at all of the milestones, fun times, and trials. How does a parent fix the hurts in their children when they cannot fix the hurts in themselves? My children recognized how broken I was, and they withdrew to deal with their own brokenness. Nobody wanted to hurt another. Some family members didn’t know what to say, thus they said nothing.


The people I thought were my friends? My closest girlfriend in CO unfriended me on Facebook one week after Phil’s funeral because she thought that I would hate her because she was Muslim. I never saw her that way—she was just my friend. Married couples didn’t know what to say and thus withdrew. It was incredibly lonely, but people found me. These people have become my 911 friends.


So often in life, we ask other people how they are. The standard answer is okay or fine. We walk on by.   Being a true wingman means noticing and acting. It means noticing that your teammate hasn’t been at the gym in a few days, or that they seem to be tireder than usual, or quieter than usual. It means asking them about the behaviors and taking the time to be fully present. My wingmen noticed when I was online all night because I could no longer sleep after Phil died. They IM’ed me until I was ready to slumber. My wingmen sent me small gifts, called me, encouraged me on Facebook when they sensed I was down, and they still show up when I least expect it. Just this week, one came and introduced himself at an all call. Another brought his wife to introduce to her and to take me to lunch. Another visited Phil’s tomb for his birthday. Action=wingman.


We all have invisible scars and many of my military brothers and sisters who are broken by the same event that took our nine, carry each other. Sometimes I am weak, but at a certain point, it becomes about choices. I simply cannot stay in the darkness and lose my life too. I choose to step forward believing in what lies ahead. I cannot be the girl who always needs, but never gives. Resiliency is about taking those body slams, recovering, and growing even stronger through the storm.



Taking Back the Finish Line on No Stop Monday

Taking Back the Finish Line on No Stop Monday.

Taking Back the Finish Line on No Stop Monday

Fear and grief often paralyze a person and leave that person cowering and afraid to move forward. A person can imagine superhuman strength and ability to withstand the tests to the human spirit, but each and every one of us has a breaking point where darkness can sneak up on us, consume us, and leave us prostrate unable to move forward.


In the Boston Marathon, there is a hill that brings many runners to tears and wrecks many of a dream. It is aptly called Heartbreak Hill. This hill seems to last forever, but many people have misgauged what comes next. The rest of the race. That’s right. The race still has miles and miles to go before a person can rest. A person must get up and over the worst of the pain and then they must brace themselves as they face pain when it is least expected. Grief and fear are like that.


In the immediacy of trauma and tragedy, people react strongly and others step up to carry them. The average person, however, has about a six-month tolerance level for sadness, loss, and fear in others. Yet, to the one who has suffered from a profound loss, a body slam that is so unfair, or fear that sneaks into dreams unbidden, time looms large. Years can go by and something brings fear or grief back into the human spirit.


Last year, I had been invited to run the Boston Marathon to honor Phil and others lost far too soon. I felt like I was finally getting my footing and finding small joys in my life. I had conquered the famed Heartbreak Hill and I was heading home to the finish line. I felt smugness and pride as the finish line came into my sight field. Thinking that I owned the finish line, I ran on. I will never forget what came next. The unexpected explosion….the shaking of the ground….the smells…..the screaming…….and, then, another explosion. Fear came into my life.


This fear meshed with that cloud I have every April and while I thought that I was largely unaffected by the events of last year, I found that loss and fear are sneaky. The heart remembers and in our sleeping moments, the images come back. Sometimes it is just about breathing through those moments. I think back to my very worst moment on 24 June when I read Phil’s autopsy report and then looked at the pictures when the words didn’t make sense. I broke.


I crawled into bed and cried the cry of someone who has given up. Yet, in my darkest hour, my faith carried me. I have written before about the one time I felt a modern day miracle. This was the day. I still do not understand it, nor do I try to understand it. It is—just is—my burning bush from God to me. In that moment, I began to look ahead. I couldn’t look too far ahead. I looked only at surviving the next few minutes. Those minutes eventually lengthened and the dark shadows shortened. Like a runner trying to fight through fatigue, I took one step, then another until it felt like I had scaled the worst of my journey.


Every journey can have surprises. As I ran into joy last spring, I hit a major entanglement that impacts me still. About a week ago, the flashbacks started to the fear and the paralysis I felt last 15 April. It became a choice for me. I cannot let fear limit my journey. I cannot let grief keep me stuck in a sense of suspended life. I must face my fear and I must run on to take back that finish line.


At the Boston Marathon, the signs tout the “No Stop Monday” philosophy. I will not stop. I will not falter, but I will push through the pain and the fear one step at a time, one minute at a time because the journey is too long to look at in entirety. I run on.

No Stop Monday

No Stop Monday.

No Stop Monday

Facing My Fears–The Disney You Tube

Facing My Fears–The Disney You Tube.

Facing My Fears–The Disney You Tube

The Changing of Linda

The Changing of Linda.