Until Now

Until now, I have never been much of a risk taker.  I was the child who feared discipline, letting people down, and conflict.  Taking the path of the least resistance was easier even if it meant that there were times I was left longing for more in my life.  When Phil was assassinated and I was thrust into a position of making decisions for myself, trusting myself, and doing what other people questioned;it was foreign and difficult.  CS Lewis famously said that he was surprised at how much grief felt like fear.  For a person who lived in the shadows, fear was my constant companion until terrorism threatened my own life at the Boston Marathon of 2013.  In that moment of fleeing for my life and  cowering under a table, I found courage and my natural spunk to get back up.  I simply cannot let terrorism take any more from me, thus I began to embrace the fear.

 

It has taken time and intentionality to push myself.  While I always had a Bucket List, I never really saw myself completing it or doing anything by myself.  With pursuing my Bucket List came the decision to embrace the pain and work through it one step at a time, one mile at a time.  If I concentrate only on the step ahead and not on the big picture, I know that I will get to a point where the pain is manageable and that I will feel good about life again.  In that vein, I am facing my fears of the unknown.  One of those unknowns is traveling the world taking back my life from what I relinquished in fear.  I am running the 5 world major marathons and the seven continents.  This is about more than exotic vacations; it is about learning myself, pushing my boundaries, and meeting people from different cultures and faiths.  Two weeks ago I traveled to South Africa even though I was encouraged not to.  This race and trip taught me some key lessons as it pertains to life, grieving loss, and moving forward while honoring the past:

 

 

  1. Challenge Yourself:  The Africa marathon tied for the hardest marathon I have ever run (tied with the Great Wall of China Marathon).  This marathon was harder than running the Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado.  The hills were incredibly steep and even the downhills were too steep to run.  There were rocks and sand to slosh through and a few of the sparse water stops were out of water or electrolyte drinks.  The race hurt–a lot.  It was hard to fly across the world to a place where I knew no one, but by looking at the step in front of me, I was able to get through the pain one second at a time, one minute, one hour, one mile, one marathon at a time.  Grief is like that.  Initially, the pain hits all day long.  For me?  I couldn’t see a moment when I would be able to function or do anything but survive.  It has been a battle.  Somedays it is a raging war within myself to face my fears, but by stepping up, closing my eyes at time, and pushing on, I have learned to thrive versus survive.

 

  1.  Adapt:  There is absolutely no way to prepare for the unthinkable.  I flew through London to get to Africa.  When I reached London, I had a 10 hour layover.  I let the airline talk me into relinquishing my carryon which had my running shoes and my medications.  When my flight was cancelled, I called the airline to ensure that my bag was onboard.  Despite the reassurance, it was not.  I did not have a jacket for the frigidly cold hour long rides.  I did not have running shoes, and more than that, medications that I must take.  For three days I had nothing.  I had to run a marathon in borrowed worn out shoes 1.5 sizes too big, borrowed clothes, and without the usual medications or energy gels.  There was no way to push myself to the limit on this race.  Survival was key.    Faith, awareness, and slowing way down carried me to the end.

 

 

 

  1.  Gratitude-When Phil died, I could never see a time when I thought I would embrace life.  It made me ill to think of all of the opportunities and resources I was given based on how he died.  I was in the mindset that I had been cheated out of my future.  My hopes and dreams for what I thought my 50’s were going to look like imploded the day Phil was killed.  Until the Boston Marathon of 2013, I idled in that useless wasteland of wanting what I could not have.  The shift in my paradigm is this simple–I am thankful for the 23 years I did have with my Phil.  Many people never get that.  I am thankful that I loved well and was loved well until Phil’s last breath because it taught me to invest in the people in my life that matter, to cherish the moments, and to fight for my friendships and relationships.  I am thankful for the opportunities to live a full life, too.  My life, my journey forward, the choice to speak and write, and the bigger choice to fight for happiness has led to a life I could never have imagined for myself.  This life is bigger and beyond anything I dreamed.  As I run, speak, and write, I am able to remember, to honor, and to remind people of a man gone far too soon.  I am able to make something good come out of the worst day of my life.  I cannot change the cards that I have been dealt, but I can choose how I want to play them.

 

  1.  Breathe and Trust Yourself:  While in Africa, I whitewater rafted and bungee jumped off of one of the highest bridges in the world.  To enjoy the experience, one has to embrace the unknown and the feeling of losing control.  While I cannot say that I liked the loss of control when I lost Phil, I have come to recognize that not everyone will understand the fire I carry for standing and speaking for our military families, nor will they comprehend why I had to leave my beloved Colorado.  Moving overseas gave me the opportunity to figure things out and to grieve without feeling like I had to be strong every minute of the day for everyone around me.  I could quite simply hide when I needed to.  In the aftermath of Phil’s death, everyone had an opinion as to where I should live, what I should do about work, dating, financial, or even grieving.  My journey is not the same as anyone else’s journey–nor should it be.  I am the only one who knows what I need and how to reset my batteries.  Sometimes I don’t know me.  During those times, I patiently breathe and cry through the pain, and I wait until I am able to move again.  As Rudyard Kipling wrote, “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too…” is key to calculated risks. Playing it safe and hiding is not a life.

 

  1.  Lean in on Friends:  Since I had no clothes or medications at the Africa marathon,  many people who were then strangers stepped up to lend a hand.  It is hard for me to ask for help, yet there were people willing to lend or give me clothing items.  There were people willing to share what they had so that I could fulfill my dream even if it meant that they had less.  When Phil was killed, I had been a lone ranger for so many years that it was overwhelming to cry, not to have the answers, and to feel like I had no control over any part of my life.  I was forced to make decisions that I wasn’t prepared to make about where to live, finances, burial sites, media interviews, and I could go on.  Every single time in the past six years that I have been down, overwhelmed, or even happy, people have stepped up to the plate and either celebrated the good days with me or let me lean in when the hard moments came.  These people became my tribe of friends.  Over time, I have been able to pay it forward to those who hurt, but the soft place to rest and those who let me talk about, behave, or shut down when I needed to taught me much about friendship.  I am a better friend because I know that we have one another.

 

 

  1.    Keep faith:  Facing fear and terror is not easy.  I still have nightmares about the Boston Marathon bombing and my husband’s broken body, but I have faith in what I cannot see.  I have faith in a life beyond this one.  While the physical connection is over, the spiritual connection is still very much alive.  When Phil deployed, I prayed every day for his safety.  Many of our friends and family were also.  Phil had faith, and yet the answer to the prayers was not what most could comprehend.  Sometimes it is still hard, but my faith changed.  I no longer look at God as Santa Claus, but there is an unshakable confidence that there is more to life than  what  I can see or know here on earth.  I truly believe that Phil and the other 8 were surrounded by angels and received into heaven.  Phil’s assassin had a choice.  We all do.  For me, it made every bit of difference in choosing my faith.  When I was faced with running a brutal marathon after 3 days of not taking medication, I was forced to believe that all would be well.  If I had started and had to quit, I still knew all would be well.  The key is recognizing that even Jesus felt pain.  Jesus wept (the shortest verse in the Bible).  Surely he can handle a few tears, doubt, and feeling adrift.  My faith has changed in that I can acknowledge not understanding why, but make no mistake, I believe that there is more than what I can see.

 

 

 

  1.  BE Kind to Yourself:  I walked more than I wanted to in the Africa marathon.  I committed the cardinal sin at the end of the marathon–one that I had not made in 41 years of running.  I crossed the finish line twice and was credited with the latter time–24-26ish minutes after the first finish.  I knew better than to give up my carry on.  I also knew that I would be taxing my body more than I should without medication.  It didn’t matter how I got to the finish line, but to get there, I had to allow myself to rest, rely on others, to celebrate the finish.  While grief is not a process that ends, celebrating the victories such as going back to work, celebrating a birthday, laughter, or relating a story about a loved ones are victories to be celebrated.  When I have fallen down, sometimes it has taken me awhile to get back up.  Sometimes I have had to crawl forward, but allowing myself latitude to feel the emotions, set up boundaries that work for me, and retreating at times has set my course to a place where I embrace life.

 

 

Running Africa was an experience that no words can convey.  Africa was life for me.  It was clarity on the way ahead, an acknowledgment of who I am and what I stand for, and it is a memorial that honors and remembers.  Each step is a victory of sorts and traveling to Africa was a foot stomp against living paralyzed in fear.  Each race is a series of steps and breathing through the pain.  Each goal represents a victory.  Each finish shows me just how far I have come and how strong I am.  Each set back and tear forges a bond that is strengthened within my tribe.  As I live my dreams and discover who I am without my Phil, I am becoming a better version of the girl I once was, and I am living bigger dreams than I ever could have dreamt for myself.  I suspect I have an angel looking down saying, “That’s my girl.”  I suspect he always knew she was there.  #thrivingvssurviving19620148_10155742228567841_312656785846368090_o

 

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