I’m not sure if I should say whether it was life or death that got in the way of posting new stories. But something about the start of a new year brings contemplation – after all, it was this time a few years back when I got the idea to start this blogging adventure.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this blog was never about running. It was about reclaiming the narrative of my own life, on my own terms – a life not defined by a critically ill husband or my cancer, but a life defined by strength (whether physical, mental or emotional).
2017 proved to be a year of unfathomable upheaval in my life.
After several months of setbacks, this time last year Richard and I were informed that he didn’t have much time left. January, February and the first half of March were filled with visits from family and friends who came to see Richard. For the most part, those visits were joyous.
But he rocketed downhill over a few days and left us on March 18, 2017. His mother, sister and I were there with him when he went. I wish I could say something like, “I felt his gentle spirit lifting to heaven,” but that wouldn’t be truthful. He was worn out from fighting for so long – it felt as though he finally, truly, was able to have peace from his suffering.
That first week was the worst I’ve ever felt. All of the energy that had gone into caring for him turned into the worst regret I’ve ever experienced – truly crushing.
Then my family came.
I don’t think they had time to plan it, but they each had their roles – my brother and brother-in-law fixed years of things unattended to around the house and even took me to buy a grill I could use by myself. Whatever needed to be done, they did it. My sister tidied my house (without being obtrusive or critical). She and my brother planned and fixed meals so I didn’t have to think about it. And my mother. My mother slept in my bed with me and held my hand when she knew I was laying awake in the night. We cried and laughed together, and they got me through the worst of it.
When it was time for Richard’s service, his family came from across the country, including his cousin, Father Steve, who drove from Colorado to perform a special Catholic Mass. There was also an incredibly special service at my church. Four of my best hometown girlfriends, Blake, Melinda, Mary and Judy, came to support me. That humbles me every time I think about it. The service was followed by a luncheon in the Fellowship Hall featuring food from Martin’s Barbeque (Richard’s favorite). Friends contributed homemade desserts. It was exactly what Richard would have wanted – he loved feeding people.
Since then, I’ve been supported and lifted by so many people – my Nashville friends Becky and Bettina devoted themselves to me, my hometown friends made time to celebrate my birthday with me, my church family rallied around me, my co-workers (special shout-out to Mary!) were patient, my neighbors were kind, our lung transplant family was supportive, and my family was always close by.
One time this summer, Becky and Bettina arrived at my house to go to goat yoga, only to have me crying in the driveway, upset about a dream I had the night before. They got me into the car and to goat yoga, where the combination of yoga and sweet baby goats made my nightmare fade away. They stuck by my side through so many experiences like that.
I went through individual grief counselling and then grief support group sessions through the spring and summer. Being around others who experienced the loss of a spouse made me feel less like a freak. I’m usually bad about remembering people’s names, but I learned all their names quickly. It seemed disrespectful not to, given the importance of what we shared.
I continued my art journey through watercolor workshops and started classes in acrylic painting. Creating art has proven to be unexpectedly rewarding. There are times I look at something I created and truly can’t believe I started drawing just two years ago.
Through my grief support group and my church, I’ve gotten used to telling my story. The more I tell it, the more comfortable I am with it.
Some well-intentioned people have inquired as to whether I have “a good support network” (which is the buzz-word of the day). To answer that question, I have the most wonderful support network I can imagine, but to quote Brene Brown,
“This journey belongs to no one but you; however, no one successfully goes it alone.”
I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, but I hope that they respect my situation. Sometimes I am awkward, sometimes I don’t know what to say, sometimes I know I make people uncomfortable, but I am always doing the best I can, and I feel like my best keeps getting better.
For Christmas this year, I went by myself to Washington, DC. I would have been warmly welcomed by my family and Richard’s family. But it was important to me to completely change it up, to learn how to navigate the world by myself. So I went to Washington, where I toured the Smithsonian museums, the Library of Congress and the Capitol. I rode the Metro with the confidence of someone who was trained on how to navigate London’s Tube by my sister-in-law, Ann. I reached out to and connected with family and friends. I also talked to strangers, ate by myself and took pictures of other people’s families. I ventured far out of my comfort zone and, still, the trip was a success.
I don’t know exactly what my future looks like but I believe that God hasn’t gotten me this far only to leave me now. I thank all of you who loved and supported me this past year. Although it was the hardest year of my life, it was also an incredible year of personal discovery. I look back at the past with love and toward the future with anticipation.
Happy New Year.