When Lisa got sick, I started to run. I laced up broken down sneakers when she was first hospitalized- a brain tumor left her trapped in her body. She'd begged me to go and I was always too busy with my young boys-nursing, housekeeping, working, tired... you name it and I used the excuse. I started too late and just in time.
My first race was a 5k by the shores of Cayuga Lake at twilight. It wasn't easy but I was determined to finish. Legs burning, lungs burning, brain screaming- and still I refused to stop.
Just as my jiggly new mom bod couldn't take anymore- a funny thing happened, I stopped stopping myself. I turned my attention to everything I could think of that brought me peace or joy. I breathed in the scent of the grill- a summery sensation I'd longed for all winter. I noticed the specks of light rippling off the water and recalled childhood joys with my father on a boat- bumping along the wake on my kneeboard. I started to picture Lisa's smile, her head cocked to the side the way she did. Her famous phrase was, "Cancer matters" when we'd lament politics in the workplace, our pile of grading or some other minor detail in life. Now she had it. I ran because I was grateful to have had a friend who wanted me to run- even if I never got to with her by my side. I began to recall memories with her and suddenly she wasn't in the hospital bed, she was with me. I was her legs.
Now, times have changed but they haven't. Cancer still matters.
It reached out and nabbed my father... as my brother likes to say... he had nine lives and this particular type had to sneak up on him to get hold enough to win. Melanoma is like that- sly, aggressive and unrelenting. Dad was diagnosed on June 7th.
He'd just spent the weekend cheering on my youngest at a baseball tournament- 6 hours from his home and 40 degrees colder than it should have been, and in blowing wind. On Saturday, he was smiling and clapping, but by Monday- he was on full monitor in a hospital bed- Melanoma spread like fingers through his bones, brain, abdomen, lungs and blood.
I returned home to care for him- an honor that graced me with moments of clarity. Dad was confused often, but often so full of love and appreciation. It was an honor and a gift to help him experience the last of his days- a full month to the day of his diagnosis and I was rarely away from his side. We were able to keep him home where he could see his children, meet his newest grandson Xander, and spend time with his family and friends.
Watching a parent die is both a blessing and a challenge. There are images I can't unsee, pain I can't un-feel, a sleep loss as thick and palpable as if I were a new mother again, it hangs over you like a fleece blanket. Still, I wouldn't take back that time or those visions, or that pain.
I pushed through services- slogging through them like they WERE a marathon. If I just didn't stop, I wouldn't cry and I'd reach the finish line where I could finally collapse, eat a bunch of carbs and experience the after affects of a body that worked harder than it reasonably should. I spoke at my father's funeral and somehow didn't cry- which meant to me that the tsunami is still being held back, waiting.
Before Dad died, he told me over and over how he'd hoped my family would exercise- stay strong. The words made me laugh because he snuck them into every conversation- often in a way that didn't fit. They were clunky like a square cog in a circular hole.
"Easter morning- eat, get fat- then exercise!" he'd spout like a true salesperson.
So, yesterday, my neighbor (and friend) Stacy posted that she'd registered for a half marathon. She asked for others to join her. I pictured one of my favorite photos with Dad. He'd come to my first half marathon and I am pictured holding my 2 year old son, with my 5 year old ahead of me and Mom and Dad on my arms.
Running was the therapy that helped me move through the loss of Lisa, my aunt Cindy (whom I never grieved til running), my father in law and countless others.
Last night, I fell asleep to a song that's special to my father, my son and I- only to wake up and hit snooze because I was dreaming of him. Over and over, I dreamt about my father.
Today I printed out a plan to train for a half marathon- I'm shy 1-2 weeks in the training program if I want to run with my neighbor, so I guess I'll have to adjust.
I popped my earbuds in and I ran. I listened to music and I brought Dad with me.
Here I go again. I hope that each step will help me get closer and closer- until I can finally return home to myself. That place has been moved around, rearranged and turned upside down. I'm sure that when all is settled, there will be new patterns, a shake out of what wasn't needed, and some familiar terrain.
I share this with you now, because, if you need to heal from pain or grieve or move through something to find yourself again- running is an inexpensive option. If you have a million excuses in your mind, remember that when I first started- I was broken, lost, out of shape and hadn't run since high school. Remember that it won't be pretty, but it will be therapy.
If not running, what movement can help you process, heal and emerge stronger? Your path doesn't have to be mine, but like Dad said, "Exercise!"
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Intuitive mother, writer, teacher, wellness coach, daughter, wife, friend and advocate for true belonging and self love.