Now That It's One Year

(Song: One Year/artist: Feist) 

May 12, 2017

Well, I did it, y'all. I survived the first year of life without my dad, and all the painful reminders that accompanied it. Father's Day, summer in my hometown, Thanksgiving, December 11 - his birthday, Christmas, New Year's Day, my birthday...and finally, the first anniversary of his death. And while I thought that would be the worst "first", the others that preceded it, made it wistful but not abjectly painful. Turns out, my birthday was the worst first.  My dad always sang "Happy Birthday" to me when he called every year. He had a distinct and beautiful voice. The realization that there will be no more phone calls from him felt like a continuous stab in the chest. For the first time in 42 years, I felt no joy on my birthday. 

The whole first year was a "this time last year" retrospective. 
This time, last year:
...I knew it was bad and that his time was finite.
...his pulmonologist recommended in-home hospice care.
...he said, "Tonight's one of those nights I just wish it would all end."
...he moved to his local hospice facility.
...he woke up after sleeping for almost two days. It seemed like a miracle. He was lucid and wholly aware that his two-day nap was a sign that he was at the end of his life's journey. He was finally at peace with dying. I took him outside where we listened to La Traviata in it's entirety. He reached for my hand and said, "I'm really going to miss you." We both cried, then laughed, and I told him how much I love him. It was the last time I saw him alive.
...I spoke with him on the phone for the last time. I assured him I was going to be okay and that he shouldn't be afraid. 
...a stranger from my father's church called to tell me my dad had died. It was after 11, but before noon. I was alone in my kitchen. I bellowed the most guttural, primal howl and fell to the floor. The absolute shock of a call I knew was coming. You're never ready for it. 
...I delivered a eulogy that I wrote with my dad's knowledge, blessing and collaboration. 

My last day with Papa.

The morning of my dad's memorial, I woke up at dawn and walked to the end of the dock  to watch the sunrise while I listened to all of Mozart's Requiem. My father loved Mozart. Mozart's Requiem was his go-to when he was feeling particularly black. I stood there for 57 minutes, in one spot, letting the sun and my grief soak me while the music filled my ears and drowned the sound of my sobbing. My own private funeral. 

Who needs church when you have this?

Right after my dad died, my  friend Holly, who lost her mom tragically early, said, "Your dad is with you. Just look for the signs."  Three months later, I was back in Georgia visiting a girlfriend and her husband. While touring their new neighborhood, we stopped in to visit one of their relatives - a man named Hunter. At first glance, one might surmise that Hunter spends most of his time on the water. And that would be correct. The burly, sun-soaked commercial fisherman, with his thick southern drawl, looks every bit the part. But he also happens to be an extraordinarily talented pianist that learned everything by rote. I asked him to play for us and he happily obliged. He played a medley that began with Debussy's  Clair de Lune.  As it faded into a new selection, I immediately recognized the beginning notes of Rachmaninov's Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini (Op. 43 - Var. #18). A favorite of my father's. My dad introduced that piece to me via a music box he gave to me on my 10th birthday. I don't know if Hunter knew I had just lost my dad, but he definitely didn't know that that was one of my father's favorite pieces. I heard Holly's voice in my head. "Look for the signs." And though tears were streaming down my cheeks, there was so much joy in my sadness. 

I snapped this shot of Hunter before the flood of tears. 

Before he died, my father asked my younger brother to make peace with me. As kids, we never got along. Okay, we hated each other. Ours was not an easy or [overall] happy childhood. Our parents divorced when we were very young so we never experienced a stable, two-parent household. We struggled financially and were painfully aware that we were poor. Divorce - especially living with a single father in the 1980s - and poverty in our affluent hometown made us...different. As Jeannette Walls wrote in her jarringly familiar (minus the alcoholism and squatting) memoir The Glass Castle, “Once you go on welfare it changes you. Even if you get off welfare, you never escape the stigma that you were a charity case. You're scarred for life.” In addition to the shame of poverty, we were fearful of our dad’s volatile mood swings. Though we knew we were loved, our dad suffered bouts of intense depression that was terribly confusing for kids. He was completely unaware of how frightening it was for us to live each day not knowing if he was going to come home and greet us with hugs, or sit in his car in the driveway for an hour before coming inside to demand complete silence (from little kids...) while he sat alone listening to ear-piercingly loud classical music. The mood of our father was the mood of our home. My brother and I hated our circumstances. We turned that hatred on each other when we should have been each other's protectors. Too young to understand that our father's depression wasn't our fault - or his - or that being poor didn't make us unloveable.

I probably did something mean to my little brother right after this was taken.

Over the past year my younger brother and I have spoken extensively about our shared and separate childhood experiences. (Our older brother is on the autism spectrum and not wired for in-depth emotional analysis.) Even in his darkest moments, we idolized our dad. Though he was a complex and deeply flawed human being, his children were his greatest joy and there was never a doubt that he loved us with his whole heart. Now that we're adults and both parents ourselves, we can acknowledge and forgive the shortcomings of our father while still giving ourselves permission to love him as only his children can. We are the sum of all his best parts. Our father's death freed us from the misplaced anger and resentment that robbed of us our childhood bond. My brother is the one person in this world that completely understands the intricate mix of emotions that surround our father's memory. I deeply regret that we weren't allies in the trenches of our difficult childhoods, but enormously grateful that honoring our father's dying wish has given new life to our relationship. 

"What better measure of what you were doing here, than what you can leave behind." - Peter Gabriel, Make Tomorrow


Moving Forward And Not Looking Back

(song: Coming of Age/artist: Foster the People)

On my 40th, I wrote about my burgeoning mid-life identity crisis. I hired a therapist. At 41, I was recovering from back surgery and feeling hopeful -- Thanks to my therapist. Two months later, the crushing loss of my father would make back surgery feel like a stubbed toe in comparison. My therapist worked overtime. And just like that, I'm 42. My body is almost completely functional, my heart is still broken but the passage of time has helped to ease the pain. My therapist is never getting rid of me.

So, what does 42 look like so far? Pretty good, really. When the bar is set so low, there's nowhere to go but up. 

First, my body. On December 14, the 1st anniversary of my surgery, I reunited with my BBSPT ("Before Back Surgery Physical Therapist"), Tony Ellis. I LOVE Tony! He's so kind, incredibly good at his job, and, like me, he's from Georgia so that automatically makes him the best physical therapist in the world. Tony got me running again after I bonked my left ankle and wound up with tendonitis. After lots of hugs and "I've missed yous!", we got down to business. Tony poked, prodded, nudged, pushed and assessed. The verdict: I have full feeling in my left shin and foot, my right shin still has numbness, and I still have foot-drop in my right foot. Both ankles are still very weak and my balance is pretty sucky. I also still have pain from the tendonitis in my left ankle, and I have plantar fasciitis - My left foot is a mess. I fully admit I have been terribly inconsistent with physical therapy so I own my (lack of) progress. I told him I had been doing easy running intervals. He told me to stop. Not because I can't run, but because I shouldn't until I'm stronger, more balanced and not a trip hazard. I begrudgingly agree to abide by the rules then we review exercises I've done in the past, and add a few new ones. Since I don't need to go to PT every week, we agreed to see each other after I've done some work on my own for a couple of months. I'm now consistently doing my physical therapy, going to Tabura, working out with light weights, and walking with my Achilles family every Thursday. I'm focused on rebuilding my strength and achieving my goal of becoming a RUNNING Achilles guide. I am taking back my body!

Tony makes me so happy.

On the nutrition front, I am finally tackling my weight gain, "the grief weight" as I like to call it. I am currently on day 24 of a Whole30 and I'm feeling great! The depression that accompanied my grief was my excuse to eat any and all shitty food I wanted for the past year. My sick dad only ate sweet stuff. Who was I to tell a dying man I couldn't join him in a meal of key lime pie, followed by ice cream, then topped off with more pie? The low point for me was having to buy a new winter coat - IN MARCH - because my coat couldn't zip around my ample hip region. Yep, that was rock bottom. (Pun intended.) It's been an easy 24 days so far. I will reintroduce grains, dairy and alcohol in moderation, but sugar is out for awhile. I don't even miss it. You're not supposed to weigh yourself during a Whole30 but I expect I will be down 5 to 8 pounds by day 30. I have 15 pounds to lose, and the Whole30 is a great way to kick-start that goal. Resetting my body and my mind.

Letting my freak flag fly in Tabura class.

I got myself a little part-time job too! My first job in 9 years. My friend Nicoletta, who is the chapter leader of Achilles Brooklyn, is the director of a non-profit youth running program called Run4Fun. I work with 2nd and 3rd graders, one day a week, and I love it. I also help manage Run4Fun's Instagram and Facebook pages. I specifically love working for Nicoletta because of her commitment to empowering kids of all socioeconomic backgrounds through running and staying active. She is a favorite among the members of my Achilles family and I'm thrilled to be a part of her growing business. She has given me the purpose 40-year-old me was so desperately seeking.

I get payed to play outside!

I still carry the weight of my grief every day but, I am simultaneously happy about the direction my life is taking. 

This year I celebrated my birthday in Ireland with my family. As I hiked the Cliffs of Moher (a.k.a. The "Cliffs of Insanity" if you're a Princess Bride nerd like I am) on a beautiful March afternoon, it occurred to me that just 12 months earlier, I was still using a cane to walk. I've come a long way, and I'm excited about the future.

Okay 42, let's do this! 


I Keep Crawling Back To You

(song: Crawling Back To You/artist: Tom Petty) 

REJOICE! For I have seen Leandro! Almost five years to  the date of my first day in his test group, we reunited for a small group workout at his new studio. When Leandro sent a text message inviting me to come to class on Valentine's Day, my knee-jerk reply to him was, "I've gained so much weight, I hate for you to see me." But of course, I went. Leandro knows about the back surgery and my dad's death so he understands that fitness has been neither a priority nor a possibility for the past yearish. But once you've been a poster child for the The Butt Master's program, you're gonna feel a smidge self-concious when it all goes due south.

With Leandro and Gloria. Sweaty, already sore, so happy.

Walking into his studio and seeing him for the first time in almost two years was so joyful.  His sweet and welcoming smile was a  beautiful reminder of all the good in my life. We spent a few minutes hugging and catching up then we reviewed some modifications I would make in class. Leandro understands the neuropathy of and nuance of back surgery recovery and nerve damage so I felt very safe in his class. I pushed myself harder than he pushed me (Which was not the case when he was torturing me during the test group, m'kay?).

Oh my God, it was hard as hell, but it felt so good to be in his class again! And even though I weighed 20 pounds more than the 5 other women in the class (seriously, my left thigh was bigger than the perfectly sculpted butt in front of me), it didn't matter. It was the happiest I've felt in months. 

During the test group, Leandro had "sexy Thursday" classes, which involved us dressing up in Brazilian carnival-inspired outfits and dancing most of the class. The first time we did this, I literally cried. I was so self-conscious and uncoordinated, and I hated my body in every way. Five years and a lot of life experience later, I dance with the reckless abandon of a punch drunk toddler. Pure joy, and no fucks to give.  

It Has Been Quite A Year

(song: Aperture/artist: Sleeping At Last)

It's a new year, y'all! Thank sweet Baby Jesus, 2016 is OVER!

I don't know who created this, but I love that person.

I rang in 2016 on a cane, then later in the year, my dad died. So, yeah, it pretty much sucked. I'm still dealing with all of that. Suffice it to say, I'm still sad and I still cry at least once a day (usually for less than 30 seconds, but occasionally the wave hits hard and it's a long, ugly-face cry), and I still struggle with my anger. I've got great support, and I'll get there. My feet are much better but I still have numbness in my shins and mild foot-drop in my right foot so my physical therapist advised against any running until I'm not a risk to myself. I've got great support, and I'll get there.

My goal for the new year is simply to keep getting better. Keep doing my physical therapy, stay in psychotherapy, eat healthy, exercise, be a good person/wife/mom, be patient...keep getting better. That seems like a good place to start, right? Oh, and I want to write more, eat less, lose weight, learn guitar, sing more, run again...but that's it!
But hey, despite all the sad shit that happened in 2016,  a lot of good came out of it. The trips to Georgia during my dad's illness afforded me the opportunity to strengthen and renew relationships. The experience healed a lot of lingering childhood angst.  The past year would have been impossible without the support of my southern sisters (and mamas), or their northern counterparts. I learned I have really good people. My affiliation with Achilles brought incredible new friendships into my life.

Jan 3 with my beloved Achilles Brooklyn family at NASDAQ's closing bell. An extraordinary start to the new year.

I joined a grief support group. I rediscovered the reason I moved NYC - I saw plays, concerts and dance performances. I participated in a race with a group of women I had never met in person. I participated in races even though I couldn't run. I learned to appreciate just being able to move. I learned to appreciate the little things. I listened, I talked, I laughed a lot.  

I don't know how 2017 will end for me, but I sure am happy with the way it's starting. My focus is forward and positive. One step at a time. 

A cane in January, a race on Thanksgiving. Not bad for almost a year. (Color scheme purely coincidental.)