Two years ago today Kurt passed away.
At first I marked the days… then the weeks… then the months. At first my grief took me two steps forward, one step back, one step over the cliff.
I picked myself up again, over and over. Somehow I learned to find ways to make progress, dared to travel on paths and roads that might lead to somewhere new.
The grieving process never really ends, I think, but it does become enfolded within and protected by the new self that emerges with the passing of time and miles.
I have learned that life is finite and precious. Life is lived in moments.
Every new day brings a deeper healing.
I am grateful to be alive, fully present, and joyful on this beautiful June day.
This is not the blog post I thought I would write today. I expected to write about how I ran the Whidbey Island half marathon yesterday in 2:12:01, setting another PR by two and a half minutes. I was going to tell you how great I felt about running in a steady rain on a course that was even hillier than I thought it would be, how I was passing everyone around me in the last few miles, and how I ran mile 13 in 9:17 — one of the faster miles I’ve ever run and certainly the fastest mile I’ve ever run at the end of a long hard race.
I woke up this morning still basking in my slow happy glory, and eagerly turned to my Twitter feed for news about the Boston Marathon. I “watched” the elite runners finish and then I turned to other business for a while. Later I returned to Twitter…
I’m sure that we — all of us — are shocked, outraged, and deeply saddened by the events in Boston today. There will be many thousands of words written about it, and I don’t want to needlessly add to the fray.
I just want to say one thing.
I will venture to guess that almost everyone who puts on a pair of running shoes and goes out the door has, at least once, been captivated by the allure of the Boston Marathon. It is one of the very few sporting events with global visibility and appeal. It is the stuff of our most noble dreams.
I have never attempted to run a full marathon. I’m only just now beginning to seriously think about making the attempt. But I can tell you what my Boston Marathon qualifying time needs to be. I know because I’ve looked it up. At my age, I’d have to run a 4:10 marathon just to be eligible to register. It is utterly out of my reach. And yet… this morning I scanned the Whidbey Island full marathon results and noted with great pleasure how many people had run Boston 2014 qualifying times.
I want to be like them.
We all dream of running Boston.
I am devastated at the thought of the runners who had just completed the Boston Marathon, and moments later had their legs blown off or worse. The tragedy is unthinkable.
I am so angry, so sad, so grief-stricken, and so deeply and utterly a runner.
I ran my race yesterday, one day after what would have been my late husband’s 66th birthday, and on the 20th anniversary of my mother’s death. Those were small milestones, small but poignant victories for me. It’s not so easy to stop a determined runner.
So I have decided. This October I am going to run my first marathon. I am going to run it because I, too, dream of someday running the Boston Marathon.
So my disappointing long run the other day did turn out to be just a fluke… as I’d sort of thought it was even at the time. Yesterday I ran a perfect 10-miler that left me feeling entirely satisfied and ready to give myself some extra rest and a proper taper over the next ten days before the Whidbey Island race.
I spent some time after that run thinking about running and reflecting on the literal and metaphorical places I have been as a runner.
Off and on over the past few days I have mused quite a bit about the experience of running, about what it’s like to become a runner, to be a runner, and to discover strength, resiliency, courage, and happiness as a runner. I’ve been re-reading old blog posts (on this site and previous more private sites) from the period during and shortly after Kurt’s illness and death. I’m re-reading my words from that time because I’m working on a paper proposal for a conference… which may finally begin to lead in the direction of the book that I want to write about running through grief.
It hurts to look back and read words that screamed forth from my pain. But it’s also very heartening to see that I found sources of strength… and a big source of my strength was the fact that I somehow managed to get out there and run. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.
There were plateaus and setbacks in my running ability and in my ability to hold my life together. There were times I thought I was going to rip my heart out of my chest. Then there were times when I knew that my heart and mind and legs were all strong and I was going to be able to put all the pieces back together.
Running has taught me — and continues to teach me — that anything is possible with determination and practice. I had to complete a PhD program at age 53 in order to finally convince myself that I am intellectually authentic. Learning to run since then has been something like a PhD program for the rest of me.
I’m tempted to say that coping with Kurt’s illness and death were the comprehensive exams for that second PhD, but I don’t want to contextualize or diminish that experience. I do wonder, however, if I’d have become such a dedicated runner if it weren’t for what happened to Kurt. Before his diagnosis, I hadn’t begun to challenge myself as a runner. I walked a lot. I worried about injuring myself. I never pushed myself hard to see how much more I could do. After his diagnosis I began to see running as something I could do to help myself — sometimes it was the only thing I could think of that I could do to help myself. It was the only thing that brought me any sort of respite.
After he died, running got me out of the house. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning. It gave me a reason to eat. It put things on my calendar.
Of course, it gave me places and times to cry.
And it gave me reasons to celebrate.
We all have our life challenges, and we all find our ways to cope.
By choosing to become and be a runner, I have found pride — satisfaction — peace — confidence — and a goodly measure of humility.
Life is short. Our days are numbered. How many steps we take, the places we go, the ways we choose to spend the time we have — these things are up to each of us to decide.
As for me, I’ve logged 250 running miles so far this year. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 550,000 steps just since January 1. They haven’t all been steps of sheer joy, but most of them have been pretty good. And they’re all steps in the right direction.
Slow and happy…
One step at a time!
I was feeling pensive this evening. I guess it was the approaching holidays. I went back and re-read my blog posts from around this time last year.
I was still deeply grieving for Kurt, but I was beginning to look around and ask “what now?” I was simultaneously dreading and looking forward to going down to Palm Springs for the winter. How would I manage down there all alone? How did I want to choose to live my life from that point on? Could I ever dare to love again? Might I be so lucky as to love again? Who was I, and who was I becoming now that I was no longer Kurt’s wife, his partner, his caregiver?
What I didn’t share at the time was that I had just met CFL. We met, through friends of friends, two weeks before I packed up and moved south for the winter. We barely had time to begin to get to know one another, but he helped me finish packing and stood in my driveway looking sad when I drove away the day after Thanksgiving.
I was so torn. I kicked myself for leaving but I knew that I had things to do on my own, and that I needed to go.
Then followed hundreds of text messages and hours of phone calls. It wan’t anything like the courtships of my previous experience!
But I think the timing of our meeting and immediate separation worked in my favor — the separation and my loneliness gave me the time and space to figure out what I actually did want to do and who I wanted to become. It allowed me to focus on my job… which helped me to see that there really wasn’t anything left of my job worth focusing on, and that my talents and energy would be better spent elsewhere. The separation from both CFL and the Pacific Northwest helped me to see that I didn’t want to be bi-platial… that friends and community are things that I truly value. I deeply want to be rooted, grounded, at home, in place.
So there I was, deeply engaged in thinking through the issues that I needed to resolve and the decisions that I had to make in order to move on with my life. Meanwhile, I was being wooed. It was an honor, a thrill, and an utterly rejuvenating experience to be wooed.
Re-reading my posts from those months, I see my mixed emotions — confusion, joy, optimism, fear, relief when I made the big decisions to sell the condo and quit my job, resolutions of “I shall have fun,” and wide-eyed speculation about the future.
What a difference a year makes.
I wish I could convey adequately to Kurt’s daughter and his closest friends that there will never be another Kurt in my life. I will grieve for him and miss him until the day I die.
But love is a many-splendored thing. It is beautiful. It is rare. My relationship with CFL may or may not be forever, but it is real. We’re both taking it one day at a time, both of us sharply aware that life is short and moments are all we have. I know that we have enriched one another’s lives immeasurably. As I look back tonight and remember the person that I was and the person that he was a year ago, I am grateful that both of us have had this second chance at love in our lives.
And on this holiday, I am grateful for loved ones and for being in love, both past and present. I am cherishing the memories and looking to the future.
One step at a time.
Exactly one year ago today I started this blog.
It’s difficult for me to articulate how far I have traveled in that year, but since this is at least nominally a blog about running, perhaps I could begin by expressing it in terms of miles. Thanks to my penchant for spreadsheets, I actually have this information readily at hand.
Since August 28, 2011 I have run 607.78 miles. I ran those miles in Washington, California, Arizona, Oregon, Alaska, and British Columbia. I completed half marathon races in Washington, California, and British Columbia, and I ran a staged marathon in Alaska. I ran barefoot on the beach, and I ran on rocky mountainsides. Given that my per-week mileage is continually increasing, I figure I’ll run another 300 miles before the end of 2012.
Since I started hiking in February 2012 I have hiked 131.59 miles. So far the hiking has all been in Washington and California.
My bicycling career is still in its wobbly infancy, but I have ridden my bike 44.50 miles so far.
All together, my non-motorized miles add up to 783.87. That’s over two miles a day for a year!
Finally, I have driven my car approximately (I can’t be precise here without going out to check my odometer, but I don’t really need to be that precise, do I?) 16,200 miles. I’ve driven in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, and Arizona. I drove most of those miles alone (except for my three cats).
That’s a total of approximately 16,985 miles. That’s a long, long way to travel.
Oh yeah, I flew a couple thousand miles and rode a cruise ship approximately 2,105 nautical miles (2,473 land miles) too…
During that same year I sadly “celebrated” what would have been Kurt’s and my 25th anniversary. I got through my first birthday and my first holiday season as a widow. I decided to sell the condo in Palm Springs. I quit my job because it was holding me back from doing the healing and growing that I needed to do. The condo in Palm Springs finally sold. I came home to new friends, new interests, and a new love.
Meanwhile, you came here to read and follow my blog. I’ve written 111 posts (this is number 112) and had 6,175 page views as of this moment. There have been 782 posted comments by my 63 followers and others. WordPress’s very effective spam blocker has correctly identified and blocked 1,215 spam comments! I have used 18% of my allotted free photo storage space from WordPress.
I’m no longer as slow as I was when I named this blog a year ago, but I am very much happier.
“Slow Happy” has become a formula for how I am trying to live my life. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. Amazing things start to happen when you dare to begin.
John Bingham said it better than I can: “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
Thank you all for running, walking, crying, crawling, hiking, biking, driving, flying, and boating all those miles with me. What a year we’ve had! I can’t wait to see what lies beyond the next bend.
I love to write. I really do. I have been writing almost as far back as I can remember. In my pre-teen years I wrote short stories, mostly about horses. As a teenager and young adult I wrote moody poetry about feeling out of place and yearning for a beautiful place in nature that I was sure would make me whole. I have journaled off and on since I was about ten years old.
One of the reasons I did well throughout my educational career was my ability to write clearly and crisply (the other reason is that I have a genuine knack for taking multiple choice tests). I developed my scholarly writing skills to a fine point as a graduate student. One of my dissertation committee members, a man who is notoriously hard to please, gave me his highest praise when he told me that my writing did not get in the way of my thought process… he could clearly see my brain thinking through my words on the page.
When I ended my corporate life this past February, one of the things I was most excited about was having more time to write. I literally blocked out two hours a day on my calendar for writing. I had ideas for a couple of books. I was going to blog more frequently. I was finally going to live the life of a writer.
Six months later, I’m blogging much less frequently than I did while I was still working. And I have done exactly zero with the book ideas.
This situation bothers me… a bit.
There are days when I look back in the evening and can’t figure out what on earth I have done with my time. There are other days when I know very well what I’ve done (slept in, ran, hiked, read, whatever), and I’m satisfied that I’ve had a wonderful day. Yet I regret not having found time to write.
I tell myself that I am not yet done detoxing myself from corporate life. There is some truth in this. I am enjoying being lazy, simply gazing at the water or the mountains. I am enjoying not forcing my body to wake up on command in the middle of a sleep cycle just because the alarm clock says it’s time to get up and go to work.
I think there may be a deeper reason why I’m not writing very much right now, and on balance it’s a positive thing.
During my poet years of my teens and early 20s, I took myself very seriously as a poet. Some people work through their adolescent angst by acting out and doing wild and crazy things. I kept my turmoil mostly to myself and worked things out metaphorically on the page through my poetry. As I grew older and some things began to resolve themselves, the irrestible urge to write faded. I still wrote, but I found myself crafting poetry rather than writing it from my heart. My poems became stale and artificial, and then they finally stopped coming at all.
My journaling career has taken a similar course. I journal feverishly when I need to think through things or get unstuck, and set the journal aside when I’m ready to fully reengage with life.
When Kurt was diagnosed with lung cancer, I started the blog for him as a gift to both of us. He used it as a convenient way of keeping family and friends informed of his treatment progress. I used it to provide my perspective on his condition. At first we both blogged, but when he got sicker I became his voice. We would come home from another unpleasant procedure or another trip to the emergency room, and as soon as I made him as comfortable as I could I would fly to the keyboard and get it out of my head and out there as a physical object that was then somehow separated from my experience. Writing it all down and then clicking “publish” could be a genuine insulation against the pain.
I started this blog (a year ago next week!) as a place for me to grieve, to relearn who I had been before the diagnosis, to learn who I had become during my caregiving year, and to try to figure out who I might become next. Running was the thing that had held me together during that year, and so running became a strong focus for this blog. My readers have been friends, other grievers, other runners, and (to my surprise) those who found me through the series of posts I wrote about mid-century modern architecture in Palm Springs.
We are complex beings, we humans, each of us with our own constellation of interests, passions, fears, and the things that happen to us along the way.
This slow happy runner has become less slow and a lot more more happy.
When my life is full and I am happy, I don’t feel the urge to write.
It’s the tag end of a short but glorious Pacific Northwest summer. The snow had hardly melted when I left for the cruise three weeks ago, and now already the wildflowers have peaked, the meadows are turning brown, and the maples have their first hint of fall color. I should be up there hiking for all I’m worth, but there are so many other things to do.
I’m getting into full training mode for my two upcoming half marathons. My 4-5 mile midweek runs have become 6+ miles, and my long runs are 8+ miles. I went down to southern Oregon a week or so back to test-run about 9 miles of the course for the Rogue Run. It’s not nearly as “all downhill” as the course profile diagram implied, but it is a beautiful paved trail along a river. I do hope the weather is cooler by then; running in 85-90 degree weather was pretty brutal. Yesterday, back on home ground and 60-degree weather, I ran my fastest 9 miles ever (in just over an hour and a half) despite including some major hills on my route. I’m feeling strong, and I am fully “owning” the fact that I am truly, completely in love with running.
There will be more time to write when the days are much shorter and the nights are cold and dark. But now? This is not a time for reflection. It’s a time for doing. It’s a time for enjoying my life as fully as I possibly can.
I’ll leave you with a couple of photos (from more than 500) from my Alaska cruise.
This is one of the more “interesting” sections of the 10-mile trail run in Juneau. It’s a steep area that gets frequent avalanches and landslides.
This is me with running guru and writer John “the Penguin” Bingham, one of the group hosts, on the same trail in Juneau. When I stopped running to get this photo, I realized just how wet I actually was. It was pouring!! (And yes, we are coincidentally wearing the male and female versions of the same hydration pack.)
It’s a glorious day outside. I think I’ll click the “publish” button and go outside to enjoy it. I hope you do something wonderful with your life today as well!
I haven’t wanted to mention it at all, because I was so afraid of “jinxing it” in this very fragile and uncertain real estate market.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may recall that I put the Palm Springs condo — Kurt’s dream winter home that I somewhat sarcastically dubbed “Kurt’s Folly” — on the market back in February. He had really hoped that I would keep it and continue to use it after he passed away last June. He never gave up his conviction that some day our little mid-century modern condo would be worth a great deal more than we paid for it back in 2009.
But it had always been his dream, not mine. I never wanted to be bi-platial, hated having to worry about whichever house I’d left behind whenever I was spending time in the other. Frankly, I was never comfortable with the size of my footprint — who really needs two homes? Not me, especially not now that it’s mine alone.
I had to drop the asking price several times, and I had to suffer through two offers that fell through before we could get through a series of counter-offers and agree on a deal. The third potential buyer, whose offer I received back in mid-May, never flaked out. We closed today, and I no longer own a condo in Palm Springs.
I suppose I should be ecstatic. This is what I wanted, and although I took a big loss overall I at least walked away with a bit of cash. I’m very lucky, in this real estate market, to find a buyer for my condo in a community of predominantly winter and vacation homes.
Yet I’m feeling very blue tonight.
This is one more step, a very big one, away from the life that Kurt and I shared. He loved this place and was very happy here. Together we worked hard to transform its look from tired late-70s to a 21st-century reinterpretation of its original 1961 modern style. We laughed together every time his Garmin GPS announced, in her impeccable Aussie accent, our impending arrival at “Kurt’s Folly at Stinkin’ Desert.” We ate a whole lot of Mexican food and toured some amazing houses.
A friend took this photo of the two of us in our living room in March 2011. Kurt was very sick, but we were both still smiling. That was a good day.
Just before we left it in May of 2011, a few weeks before he died, he thanked me for bringing him back and said that he did not expect to ever see it again…
When I was back there this winter, I took a lot of photos of the sky, the mountains, and the play of light upon them — my ever-favorite subjects. But when I searched tonight for a single photo that captured the spirit of this place, I was drawn to this one from our first winter there:
I’m quite sure that sometime next winter, when I’m shoveling six inches of snow off my driveway and fretting over how I’m ever going to get in shape for running/hiking/biking season again, I’ll look back fondly on Kurt’s Folly.
For now, though, bittersweet though it may be, I’m relieved to have it behind me and excited to be fully home here at last.
One step at a time.
This post will be brief. I’m writing from my iPad before going out for my long slow Sunday run.
Yesterday, June 9, was a year since Kurt died. Beginning several days ago, I would find myself suddenly in tears for no conscious reason. The tears would simply come. I would sit with them until they passed and then I could go on with whatever I was doing.
It was a very strange emotional roller coaster of a week. I was riding the high of my half marathon accomplishment while being swept away by the memories of last year at this time.
This weekend brought the “second Friday” and “second Saturday” art events to town, so I’ve spent some time in the company of a large circle of artistic, eccentric friends and acquaintances. I haven’t felt alone, and that’s good.
Yesterday I hiked up to Sol Duc Falls, which is one of my favorite places for healing and centering. It worked its magic as it always does. I thought of how I’d gone up there with my daughter and step-daughter the weekend after Kurt died. We were all hurting so badly but even then, I took strength from that place and I hope they did too. I hope they can remember that place now and feel healing and peace as I did yesterday, and do now.
As I remember, I also look forward. Life is so beautiful, precious, and short. We must learn that life goes on, and we must seek to enjoy every moment. This moment is all we have — and this moment is everything.
I’m going for a run now. I shall be slow, and I shall be happy.
It’s the 9th day of the month again. Today marks eleven months since Kurt died. Although grief is no longer at the forefront of my thoughts every day, I still feel sad as each of these small anniversaries approaches. This one seems especially poignant because the next one will be a full year.
At this time last year, I was packing up our things and preparing to drive Kurt and our three cats home from Palm Springs where we’d spent the late winter and early spring. Although he’d been under continuing care (read: “endless chemotherapy”) from a local oncologist, he was clearly getting sicker and weaker. He told me when we locked up the condo and left on May 15 that he didn’t think he’d ever see it again. I said, “Of course you will!” I was trying to be strong and I so badly wanted him to be strong and keep fighting. Perhaps, instead, I should have encouraged him to talk about it, at that moment when he might have still been able to have such a discussion with me.
No, I won’t second-guess my own actions from that time. We all do what seems like the right thing to do at the time.
And the mile markers go by, one after another.
My favorite running place, the Olympic Discovery Trail, has both mile markers and half-mile markers. I don’t look at them much these days, but they do serve as reminders to glance at my watch. I keep getting faster. I’m still not quite sure why I’m getting faster, or how much faster this slow happy runner is capable of going.
Since I started running three and a half years ago I’ve now run 1,577 miles, which is 534 more than last year at this time. I’ve probably run a million steps, give or take a few thousand, over the past year. One step at a time.
I have handled hills, rain, and gale-force headwinds. I can go out now and run ten miles at a constant pace that I couldn’t have done for even one mile a year ago. The next day I’m not sore. I’m amazed that I can just go and do a run like that and feel perfectly normal afterward.
Life goes on. I am not the person that I was a year ago. I will always have “Kurt’s widow” as a deep part of who I am, but I am not only that person. Every step, every mile, every corner turned and bridge crossed, takes me further beyond the life we shared.
My last post was about a bridge on the Olympic Discovery Trail, and it brought a question about whether this was an old railroad bridge. That particular bridge is a new one, but the trail is indeed on an old rail right-of-way, and some of its many bridges are indeed railroad bridges. After my run the other day I stopped to take photos of one of these; it’s just west of mile marker 5. Colleen, this is for you:
While on a bike ride back on April 27 I stopped in the middle of the bridge to look down at the stream. There was a bunch of wood and other debris caught in an eddy current and in the process of getting hung up on the downstream side of the bridge. I watched for a long time as a discarded green plastic bottle swirled around, each time looking like it might escape and float downstream, and each time becoming more entrapped by the debris. Each time I have crossed the bridge since that day, I have stopped to look for the bottle. Each time, it was still there.
Today the bottle was gone. There was still a debris dam there, but the green bottle had somehow escaped and floated on downstream toward the mouth of the stream a mile away.
Time passes. Things change. Mile markers approach and then fade behind us.
Life goes on, one step at a time.
While I was out running the other day it occurred to me that I would have two opportunities (going and returning) to examine the REALLY SCARY bridge that gave me so much trouble on my last bike ride. I thought that perhaps if I stopped and studied it, I might be able to overcome my irrational fear of crashing into the rail while attempting to ride across it. After all, this bridge is no big deal while running!
What I found is that there are several things going on that make this particular bridge so scary. Approaching from the west, it is a nice straight shot from a broad asphalt parking area — and in fact I’d handled it just fine when going that direction on my bike. Approaching from the east, it’s a different story.
The waterfront trail that I run most frequently is paved for most of its length. It’s a soft, thin chip-seal, which makes for a comfortable and pleasant running surface. Just east of this bridge, however, the trail makes a “temporary detour” around an old mill that closed about 15 years ago. Because this section is “temporary” pending final cleanup of the mill site (which may happen sometime this century), it has been left unpaved. Approaching the bridge from the east side, the trail is a combination of loose gravel and mud. It winds downhill and then makes a hard downhill left turn just a few yards from the bridge.
EXHIBIT A: Downhill left turn on gravel, approaching really scary bridge
So here I am, pedaling along, focusing really hard on simply trying to stay upright, because I haven’t done much bike riding in the last 30 years or more. I approach the turn, hit the brakes, try not to slide on the gravel, and hope I’ve got myself straightened out for the very short approach to the bridge. The bridge itself also runs downhill, and is only about 7 feet wide.
EXHIBIT B: The gaping maw of the REALLY SCARY bridge
I ask you: is that not REALLY SCARY?
But the funny thing is, once you are out on the middle of the bridge, if you take the time to stop (or if you find yourself coming to a screeching halt) and then look around, this is truly a beautiful place. This is Ennis Creek. Several years ago I was on a team that monitored water quality on this creek and another one nearer my house. I’ve scrambled around in the water at this location many times. This is NOT a scary place at all. I actually love this place.
EXHIBIT C: Ennis Creek from the bridge
Now that I have studied the bridge and understood the elements that make it so scary from my bike-riding vantage point, I’m hopeful that the next time I try it on my bike, I’ll sail right through. Or at least I’ll be able to laugh at myself for my obstinate, persistent irrationality.
There is a life lesson in this, of course. A really scary bridge is just a metaphor for all those really scary crossings that I have had to make over the past two years. A cancer diagnosis in one’s dearest loved one is a really scary thing. Watching helplessly as he endured one complication, one indignity, one setback after another was really scary. Realizing that I was going to have to get through the hardest parts, Kurt’s final weeks and days, without him being “there” to cheer me on as he had always done for me when the going got tough, was really scary. Saying goodbye to someone who was beyond responding was really scary. Finding myself alone was really, really scary.
He’s now been gone for almost a year. I can look back and know that I did everything as well as I possibly could have. I have crossed one bridge after another. I have learned to enjoy the view. Sometimes I still feel really scared, but I’m learning that I have so much life still to live, so many new adventures that I never thought would be within my reach, and a growing community of new friends who are encouraging me to cross new bridges.
I’ll get over this bridge, and others beyond it. Life does go on, and there is joy in the journey.
One step at a time!