Thirteen point freaking one.

One year ago this month I ran my first 5K. Well it was not technically my first since I used to run and did the occasional 5K for a good cause but this was my first one in probably 15 years. But after diving into fitness to help me cope with my grief, I can’t explain how running made me feel. It was as if I found myself again. It was also a way to give back and advocate for causes I believe in when doing races for charity.

When I lost my job, running seemed like the only thing that made sense. When I run, I feel free. Free from all my worries and stress. It’s just me and the my feet hitting the pavement while I listen to my favorite music. I love the feeling of the wind in my face and the road under my feet. It doesn’t matter how fast I go, if I win or lose. I often think about the people I pass or when the ones behind me or next to me and what their story may be. We are strangers and we have no idea what we may have overcome to get to this point. Running has comforted and healed me. It has showed me that I am physically capable of more than I ever thought was possible.

When I signed up for the Baltimore 1/2 marathon, I had other experienced runners tell me it was a challenging and hilly course. I was asked if I was part of a training group because I probably needed the support, etc. I blocked out all the comments and suggestions because I enjoy training alone and I obviously enjoy a challenge now too (see this post). I downloaded the Hal Higdon 1/2 marathon training app and began to train.

And on October 12th, I did it! I ran 13 point 1 miles and I never stopped until the end.

Baltimore half

 

One year without Dan.

“When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.”  ~Author Unknown

September 13th is tomorrow and it’s  the anniversary of my husband Dan’s passing. I really didn’t want this day to come. If I am being honest, I wondered if anyone would remember.

On the eve of his passing last year, I went to bed in the wee hours as I always did not knowing if that was his last night with me or not. His hospital bed was next to our bed so I was used to not sleeping. He was unconscious but I still spoke to him as if he was his normal self. His breathing was so heavy and labored so we knew the end was very near. My mom slept with me that night. She knew it was time and didn’t want me to be alone. It was around 3 am when we both woke because it was silent. Yes, we were woken by the peacefulness of the room. I opened my eyes and could see my mom over him, touching his heart to see if he was still breathing. We turned on the lights and kept checking and checking his pulse. Although we knew he was gone, I think we were both in denial. Then she left the room so I could be alone with him one last time. I remember every minute of that day and night as if was yesterday.

And this week, I’ve been keeping really busy because in the moments I am not, I think about this time last year. Although I was surrounded by family and friends, I can’t help but wonder how I might have lived that last week with him differently. Did I say enough? Did I do enough? I know in my heart I had no control and I did all that I could to care for him and let him know how much I loved him, but it’s only human to question yourself. Right?

The past 12 months have been a whirlwind. Some of my feelings include fear, guilt, sorrow, courage, happy, sad, relaxed, crazy, tired, energetic, devastated, content, elated, weak, grateful, strong, and loved…just to name a few!

The anticipation of this day also made me think about what is appropriate to do on the day that marks the death of your husband. I don’t think anyone has the right answer for that one. Who really wants to celebrate a death? And what do you call it? A death-a-versary? An angel-versary? So what I plan to do is to reflect on what I have lost, what I have gained, and what I have learned through it all.

I appreciate the gift of life as I never did before. Since the day that Dan left us, I had no choice but to put one foot in front of the other and live. Live for myself, for my boys, and for Dan. I lost my husband and shortly after, I lost my job. That in itself would send anyone into a dark place but I realized I am much stronger than I ever knew. I made a lot of big changes in the last year like selling our home and cars and starting over. I made new routines with my boys. I played Santa all alone. I celebrated holidays with my family. I laughed a lot and cried a lot, sometimes both at the same time. I spent countless hours on the phone with my best friend talking over our grief or as we like to call it, our good grief. I had to put my ego aside many times and ask for help with the tasks that I could not do on my own. I traveled with best friends. I made new friends and lasting memories. I vacationed with the boys. I tackled many first for the boys alone. I went outside of my fitness comfort zone and completed a 10 mile race and a triathlon. I have become much more spiritual. I experienced things that prove there really is no such thing as coincidences.  And most of all, I have learned that it’s okay to be happy again.

I cried so hard writing this blog that my body ached inside and out. But when I wiped my tears away I remembered what I have today and how much love I am surrounded by and my heart swells with happiness.

And now I would like to ask you a favor. Hold your loved ones close, savor the moments, and that means even the hard ones because tomorrow is never promised.

That’s not all.

Pay it forward for Dan. What do I mean? Do something nice for your friend, wife, husband, sister, brother, son, daughter, co-worker, mother, father, aunt, uncle…or even the stranger behind you in line at Starbucks. It can be as simple as a hug and an I love you. Flowers. A free coffee. Hold the door for someone. Just do something nice for someone today in honor of Dan or a loved one you may have lost. I promise you will make someone’s day and make yourself feel good too.  Oh and leave a comment here (or on Facebook) to let me know what you did. I would love to read about all your gestures of kindness.

I will leave you with a few of my favorite pics. It’s late and I have a ton of pics but here are some of my favorites and how I would like the boys to always remember him since they are too young to know otherwise.

UntitledThanks for reading!

I swam. I biked. I ran.

In that order. And I finished.

On Sunday, August 18th I completed the Athleta Iron Girl Triathlon which is a sprint tri that consisted of 0.62mi swim- 16mi bike – 3.4mi run and took place at Centennial Lake Park, in Ellicott City, MD.

I have to say that this was the most challenging thing I have ever done. Way more than childbirth, trust me! I wanted to back out the entire week before but I had another reason to do this besides it being a personal goal. The race took place on Dan’s birthday and he would have turned 43. I had to do this for him. I also had to do this for my kids to show them that you can do anything you put your mind to.

I trained for the race on my own and didn’t really follow any certain plan. I spent countless hours at the gym taking cycling classes, personal training sessions, cardio classes, etc. I bought a road bike and admit I only used it a handful of times on the road, mainly because I don’t like to go alone. I also logged miles and miles on the Ma & Pa trail where I typically run. But the swim part, my weakness, never really happened. It was like I had a mental block, anxiety, or a fear I had to face. I have never been a good swimmer and can’t say I love the water. I am the type that likes to get wet to cool off, and that’s it! So the thought of swimming .6 miles was daunting to me. I don’t know what I was thinking. My friends Tracey and Aimee who have done these in the past make it look so easy. Aimee even met me at our gym pool to practice with me and show me some things. And while she swamp laps so effortlessly with her muscular arms gliding her through the water, I kicked the board across the pool like a 5 year old in her first swim lesson! Ask my family, 2 days before the race I was watching YouTube videos on how to tread water and do different strokes. Who does that right before a triathlon?!

So race day finally arrived. The weather sucked. It was sort of cold and raining on and off. It had been only in the 70s the few weeks prior which is unheard of for summers in Maryland. I left my house at 4:45 am to get to the park in time and set up. My friend Nicole, who has done these many times, met me to show me the ropes. She is such a positive spirit who was able to calm my nerves since I showed up in tears. I even ran into Aimee who so kindly checked my tire pressure and got my bike all ready to go. It helps being friends with a triathlete! And Tracey was reminding me to know my limit but to me, there was no limit. I had been through way too much that I was not going to quit now.

My swim wave wasn’t going off until 8 so I had a lot of time to pass. We headed down to the water where I ran into some other friends who were doing it too. I quickly realized I was the only one who barely swim trained and thought WTH was I going to do?! I decided to just go be alone to get my head focused, watch the swimmers and see if anyone was hanging on to kayaks, quitting, etc. It was there that I met Sara. She was doing the same thing as I was and I said out loud “I am freaking out” and she said “me too, I just learned how to swim this year!” So we started to talk and talk and talk and we than we walked over to the end of the park so we could get a better view of the water and what we were about to do. We both had a fear of drowning too. And we both were determined to finish. We felt a little bit better seeing about 50 kayaks in the water along with the resting buoys so we at least felt safe. Sara was going off 12 minutes after me so we said our goodbyes and hoped we meet at the finish.

I got in line with my wave and the tears started to flow. I was being hugged by strangers. It was the sweetest moment having other women there tophoto(48) support you, calm you, and tell you all the things you need to hear at that moment. And my sister was there too. She was snapping pictures of my tears (after she hugged me and told me it was going to be ok and she knew I wasn’t a quitter). I listened to all the tips I had gotten from friends and got in the back of the pack. I couldn’t stop crying. I heard a familiar voice and it was Tracey offering a hug too. I kept walking in and all I could think about at that moment was Dan’s fight with cancer and his inability to walk and how he would have given anything to walk across the room. So how could I even think for a minute that I couldn’t swim .6 miles. I knew this was 80% mental and realized it’s now or never. I didn’t care how long it took me, this was for Dan.

And then we were off. I backstroked, I side stroked, and I half ass breast stroked. I stopped at the resting buoys to breathe too. I saw the pink caps of the swim wave after mine coming in and passing me but I kept at it. I flipped over to my back to float and rest that’s when I would take the moment to look up at the sky and talk to Dan. I did not care if anyone saw or heard me that point. I needed the strength to keep going and this is what kept me from stopping. And it took me 60 long grueling minutes. I reached the end all wrapped up in sea weed and emerged from the water to see my 2 sweet little boys. That made those awful 60 minutes worth everything.

photo(47)Once that swim leg was over, it was smooth sailing. I knew I could cycle and run so now I just had to enjoy the rest and finish. Oh and towards the very end of the cycle leg, my new friend Sara came flying by me out of nowhere yelling my name. We were even able to run part of the last leg together too. Here we are proudly showing our finisher medals!

So that is a half day of my thoughts all wrapped up into a blog post. The best part was finishing and seeing my family. Everyone was asking if I would do it again. Here is the parallel to childbirth again….so kind of like after you give birth, everyone asks when you are having another kid right?! I said no immediately but reflecting back on the experience, I found it to be amazing, rewarding, exhilarating, and so much more. I decided that if I do properly swim train, I would probably do it again. So do not quote me, key word here is probably.finishing Iron GirlSo what is next? The Baltimore 1/2 marathon on October 12th.

p.s.  you can click on the pics to see them larger too. : )

Back to Bermuda.

Dan and I started our life as one when we were married in Bermuda on May 14, 2005. We had vacationed there before and actually introduced to the island by our great friends J & L who also got married in Bermuda. We had so many great memories there and always planned on going back on our 10 year anniversary. Having small children, it was almost impossible to get away so we figured by 10 years they would be old enough to stay with family and not miss us too much!

Who knew we wouldn’t make it to 10 years? 

I would never imagine I would be going back before 10 years but I was still holding on to Dan’s ashes and decided that Bermuda was the perfect place to release him. The place we made memories and said our vows in front of our family and friends.

“…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.”

I stood by those precious words until the day he took his last breath at my side. I owed this to him. So I booked the trip and 2 of my best friends came along with me. The whole week leading up to the trip, major anxiety set in. Was I doing the right thing? What if he doesn’t want to be in Bermuda? I was in sheer panic mode, unable to sleep, waking up unable to breathe and having a few panic attacks like I did the weeks after he died. My therapist BFF Kristin talked to me into the wee hours the nights leading up to the trip and finally the day before, I got the sign I needed and knew it was going to be alright.

Once we got there, I had to decided where I was going to release him. I knew it had to be in the water due to the sign I received…but where? The hotel where we married was gone after it was destroyed by a hurricane. My original plan included somehow getting on the property and if you know me and Kristin at all, nothing stands in our way so the night we arrived, we headed up to Henry VII’s which is a restaurant/bar across the street from where the Wyndham once stood  and we met some locals who had friends on the construction site (a new hotel is being built now) that would let us on the property.

Scratch that plan because Dan had other plans.

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We woke up on Saturday and headed to the beach. Yes, I was carrying Dan with me too. The clouds were amazing. If you don’t know, I have become obsessed with clouds since Dan’s death. I had never seen such big, beautiful, puffy clouds like I did the day he passed. I now see them here and there and I feel like that is a sign from above that he is watching over us. If you don’t believe in this stuff, you can call me crazy and I don’t really care! But the clouds that Saturday morning of June 1st in Bermuda were spectacular.

So off we go to the beach. The three of us were taking it all in. We were staying in the next hotel over from where the Wyndham used to be. I look over and see people kayaking and swimming in the coves and to a private beach and realize that was where we had our wedding photos taken – perfect. That’s it. That is the spot where I have to release Dan. But how do we get there? It’s private. We all head into the water to swim to it, Kristin carrying Dan at this point and we realize it’s too rough. Next we venture up to the road to walk it. And if you have ever been to Bermuda you know the south shore is ALL hills with one main road that overlooks the beach. We start walking and walking and walking and we pass a guy just standing on the road and we say hello and keep walking. Next a little boy yells up from his house asking if we were looking for beach access. Why yes we are young man! So he tells us where to go when a voice yells for us to come back because he has a short cut. You are probably reading this thinking 3 girls on a strange island following a local to a short cut is probably not a good idea but we knew something was special, after all Dan had to be lining all of this up. So he shows us a set of concrete steps and tell us to go down them and once we get to the end, turn for the next set. There was no stopping us at this point so off we went. These were the steepest steps I have ever ever climbed. And once we got to the end, we were on that private beach. The place I had my wedding photos taken with Dan 8 years ago. We were seriously guided to this spot and everything lined up perfectly without a real plan. Someone else up above had the plan and we just followed.

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I was able to walk the same steps I walked with Dan. Sit on the same rocks I did with him too. And at 1:11 we played Beam Me Up by Pink, I walked into the water with my friends watching over, waves crashing into the rocks, and I released Dan into the blue water. It was the most beautiful, peaceful moment as I watched him fade right into the pink sand and my best friend prayed by my side.

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Kristin took this photo right after I released him and said:

Signs and guides led us to the perfect place at the perfect time to join physical and spiritual worlds. This journey proves… “coincidences are “the Other Side working seamlessly like pieces of a puzzle coming together in our lives in a perfect way.” – Concetta Bertoldi

I feel completely at peace now with Dan being in Bermuda and now have a special place to visit with my boys for many years to come. And the rest of the trip was nothing short of amazing. Made some great new friends and fantastic memories too.

By the way, the guy who led us to the steps was no where to be found once we came back up to look for him. Kristin says of course not, he’s not real…he’s an angel that had to show us the steps!

Thank you K and T for coming along on my journey.

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My identity.

One thing on my mind lately is my identity. Sometimes I wonder “how did I get here?”  Or I look around my house and don’t recognize my former life at all.

But I also think about who I was before I even met Dan. I was very independent and blessed with a group of best friends which by the way are the same ones I have today. Before I met Dan I always worked out. I even worked at an athletic club part time to get a free membership although my friends (M and D you know who you are!) originally talked me into doing it to meet guys, haha! That was way before I met Dan. But my point is that when I met Dan, I had my own house, I had a career, I had my hobbies and he had his too. And when I married him, I changed my name and we became one but I never stopped being me and the same for him. Of course that all changed when we had kids and there was no time for anything else but being parents!

So applying this to my new life and title of widow, it doesn’t mean I stop doing all the things I love. I am still the same person who enjoys the same things. I may have lost Dan, but I cannot lose my identity. I realized that it is okay to enjoy my life and do what makes me happy.

Finding yourself after a loss is very difficult so deciding to throw myself into working out and running again has helped me find myself again. But now I feel like I have a new purpose. I have to be healthy for my boys, and that is not an option. I am also now running for a purpose. I am running for Dan who lost his ability to walk. His brain cancer took over his whole body and seeing the person you love struggle to just move a leg would motivate you too. So when my brain is telling my legs to quit, I say FU, think of my sweet Dan’s face and keep on going.

The night that Dan died was the night I decided I was going to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself this year. It was 4 am and I was online researching races! I decided to run for a cause whenever I can. I have trained for 10 weeks and am running 10 miles for Dan this Sunday, May 5th.

I am not out to break records or win prizes. I am in it to finish and make Dan proud of me and most of all, take advantage of the fact that I am healthy and able to do so. We all have our outlets and I guess I found mine.

I never imagined my life would turn out this way but I am embracing all that I have and taking it day by day.

They say that running clears your mind but obviously it makes me think too much!

6 weeks ago.

I got a phone call from my boss that I was no longer needed. I was shocked. I honestly didn’t even have time to process what he was telling me because I didn’t expect it at all. I think the hardest part for me was that I was working from home that day so I wasn’t even given the chance to say goodbye to my friends. The people who stood by me and supported me through Dan’s entire illness and death. Having spent every single day with me for 3 years, they knew me best.

They were there when Dan called to tell me that his MRI was abnormal and he had to go straight to the ER. They were there when I doubled over on my desk unable to talk. They helped me find the strength to drive home that day. And they were there checking on me and my boys the next 11 months as I was in and out of work and spending countless hours at Hopkins. They came together and even did things for me like bake sales and raising money to donate to my kid’s college fund. The sales team even went so far as to donate their contest money that was given out during our last company kickoff to my boys. My former colleagues were truly selfless and I am still so humbled by their generosity. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for supporting me when I needed you most.

So now what? Well I know things happen and believe nothing is a coincidence so I decided to embrace my new unemployed status and work on myself, spend time with my boys, and work on my house (inside and out). I have to say that I have never spent so much time alone and this is good for me. I am sure I will land on my feet and find something I love again but until then, I just carry on with a smile. : )

Since he’s been gone.

Six freakin’ months. Dan has been gone for six freakin’ months.

I have started this post over and over and couldn’t find the right words to explain what I am feeling. This grieving process really is a roller coaster of emotions. Grief disrupts our lives in so many ways. Grief brings fear. We each handle grief in our own way. Some people withdraw, some cry publicly, some hide their grief and cry in private, and some of us just keep busy and never slow down because when we do it hurts….a lot. I would say that I am the kind that keeps busy. If I didn’t have two little crazies I am sure my grief journey would have been different. But yeah, I may have gone a little batshit crazy immediately after Dan’s death. I put my house on the market, sold 3 cars and bought a new one, sold the house, bought a new one, packed and moved, and many other things that could be characterized as crazy widow status!

Thinking back though, I took the busy route because I didn’t want to even notice that everyone else settled back into their normal routines but my routine was empty. I didn’t want to focus on how to fill that empty space so I filled it the best way I knew how.

I often think back to the beginning of this journey. I remember the day of October 14th when Dan found out he had a brain tumor and how we both thought he would not be a statistic. I think back to October 19th, the day he had his first brain surgery, and how ‘new’ we were to the Hopkins family and how scared we both were when he was rolled away into the OR.  I can recall that entire day and night like it was yesterday. The waiting was unbearable. When I left the hospital in the wee hours  that song “If I die young” came on the radio. I couldn’t even speak or drive after hearing those words. And there is no such thing as coincidences which I now really believe. My gut that day told me that this was the beginning of the end for Dan. And even though I had those terrible feelings I could never ever share, I had to be strong for our family and stay positive until the very end. The only time I cried was in the shower or in the car alone. I also had many months to grieve the loss of Dan before he was ever really gone because quite frankly he was never the same after October 19th.

I know that I will never know ‘why’ he was taken from us so early but what I can do is keep his memory alive and acknowledge my loss and try my best to live each day as best I can. I know Dan would want me to live, laugh, and cry as a tribute to our love so that is what I do with the help of some very special people in my life. I know that Dan is looking out for us and I see the signs to show me that he is with me. I hope with all my heart that I am making him proud.