“I am so proud of you.”
It’s a compliment. Of course, it is. Except my grief has veiled my eyes and I see it as pain. Why can’t I let her be proud of me? I respond that I walked most of it, would have quit. Almost quit. She doesn’t care that I want to tear myself down. She knows how hard it was for me. Physically, yes, but also mentally. Emotionally. She understands why I do that so she doesn’t allow it in a way that means more than I could tell her.
“You didn’t train. We had so much going on. I didn’t want you to do it and yet you had made a commitment. You are so stubborn with your goals and I just love that about you.”
She knows I need to hear it.
I nod in agreement. To everything. It’s such a problem of mine because I want to do all the things and I want to be there for all my tribe. When my younger sister asked me to run a half marathon with her a few months ago, yes came out so easy. I had four months which was plenty of time to train my body to get my mileage back up. I thought the running and our busy calendar would be great distractions for my soul, because grieving for my friend has been so exhausting and unpredictable. One minute I would be okay, head above water. Driving to work or to pick up my boys or to a meeting. The next, I would feel tears run silently down my cheeks or I would be uncontrollably sobbing and I couldn’t deal, drowning under waves of sorrow and raw again.
Loss isn’t new to me so don’t go thinking losing Yesenia hurt me more than others who have moved to the Land of the Remembered. What has changed is how I’m processing and feeling it. Kulia helped un-numb me, if you will. Gradually and with a tender care, she has helped my self feel again. For the longest time I was just making it through my days, hiding behind a smile and portraying that I was okay. Going through the motions of life and being in constant survival mode dulled all my senses. I could say meeting Ku woke that all up. I mean, she did, or rather, we did together. It’s just been such a process. Not overnight. Not immediate. Little by little over the past six years. And then one day they were there. Feelings I had forgotten about. A sister of mine, who remembers the tough-as-nails me asked if I thought these feelings would stick around and gosh, I hope so. She does, too. I would rather feel than be in that dull place again.
Ku said it was running. That somehow, that empowering runner’s high made me human again. Maybe she was right but not entirely. I think it was a lot of little things with her at the center. Either way, running was exhilarating. I felt so strong crossing finish lines, improving my mile times, hearing people’s surprise at my endurance. And it all began so innocently enough. Yesenia got me out and walking. For like a month we would walk this road by her house that down and back was exactly one mile. One day she casually started to jog. I followed suit because that is who I am as a person. And as intermittenly as my feelings were coming back we got ourselves to one mile of straight running.
That first mile was such a major milestone for us and we celebrated it enthusiastically. We did it together. When I decided to train for my first halfsie, Yesenia said she would train some with me. When she couldn’t, I would leash up Cali and off we would go. Running with Cali was perfect because I could just yell all the words of encouragement that I needed her way. And she would just prance by my side, happy for the attention and the outside company. We did it together. One of them was always by my side.
As I painfully ran a 15k in March this year, I thought about my gumption and commitments. I wanted to finish the run I had paid for but I kept thinking about how I would never run next to them again. Except, when I was asked about the halfsie, I said yes one more time. I thought maybe I could do it and things would change. But they didn’t because you can’t force yourself to get over anything, no matter how hard you try. And Cali was on her decline so her joining me was out of the picture. I realized, right after she peacefully crossed that dreaded Rainbow Bridge, that I just didn’t want to run anymore. I had registered and paid for this last one (well, Ku had on my behalf because she understands that about me) so I wasn’t going to back out of it but I knew I would say goodbye to each mile marker, water stop, treat break and photo op.Luckily a great friend was doing this halfsie also and promised to walk/jog with me so the first eight miles sucked in a better way. As runners would pass us I would comment about how they were crushing it and doing fantastic and she kept gently reminding me that so were we. Gawd, I needed that. Somewhere around mile nine she was ready to go and finish and I tried to keep up but just couldn’t. I was hitting a wall, not just physically, but emotionally. I missed my running buddies in a way she was but wasn’t. I have found you can be two things at once in this grief process. I have perpetually been happy but sad, whole with holes, surrounded by love but missing theirs. That was this run. Complete with running buddies but missing THE running buddies. The day we said goodbye to Rue I turned to Ku and said I couldn’t do any more runs. I meant it.
Feeling the grief of losing two amazing souls this year has changed me. As I learn to navigate the journey of having feelings that are not mutually exclusive of each other, I find that I recede a bit into my mind. When people ask me how I’m doing, which we are so inclined to do even if we don’t care about the answer, I am honest. When I am feeling grief I share that, which has taken many by surprise. I don’t mean to. I just can’t fake anything in my life, anymore, least of all my sadness. Where running used to help me focus more at work, grief has stolen that from me and I find myself chasing ways to stay in the now, in the here, rather than regress to past days, where we chatted about nonsense and the intricacies of life, Yesenia and I. Or how Kulia and I would come home and happy dance with Cali and call her dumb names in baby talk because her wagging her tail was such a happy picture.
A friend shared that grief was like standing on the edge of the ocean, with waves of sadness hitting you sometimes. I think mine has a different form. It’s much more hurricane-esque with gail force winds trying to knock me over unexpectedly.
So, with all of that, I remind myself that I have 754 miles under my belt and while I may pick it back up one day, I am thankful for saying farewell to running in my own way and on my terms.
And know that as I work through these storms of sadness, I am loving my friends and family harder. I’m just doing it in walking form now.