Monday, December 5, 2016

Five Years

Five years ago the Giants had lost to the Packers in a Sunday Night Football game that they almost won. If not for leaving Aaron Rodgers with enough time on the clock to get into field goal range, Eli Manning might have led the Giants to a victory over the undefeated Packers. Instead, the last Giants game I watched with my husband was a narrow defeat, which then somehow paved the way to a miraculous Superbowl season. Joe died the morning after that loss to the Packers, right about this time 5 years ago.  It's startling to my spirit that it has been five years. As I said in another post, it passes like a flash and like molasses all at the same time. Who knows what this season has in store for our Giants given the way those Cowboys seem to be rolling along, but I will admit that quite a lot has changed in five years.

Five years ago, I was a different person. Spiritually, physically, and emotionally. It certainly began with Joe's diagnosis, but even more so after his death I have changed. The things that were important to me then are just not that important to me anymore. The ways I spent time then, I tend not to anymore.

More people. More travel. More health. More experiences. More life.

I run and I race. I go to Mets games and Giants games and Rangers games and Red Bulls games. I protest. I eat and I drink and I enjoy it. I do my best to say prayers with my son every night. I go to concerts.

I celebrate everything.

I choose time with family and friends over time at work. I try to learn something new every day. I make plans with friends. I organize get togethers.

It's not that I didn't do any of these things before, but the rhythm and drive now is just different.

I see this change in my friends and family too and for that I am thankful. Every time that someone tells me she is living her life differently because of Joe my heart leaps. I think to myself "we are breaking through"...."we can get to what matters"...."the world of our children will be different".

On the last day Joe was alive, he and I looked back through the photo album from our honeymoon. We had gone to Boston. We ate Boston Cream Pie every day and toured the history and ate and drank. We let our competitive edge run wild playing the Megatouch game at the bar around the corner from our hotel. Five years later, I can play Megatouch anytime I want in my basement thanks to Joe who bought me one for our first Christmas together. And, thanks to my own competitive edge, I can reach out and touch my Boston Marathon medal right from my bed. In my book, that has earned me all the Boston Cream Pie in the universe.

Five years ago, the Mets sucked. Even through the misery, we brought Domani to his first away game (in Washington, DC) and to his first home game at Citifield, but our boys finished the 2011 season 4th place in the Division with a 77-85 record. That's a far cry from the fun of last year when Domani got to live it up at Citifield during the postseason and even this year when we squeaked in to a Wildcard game despite a rash of injuries. Now, five years later, we are looking forward to a 2017 with Yoenis Cespedes on the roster for 4 years and plenty of young pitching to keep things going.

On the last day that Joe was alive, our son Domani gripped his hand and said "dada". At that time, Domani knew all of two words - dada and doggy. Five years later, he can read and write "daddy" along with dozens of other words. Oh, and he almost knows more Spanish than I do. Each day, I walk him to the school across the street from our house, just like Joe and I had planned out eight years ago when we decided this was the perfect home to buy. Domani is potty trained and opinionated, has already run his first 5k race, and knows how to sing, dance, and act. He is also one of the kindest and most compassionate kids I know.

Five years ago, Joe and I were watching Greg Dulli on a solo tour in Philly. We were at The Trocadero and it was the last concert we ever saw together. We sat in the balcony because he was not well enough to stand on the floor as was our custom. Right after Joe died from colon cancer, Greg's band The Afghan Whigs announced a reunion show which turned into a tour which turned into a new album. Now, five years later, the guitarist of this, our favorite band, has colon cancer and I'm about to head to New Orleans for a benefit show. Talk about FUCK cancer.

On the last day that Joe was alive, we were surrounded by friends and family. As much as things change, some things stay the same. Those same people are all still with Domani and me today. Joe's best friends have made a point of being my best friends and they love Domani with all they've got. Joe's family continue to take us in as a natural part of their family and for that I couldn't be more appreciative. There have been births and deaths, engagements and weddings, and our circle has had more than our share of health scares. It all makes me deeply grateful for such a strong core of support.

And I am even more thankful for the way it has grown over the last five years. There are so many more amazing people though who have been added to the mix since Joe died. I have made friends through grief and friends through work, friends through running and friends through the Afghan Whigs, friends through church and friends through the Mets. I have even been lucky enough to fall into a new relationship after five years of being out on my own.

Five years ago, Joe would have been the first to tell you that I wouldn't have even looked at an olive and certainly would never have eaten one. I could barely run two miles, let alone 26.2. I had no idea how to check our home oil tank, had never mowed the grass, and freaked out over killing any bug. Oh, how times have changed in the Deak household. Joe would be surprised. But somehow, I think he already knows. After all, I'm one that believes in signs and he just keeps leaving them all around.
From yesterday at the cemetery.
I listened to "Who Tells Your Story" from The Hamilton Mixtape
performed by The Roots (feat. Common and Ingrid Michaelson)
"Who lives....who dies....who holds on to all our lives....
Time and time and time again....will they tell your story in the end?
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?"

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

If There Were No Love...

There are some things about this day that I remember as if they were happening right now in this moment. The sickening haze that settled in to that patient room as we listened to the unfamiliar doctor tell us that it was the end of the treatment road for Joe. The long drive home in our Kia Sorento - the last time I would drive anywhere with him. The phone calls and the family and the tears as we gathered.

It was a Wednesday. Just like today.


It's no wonder why the heaviness of this past week has felt that much heavier. Five years passes in a flash and like molasses all at the same time.


Today, I am simply thankful for the people who have supported me through it all and for these words from Zig Ziglar which have helped me through many difficult moments over the last five years...

"If there were no love, there'd be no grief."

Amen, Zig.


CaringBridge Journal entry by Anne Luck-Deak — 11/30/2011

It is late and we are all quite tired in the Deak household. After a long night last night which included a visit from the hospice nurse, we went to Joe's oncologist today. Joe had been scheduled for his next chemo treatment, but given his weakened state it was hard to believe they would do it.

That proved correct but on top of that we were told by the doctor covering for Joe's regular oncologist that no further treatments would be possible. A punch in the gut. And she wasn't particularly helpful or sympathetic. Another punch in the gut.

While we were there Joe was given oxygen and some fluids. He also had a nice nap while receiving the fluids. Thankfully, after returning home we got a visit from his hospice nurse and later a call from his regular oncologist. His oncologist's heartbreaking conclusion was still the same but it was helpful to have our questions answered and to hear the details about his reasoning. The honest truth is that it was very difficult for Joe to travel to Basking Ridge today. His weakened state makes even a walk from the living room to the bedroom a difficult task, let alone walking around to get ready and then out to the car. It would just be too much for him to continue going through the motions of treatments which aren't really having an impact on the cancer.

We will receive some additional services from hospice and are still considering any other possible options for Joe. Please pray for wisdom in how to proceed and for peace during this seemingly impossible time.

As difficult as today was, it was nice to come home to a freshly cleaned house and some yummy food in the fridge. We have the most amazing support network and I have a suspicion it will only get better. Love to you all!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Sometimes the Mets Miracles Happen Off the Field

Last week, when Domani, my sister, and I arrived at my friend Scott's house to ride with him to the Mets game, Domani jumped out of the car and yelled not the expected "Let's Go Mets", but "3-2-3"! It was spontaneous and sweet and it was one of those moments of the 2016 season that I'll never forget. Who would have thought that come the fall we would be cheering with passion not only for our Amazin's, but also for our now-beloved section of Citifield. But, so it goes.

3-2-3! The hats Scott made for all of us :-)
On November 21, 2015 Domani and I went to the ballpark bundled up against the cold and picked out our 2016 seats. How we ended up in Section 323, Row 5, Seats 10-13 may have been random, but I am convinced now that it wasn't without some divine intervention. We were coming off the high of a thrilling postseason and practically ran to the Caesars Gold section anxious to pick out the perfect 2016 seats. Aside from trying to pick a good view and a Saturday plan, though, we had no idea what we were doing. We just snatched up the first ones we came to that looked good. As we made our way through the checkout line to purchase our seats we were excited at the prospect of 20 games in Section 323, Row 5, but there was no way we could have known then what an amazing year 2016 would be for us and how special those seats would become.

Select a Seat on 11/21/15
As I sit here now, I am exhausted after a weekend of cheering on the Mets in Philly and I'm counting the hours until we are back at Citifield on Wednesday for the Wild Card game. Nothing has made me realize more what a miracle those seats became in my life than this time right now.

With our Section 323 crew (plus a few) on 10/1 in Philly
I'm not sure if there was a particular moment when our little crew in 323 transitioned from fans who cheer together at games to all around friends, but by the time 4th of July weekend rolled around we were planning our first tailgate and by the end of the season we were together in Philly watching the Mets clinch the NL Wild Card. Now I can't imagine my "Mets" life without Scott and Diane and Joe and the kiddos, friends, and family members that come with us. They really have become like family and our section has become something special.

With Scott, Diane, and Joe
Scott and I were the only ones who knew each other before the season began, but even our proximity in 323 came down to fate. After finally dragging Scott back into the excitement of Citifield last season, he decided at the beginning of the year to buy a seat in a 20 game plan. He was debating between a couple different locations within the ballpark and before I could get back to him with where Domani and I were sitting he let me know where he had bought - it turned out to be a seat right behind us.

To his left ended up being Diane and to his right Joe.

That's right. For those of you who go way back on this blog and had to re-read that to make sure you got it right...There was to be a Joe and his son sitting behind us and to the right at Citifield for the 20 games of our Saturday plan (well, at least most of them).

Let's pause here for a philosophical interlude from Anne. It's been repeated in posts on my blog more than once, but it has been on my mind a lot as this season, especially as the beauty of section 323 unfolded. It's this framed poster that my best friend Erin gave me not long after my husband Joe died.


Erin knows me well and knows how Joe's death changed my perspective on life. The things listed there summarize it nicely, but what has blown my mind is the way that so many of them have come together in this last year.

I started attending games with Domani as a planholder after Joe's death in December 2011. Before that, Joe and I would go to several games a year and always try to make a trip or two to games on the road (we had been to DC, Philly, and Boston). That included the year after Domani was born while Joe was sick when we took Domani to his first game at Citifield and made a Labor Day weekend trip to DC for the Nats series. Becoming a planholder was my way of "doing what I loved and doing it often". In the years since Joe died, Domani and I have been there to witness some amazing baseball moments together and my little guy has become quite the Mets expert. The games have been our bonding time and the place where we bring friends and family to share in it. In no small way, they have been a place where we have worked through our grief and moved towards joy and meaning.

Perhaps that is what made this year in our section so special. Somehow, in the midst of the high fives and more than occasional hand wringing and face palms over our Mets, we ended up talking life. We have gotten to know about each other's joys and pains, hopes and fears, and, whether our team was winning, losing or desperately clinging to one last sliver of hope, the Mets kept our bond together.
Celebrating a win on 9/3 - photo credit to the selfie queen Naomi
With our crew in 3-2-3, we're there for each other not only at games and when it comes to the Mets, but in the "other stuff" of life too. There are plenty of places where our views on life and the Mets diverge (The Mets ARE just fine without Daniel Murphy thankyouverymuch and don't even get us started on the presidential election) but when you find the fellow widowed mom who will call you up on the day your son starts kindergarten just to check in sitting behind you and to the left at the Mets game, you have won no matter how many times your team has lost.

As if finding some amazing new friends for you and your son weren't enough, section 323 finally did for me what all of the dating apps under the sun for the last 4 years could not do. In a plot twist that truly belongs in a movie (perhaps one a la Fever Pitch?), I started dating the guy who sat behind us and to the right at the Mets games. The guy named, of course, Joe. I waited for something to go terribly wrong because it always does. I expected some epic bad news that would send everything off the rails. But the truth is that I started this 2016 season ready to root for the Mets with my son and my friend Scott and I am now staring down the postseason up one fabulously supportive girlfriend and an amazing relationship.

With Joe in Philly on 10/1 - photo credit to Diane :-)
One thing that many of us who have been through a loss talk about are the "signs" you encounter afterwards which serve as reminders of your loved one and encouragement along the way. My grandmother (G-Mom) who died in February came through big time on the Mets signs this year and she wasn't even the Mets fan in our bunch.

It all started with the guys. At some point about a third of the way through the season the male half of our section started a little cheer to encourage home runs from our Mets. AP-PLE. AP-PLE. AP-PLE. It was all in reference of course to the Mets Home Run apple of which my son is a huge fan. (We also randomly chant "Broccolini" and "Cauliflower" but don't ask about that because I'm not sure I could explain it.) The AP-PLE chant was simple and contagious. The kids, of course, loved it. I feared that my 5 year old would at some point be chanting it in public and have it mistaken for a much more dubious hockey chant. But it stuck and cheering for the Home Run Apple when the Mets were at bat became a 3-2-3 thing. And on at least one occasion it became a 3-2-4 thing as well. Maybe someday it will be a Citifield thing.

Three weeks ago when my family gathered to sort through my G-Mom's Christmas things I was feeling overwhelmed. There were many reasons, but mostly because the one thing I really wanted to do was to talk with her about the joy in my life - how proud I was of Domani starting kindergarten given all he was going through, how happy I was to be dating Joe, and how great it was to have Naomi living with us in NJ. But I would never again be able to have those conversations with her and having that realization sink in once again made me so sad.

I was talking to her in my head about those things while looking through some of her ornaments when I came upon a whole bunch of APPLE ornaments. There they were. No one knew quite why she had them or if she even put them up every year, but there they were. I couldn't show them to Domani fast enough. Somehow, with those apples packed up and on their way home with us I felt complete peace. It was as if G-Mom had answered all of my anxious ramblings with a simple found gift.

The apple ornaments from G-Mom
After that it seemed like apples were popping up everywhere. In the store. On the radio. Wrapping paper I found buried in my closet from over a decade ago. Domani even spent a whole week learning about them in school during which time he perfected his "apple" chant in Spanish (manzanas). You can say it's just the time of year, but I'm calling it a nod to 3-2-3 and all of the goodness that has come from this year - the fun times shared, the friends made, and the anticipation of what still lies ahead. We couldn't have asked for a better group of people to find their way together and I am beyond thankful.

We won't be sitting in 323 on Wednesday for the Wild Card game, but we'll all be at the ballpark and undoubtedly at some point the Apple chants will ring out. I can't wait.

Let's Go Mets!









Friday, September 9, 2016

Thankful for Enough

Last year around this time I wrote two blog posts.

The first post was about the Mets and referenced the phenomenon in grief during which a moment of pure joy can occupy the same space as feelings of overwhelming sadness. The grief group I help lead has a video we watch which talks about this phenomenon peace and pain co-existing. It seems chaotic and nonsensical, but for me it has become a slice of life as Domani and I find ways to both remember Joe and continue living our lives in the fullest ways possible.

This realization was the crux of that blog post which I wrote in the midst of the Mets run to become National League East (and then NLCS) Champs last fall during a spontaneous one day trip to DC. During that trip, I witnessed the Mets wrap up a sweep of the Nationals with a come from behind win, but there were so many "Joe" memories tied up in it that the sorrow and longing were also very real.
This week as Domani started kindergarten and my sister welcomed their 3rd child into the family we once again found ourselves in our household of 2 in this space of co-existing joy and sadness. Excitement at the start of kindergarten and the arrival of a new cousin/nephew paired with a palpable sadness at every reminder of how much Joe's presence is missed. It's been a challenging week.

When Joe and I bought our home 8 years ago, one of the things we dreamed together about was the ease with which we would be able to send our children to the elementary school across the street. We used to joke with each other that we would be able to just "kick them out the front door". In our first year living there we would notice the cars lined up in front of our home whenever there was an event at the school, look at each other, and say "think of how great it will be when we can just walk out our front door and cross the street to parent nights or whatever."

This Tuesday turned out to be a packed day. I had work in the morning, Domani had his kindergarten classroom orientation in the afternoon, and the Kindergarten Back to School Night was in the evening.

My sister went into labor during the day which meant rearranging family childcare plans and finding someone to stay at my house in the evening with Domani so I could attend my first parent night at the elementary school across the street from our home. And I did indeed walk out the front door and cross the street to the school entrance just as Joe and I had envisioned.

The text from my brother-in-law announcing the birth of my nephew came through almost as soon as I arrived in Domani's kindergarten classroom for the orientation time with his teachers. I was still trying to figure out who to put down as the "other adult" on my PTA sign up form when my phone starting lighting up and vibrating. A little while later there was the task of figuring out the app the teachers would be using to communicate with us that wanted me to "Add your spouse" and finally the take home "All About Me" bag to complete with Domani which of course came with instructions to include the obligatory "picture of your family".

I powered through the app set up while still in the classroom and decided that the bag assignment would wait until the last possible minute, putting it on my mental Thursday evening to-do list. I didn't even stop back home and instead went right to the gym in order to sweat off the sadness and stress of the evening. It mostly worked.

School didn't start until Thursday so on Wednesday Domani came with me to the office. I hadn't noticed any signs of sadness in him up to that point, but when I went over to check on him just before lunchtime he had his head down while watching a video of babies with parents set to sappy music. He had a sad look and when I asked him what he was watching he looked up at me. I could see then that he had tears welling up in his eyes. We paused his video and I brought him over to a more comfortable chair so we could sit and cuddle and talk. He told me he missed his daddy and he was feeling sad. My heart was broken for him.

Once he had some time to cry and cuddle, we gathered his things and hit the road. I used my lunch time to take him for his back to school haircut and then to drop him off with his Grandmom for the rest of the afternoon and evening. He was in a much happier mood by the time he got to her house for a visit.

After his haircut before his time with Grandmom
But later that night when he awoke from a dream and I was not in my bed as he expected I would be he became inconsolable. Once again, he was clear about his sadness and what had awakened him. He was missing his daddy and was sad that he wasn't there with him. More talking. More cuddling. And finally more sleep - this time right next to me.

By the time he woke up on Thursday he was all smiles and ready for his first day of kindergarten. Aside from a brief mention of how proud he knew his daddy would be of him, he didn't re-visit discussion of Joe until we got to work on the "All About Me" bag after dinner. One thing I have learned as he works through his own grief is that giving him options is important. So, in this case, we had a conversation about which "family" picture he wanted to include and which types of photos he wanted to use for all of the other categories listed on the bag (baby photo, something you like to play or do). He chose a family photo that included the 3 of us with Mr. Met and a baby photo that included him and Joe. He also picked a photo of himself at the aquarium as something he likes to do. I appreciated that he was thoughtful about it and that he expressed repeatedly his desire to use photos that included Joe. I pray that as he talks about the things he has placed in his bag that he finds joy and peace, but know that it is also perfectly ok and likely there will be sadness that will co-exist. He is wise and compassionate beyond his years.

Domani's photos for his "All About Me" bag

The second blog post I wrote this time last year was about Domani starting pre-K and all of the waves of emotions that came with him doing that with Joe not here. Mostly, it was a flashback to the fears I had as a caregiver when life as a widow was a huge unknown. I remember clearly pleading with Joe after he was diagnosed while he was asleep in his hospital bed not to leave me alone and pregnant. Not to leave me alone to raise a toddler. Not to leave me alone to send our child off to school. In the back of my mind was the dismal stage 4 colon cancer survival rates. 10% at 5 years. At that time - in January 2010 - my worst fear was raising the child I was bearing without my husband.

Now here I sit with our son's first day of kindergarten comfortably behind me and I am amazed at how I have been provided with exactly the strength and encouragement I needed at exactly the moments I needed it. It's not because I am a strong person that I have made it, because I am not. Just ask any one of my friends or family members who I rely on heavily for sanity and support. It's not because I'm especially smart or spiritual (although I do *try* to be both of those things). Just ask anyone who has caught me in one of my not-so-smart or not-so-spiritual moments. And it's not because I am a supermom or a super runner or a super anything that I do. I am convinced it is because God has always provided ENOUGH for the place that I am in the journey.

Anne Lamott offered the following musings in one of her books (don't ask me which one because I can never keep them all straight and all I have recorded is this quote) and I used it in one of my blog posts when I first started writing in March 2012. "The great novelist E.L. Doctorow once said that writing a novel is like driving at night with the headlights on: You can only see a little ways in front of you, but you can make the whole journey this way. It is the truest of all things; the only way to write a book, raise a child, save the world." I have found that this is how it has been for me on my grief journey.

Each day this week there was a measure of "enough". Someone. Something. Some open door or window or way that lightened the load when I felt like I just could not keep going anymore.

Today, it was a call from a truly special woman who has become a friend who knows every ounce of what I am going through with Domani because she went through it with her own children. I thank God that when she selected her Mets seats last fall she ended up right behind us at every Saturday home game. She lifted me at the moment when I needed it most and she did it during a week when I know that her own grief is weighing heavily. There is a whole story to write about the people who sit with us at Mets games and what they mean to me and maybe sometime soon I will but for today she was my hero.

God must have known that I needed one more touch tonight, though because as I settled in to write this post I got pulled into my Facebook messenger by a friend checking in about (what else?) a Mets game only to find a second message there from earlier today from a stranger. I get a lot of those, but this one was different. It was from a woman who knew Joe. She is newly connected to me through a private Afghan Whigs fan group and she is also the person who took the road trip with Joe to Bogart's back in 1999 - the road trip where he and I randomly ran into each other in line. (I know, it blew my mind too.) Her kind words about this blog meant the world to me coming on the heels of what has been an overwhelming week.

I am constantly surprised by and thankful for the ways in which there always seems to be "enough" sent my way to get through to the other side. I have been learning it since Joe's diagnosis, but perhaps my lesson once again is to focus less on seeing past the edge of the headlights and keep pressing forward to what is in front in the here and now.

In our yard on the 1st day of Kindergarten
 with the school in the background

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Don't Stop Believin' - The Boston Marathon Reprise

Ten days after I ran the Boston Marathon, Facebook was kind enough to remind me about the first 5k I ran just four years before. I had completed a "Couch 2 5k" program and triumphantly completed my first 3.1 mile race in 36:08 - at an 11:38/mile pace. The popping up of this reminder was the moment when the feat of completing the Boston Marathon finally sank in for me. Only four years before, I was deep in grief and barely hanging on - dragging my out of shape body and equally out of shape mind across their first finish line. Now, here I was, four years later - sitting in my living room - not only a Boston Qualifier, but a finisher of the Boston Marathon. 

Crossing the finish line!

No longer chasing the unicorn!
When I ran that first 5k with the theme song "Don't Stop Believin'" holding it all together I was wondering if I would be able to finish the whole thing without walking. I was certainly not thinking about the possibility of running 13.1 miles and definitely not even dreaming about 26.2. But as these things often go, running races meant that I made some friends who also ran. Before I knew it, I was signed up for my first (and shortly after that my second) half marathon. Within a year, I was training for the NYC Marathon with Team Determination, raising money for the American Cancer Society in memory of my husband Joe.

Not even six months after NYC - in April 2014 - I made my first attempt to qualify for Boston, running the NJ Marathon in 3:55:16 and in November 2014 I nailed it, completing the Philadelphia Marathon in 3:33:22 - a BQ by almost 7 minutes. I will never forget that day and the sheer joy of walking back to my hotel with "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" on repeat blaring through my earbuds. 

I went on to run the Boston Marathon on April 18, 2016 with my parents, my son, my sister, brother-in-law, two nieces, and members of my running club all there to cheer me on. Many more friends and family members followed along virtually sending encouragement not only from across the country, but from various points around the world as well. Thanks to a special event page set up by my sweet friend Elissa I had even gotten marathon well-wishes from one of the members of my all time favorite band - The Afghan Whigs.

Marathon Monday was a glorious day packed into a truly memorable weekend.

Enjoying my 26.2!
Somewhere along the way after completing Boston, though, I admit that I lost sight of what a big feat it actually was for me to get there and to do it. The daily grind of work and being a single mom took over. When friends and family members would ask me about it I would assume that they didn't *really* want to know because who ever *really* wants to hear about the details of these four hour races except for maybe other runners. My own race recovery meant I was running less and therefore less inclined to socialize with runners and talk about running. Plans to get together with friends for celebratory "after Boston" drinks or meals got crowded out by life and this blog post sat barely started with only a few pathetic paragraphs that didn't even go together. Boston and all of its hard-earned glory quickly faded into the rear-view mirror of my life.

That was until I met someone who refused to let me forget that completing the Boston Marathon was actually a pretty big fucking deal, someone who never misses a chance to remind me about the work it took to get there and how strong I am for having finished it. He makes it a part of casual conversation anytime I express a doubt about myself or about being able to get through something. 

You don't think you can handle that thing at work? Of course you can, you did the Boston Marathon! 

You're worried about something going on with Domani? Just remember how strong you are and the example you are setting for him when he watches you do things like running Boston.

So, here I am on my way to vacation in San Francisco finally working on this blog post and I'm determined that before life takes over again, I'll wrap it up. I finished the Boston Marathon...the least I can do now is finish the post about it.

There are no words for the experience of being in Boston with my family for the marathon, but especially of being there with Domani. He WAS proud of me. It still makes me tear up when I see the photos of him and his cousin Catherine with me after the race with the signs they made.

With Catherine & Domani (and their signs)
after the marathon!
My family went to great lengths to be there for me just after mile marker 21 on race day. My pregnant sister, her husband, and their two young children trekked along with my parents and son by foot and by "T" hours in advance of the time I would be running through in order to make sure they were well-positioned. They had all created signs and added the BAA app to track me. My sister Naomi was watching from Idaho via FaceTime. They were a highly committed cheering squad - and it meant the world to me.

With my Mom & Dad and their sign before the marathon
The swell of joy I felt as I saw their signs from afar is not something I could ever describe, but knowing they were just ahead was what powered me over Heartbreak Hill and seeing them gave me the push I needed to finish strong. I was on top of the world in that moment of seeing them. There were high fives all around and a quick hug for Domani. I remember telling him something like "hey buddy, mommy is gonna go finish the Boston Marathon!" and then running off to the last 5 miles.


Greeting my family at Mile 21!!


Chatting with Domani at Mile 21!!
My family wasn't the only cheering squad holding a sign with my name on it in Boston on April 18th though, and I know that I would never have even been running those streets if it hadn't been for the best running club in NJ - Raritan Valley Road Runners and for my friend, Malinda Ann Hill. 

RVRR powered me through my BQ training cycles and cheered me on during both of my BQ attempts, including my Philly qualifier. Club members were also there in Boston to cheer on those of us who were running. The excitement of seeing friends I had been running and training with for the last two years as I closed in on my final 5k of that race is indescribable. RVRR has led me to some deep friendships and incredible personal achievements, but most important to me is the unconditional support I have found both in competition and life. It makes me bubble up with pride anytime I see the RVRR banner or our club members, so seeing RVRR on the Boston course was just that much sweeter.
RVRR in the house to cheer in Boston!

Malinda and I became friends back in 2012 when I had first started running. At that time I was racking up a bunch of 5k races and we ran in one together to raise money for the Colon Cancer Alliance. Not only did we share a love for running, but we also have common music tastes (The Afghan Whigs!) and are both single moms touched in different ways by cancer loss. She inspired me to chase the unicorn, ran with me whenever possible, sent virtual encouragement around the clock, and made sure there was a sign at Boston in the Wellesley Scream Tunnel just for me. 

With Malinda at my 2nd half marathon
 and the 1st I ran with her -
the Nike Women's Half in Washington, DC.

You could not ask for a better running club than RVRR or a better running friend than Malinda.

There was no denying that when I crossed the finish line in Boston I wasn't alone. There were so many people who played a part in that accomplishment. Suzanne and Bob who ran that first 5k race with me more than four years ago. Marise who I met for the first time while waiting to board the bus to Hopkinton. Friends and family who watched Domani. Fellow runners who pushed me along during difficult moments. Amazing people who waited for hours in all types of weather to cheer for me in marathons, half marathons, and 5k races in destinations near and far. Friends who toed starting lines with me and toasted in celebration after. My faith community who prayed and loved on me. People who I met through grief support who remembered and laughed and cried with me. Those special friends who never let me get lazy and always knew the right time to say "put down the chocolate chip cookie dough and get your ass out for your track workout".

With Marise just before going to our start corrals
When I finally reached the finish line in Boston, there was a lot of thankfulness that welled up inside of me for all of those people and for the winding path that had brought me to that place. There was also a whole lot of "I'm not sure if I can even make the walk back to the hotel". All of that brought me back to a moment that happened much earlier on the course.
Loved these signs
There have been many times over the past 4 years of training and races when I've experienced these supernatural moments that I can only attribute to a nod from my husband Joe - a sort of gentle embrace just when I need it to let me know that I'm on the right path. 

During Boston, my mind was starting to play tricks on my body right around mile 7 - way too early for a marathon. Most people who talk about "hitting the wall" (and believe me, I've been there) do so much later, around mile 20. If I was already talking myself out of the race at mile 7, it was going to be a long day. It was sunny and hot. I was starting to ache. Back. Legs. You name it. I remember thinking..."I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do this today." Then, it happened. I was coming up to a spot in the road where there was a tent with music blaring. The song was unmistakeable because I had trained to it - "I'm Shipping Up to Boston". My heart lifted a bit. It brought me back to my Philly qualifier. It brought me back to a gorgeous September day in Chicago during Riot Fest.

It was nice, but not terribly surprising given the race we were running. But, as I was coming up to the tent the song ended and the next one started. It was also unmistakeable because it had been my ringtone for Joe and that song which after he died would always pop up in just the right place at just the right time - "Don't Stop Believin'". And I didn't - straight through to that right on Hereford, left on Boylston and the Boston Marathon Finish Line. After the one-two punch of those songs I had everything I needed to run the race.

I am thankful for Boston and what it meant to me as a part of my grief journey. It will always hold an important place for me as a personal accomplishment, especially coming out of what has so far been the most difficult time in my life. 


From Hopkinton to Boston!
But, because God always seems to like to put an exclamation mark on these moments for me, there was the beauty and hope of last night as well.

While we were at the Mets game here in San Francisco (watching our Mets win by the way), the Giants had their 8th inning sing-along. I had to hold back the tears as the beginning bars started to play because the song was, of course, "Don't Stop Believin'". After we got home from the game, the "good luck" charm necklace I had been wearing for the last few months finally wore away and "broke" which is supposed to indicate a wish is about to come true. 

Good things are coming. I believe it. They tend to unfold exactly in the right time and the right manner in which they are supposed to - as long as we keep moving forward. And I believe that somehow Joe was just making sure I remembered that. 

After all, patience was always his virtue and never mine.






Monday, June 20, 2016

The Weight of Grief and The Light that Shines

Joe's first Father's Day with Domani was also the only one he was able to celebrate with his son. By the time the next Father's Day rolled around Joe had been gone six months and the day took on a particular emptiness in our home. That emptiness is certainly not lost on me as I got to celebrate yet one more Father's Day with my own dad or as I look back on all the years past when I was able to make heartfelt cards, awkwardly-colored ties, and strange sculptures to mark the day.

This year was Domani's first enrolled in an official school program. He has loved his preschool and all of his teachers have encouraged him and inspired his development in beautiful and unique ways, but there have been some emotionally challenging moments given the grief that he carries with him. This week leading up to Father's Day has been especially tough. It's been a week full of dad art projects and books about dads and conversations about dads. It was enough to make me weepy just reading the daily progress reports about what they were working on in each subject area.

In fact, after reading the first day's report I sat in my car and cried for five minutes. The weight this child bears and the love and light with which he bears it.

I am thankful beyond words for the conscious way his teachers and caregivers surrounded him with love this week and made space for both his reality and his emotions - giving hugs when needed and allowing for common sense modifications of the projects. I didn't have to prompt them to do it. They just knew. He made things for his grandpas and something for his Uncle Chris. I chatted regularly with the teaching staff about how he was doing and responding. He was loved and supported not only by me, but by a school full of amazing professionals.

On Thursday, when I picked him up from school I asked him if he wanted to go to the Mets game the following night. His eyes lit up with excitement. That night, before he went to bed he told me that he missed daddy and that he hadn't made anything for him. I told him that I would make sure he would have time to make something on Saturday - in plenty of time for Father's Day. I could tell he was relieved. Oh, the things that occupy the mind of a five year old who misses his dad. The weight this child bears and the love and light with which he bears it.

On Friday, I picked him up early from school so we could go to the Mets game. I sensed from him both relief at the end of the week and excitement to show me the things he had made - a card, a colored tie, a wall hanging with a saw - thoughtful, sweet art projects. Grief is complicated and often means we end up with a mix of many emotions that are hard to pick apart. I realized this about myself within the first year after Joe died. I am seeing this in Domani more and more.

We had a fun time together at the game. It was a much needed night to enjoy each other's company at one of the places that is most comfortable for us. The Mets weren't in on the poetry of the night though and lost. At least we came away with cool Neil Walker shirts.

After getting our Neil Walker shirts at the Mets game Friday Night
On Saturday, Domani came with me to a work meeting and - using the art supplies we had carefully packed into his bookbag - created a picture for his dad. He told me that I had to help with it as well so we decided blue and orange hearts would be the best contribution from mom.

Domani's picture (with 2 hearts from mom) for Dad

After the meeting and before we headed up for yet another Mets game, we brought the picture to the cemetery. Domani always remembers details about our trips to the cemetery and this was no exception. "Mom, remember last time we were here it was before Bella's birthday party and Uncle Scott was with us?" Yeah, buddy. I remember. Next time it will be "Mom, remember last time we were here it was right before Father's Day and the Braves beat the Mets 4-3?" And I'll say, yeah, buddy. You cheered right up until the end that night. Just like you always do. The weight this child bears and the love and light with which he bears it.

Cheering until the bitter end at Saturday night's Mets game

On Father's Day in 2011 I gave Joe a board book I had made called Daddy and Me. It had photos of Joe and Domani along with short captions. The two of them would look at it from time to time, but truthfully it really became a treasure to Domani over the last year. He keeps the book close and has everything about it memorized. So it seemed fitting that for Father's Day this year I would give Domani a new Daddy and Me board book to add to the mix. I gave it to him this morning and the first time we read it together I didn't even make it to the third page before I was choking back the tears.

With his new Daddy and Me book on Father's Day

Damn it. It was just not the way Father's Day was supposed to be in our house. 

But Domani is proud of his dad and he showed that book around today to anyone who would look at it. To me, that's worth tearing up a million times trying to read it to him. The weight this child bears and the love and light with which he bears it.

Then tonight after we got home from a day of celebrating fathers and a family birthday we completed our weekly baseball standings board. The ONLY thing that changed on the board from last week was the Mets moved to 3rd place and the Marlins to 2nd place. Domani was devastated. He almost didn't even want to do the board. Instead of inserting them, he set the hats on top of the slots and pouted. Except that he does the board every week and he knows that people wait to see it. So when I asked him if he just wanted to skip it, he said no and he put those hats where they belonged. Then, even though I told him he didn't have to take a picture with it, he held it up and squeaked out a smile. I could not be more proud of him. The weight this child bears and the love and light with which he bears it.

The weekly standings board :-(






Sunday, April 10, 2016

Love In Action - In Memory of Amy

It was grief that caused my path to cross with Amy's for the first time last year and this past week grief once again became a most unwelcome intruder. It still doesn't seem possible that she is gone. I look at her smiling face in photos and part of me expects her to message me again or post on Facebook about the latest project she completed. It can't be real that someone so young and vibrant, so generous and kind has just died so suddenly. But real it is as her family and friends said goodbyes to her yesterday out in Missouri and those of us who are farther away mourn her in small gatherings and group messages to each other.

When I got word of Amy's death I was in line at a Starbucks in Chicago, part of the way through a weekend conference I was attending for work. I had a flashback to the moment I received the news about my G-Mom's death just about a month before. A message on my phone. Staring like it could not possibly be true. And then just saying....no no no no no no no.

I got the news of my G-Mom's death while in the back stairwell of my office. Two co-workers heard my crying, came beside me, and helped me to a chair in a nearby conference room. They got me something to drink and one of them drove me home. That week a friend from church cooked a ready to eat meal and left it for me so I would have something to share with friends and family in the midst of my grief. To me, these moments were love in action. In my mind, they are also the most genuine moments of life because they are when we actually see each other. Too often we look right past each other as we go about our daily business, but in the throes of grief it is impossible to ignore the humanity of other humans. And there is something special about that.

Just as at the office when I first heard my G-Mom died, there were simple gestures of care that happened in that Starbucks immediately after I found out about Amy's death which still fill my heart with gratitude and give me hope. My friend helped me to a chair and bought me a water. A stranger sitting nearby dug a pack of tissues out of her purse and gave them all to me. Friends far away exchanged messages with me for the remainder of the day sharing sadness, thoughts, and memories. These things are love in action.

In the last exchange I had with Amy, I thanked her for coming to the viewing for my G-Mom and let her know how much it meant to me to be on the receiving end of her hugs and sympathy. There is just something about those who show up for you when you are grieving that connects on the deepest level and never lets go. And how much more so for those who do it when it means battling through their own grief and pain to be present. Those hugs contain a special richness. In her message to me, she expressed that she was happy to do it and how meaningful it was to her when her own friends went to great lengths to be there with her during the services for her dad. This exchange has stuck with me throughout this week and has made me think about all of the ways big and small that the people in my life show up for me and that I try my best to show up for others. These moments are what truly matter and what will exist for long after we do.

In the short time I knew Amy it was clear to me that she lived in a way that both embraced the beauty of the world around her and spread light to those she came in contact with - whether it was through her smile and warm hugs or selfless actions. When someone did something kind for her or her loved ones, she didn't let it end there. She passed it along. What an impact we can have when we show up for others, no matter who they are to us. I'm sure Amy's friends didn't know they were starting a chain reaction of care by showing up for her when her dad died, but that is what they did. When we do these things for each other we are creating the world that we want and stretching the definition of community. It has certainly made me think about and act on these moments with more purpose - something I'm sure that Amy would agree with wholeheartedly.