Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Grief and Baseball and Running

I woke up last Wednesday morning still sleepy and reached for my phone, looking forward to yet another sunny day at the Jersey shore. There was plenty of stress brewing back at work and my body was feeling ragged, but at least I was on vacation. I was away with my little guy and he was with his cousins. We had books to read, salty air to breathe, and the ocean to play in.

Before starting my day, as I do most mornings, I wandered between Twitter and Facebook to see what was new with friends and family and the world around me. What was new was grief. 


First it was one random post. Then another. And then a flood. Until finally, it was the only thing in my timeline. Dave Rosser had died. Dave Rosser, who not only played guitar with The Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins, but also with The Afghan Whigs. Dave Rosser, who was not only an insanely talented musician, but a remarkable human being. Dave Rosser, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in October.

With Dave Rosser before the October 5, 2012
show at Terminal 5 in NYC

Talk about ripping a bandage off an old wound. Our favorite music. That same pesky fucking disease. Even right down to them both playing the guitar. These moments don't happen anywhere near as often now - almost 6 years since Joe died - but when they do, it's a bitch. It was a day of not knowing what to do with myself. 

By that point in the week I was finishing up a book called Baseball Life Advice by Stacey May Fowles and starting a book called The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike. If not for the insight from these two books this week I might have found myself today in a messy heap on my bedroom floor. More on the rest of the week in a bit.


Baseball Life Advice was one of those books that had me alternating between talking out loud to the author as if she's my BFF, crying behind my sunglasses, and trying to downplay my obnoxious guffaws. My reading of it seemed to be timed perfectly with what was unfolding in my life. So it goes sometimes in what I like to think of as these miracle moments because when I chose this book for my vacation reading I obviously had no idea what would be brewing.

It only took me the first chapter to know that Ms. Fowles is "my people". It's there where she explains her deep affection for baseball with prose that had me wiping away tears and carrying on whole conversations with the text. Except for a few details, I could have written many of the words myself and that was incredibly comforting.

In one section she writes, "Baseball became "my thing," and its stadiums my church, a place to pray in times of hopelessness, the source of a solace I couldn't find elsewhere. I never feel more human, or more sane, than I do inside a ballpark." 

And I thought, "Yes, yes, YES!" 

Baseball has been my medicine since Joe died. Going to games with my son. Going to games with friends. Being alone at games. There is both communion and medicine for me at the ballpark. The crack of the bat. The taste of a pretzel and a cold beer. The isolated cheers that grow to fill the stadium. A stolen base. The predictability of the 7th inning stretch. The crowd on its feet for that final strike. The deafening roar at a game-winning homer. Knowing that more often than not my Mets will break my heart and that will remind me of life too...because that is what's real. 

Ms. Fowles includes in her book a quote from Roger Angell's book The Summer Game which has stuck with me all week.

"This was a new recognition that perfection is admirable but a trifle inhuman, and that a stumbling kind of semi-success can be much more warming. Most of all, perhaps, these exultant yells for the Mets were also yells for ourselves, and came from a wry, half-understood recognition that there is more Met than Yankee in every one of us."

Truth be told, I've been feeling very "Met" recently. And not the 2015 postseason-bound Mets or the 1986 World Series Champion Mets or the 1969 Miracle Mets. I've been feeling a lot like the "now" Mets and it seems like every time I turn around there is a new thing in my way. This year the Mets seem to have injury upon injury and I just seem to be accumulating life stuff. 

I wasn't going to get to a ballpark until Saturday, but thankfully we filled in the gap with some baseball on the beach with the kids. It was my son's favorite part of vacation and for sure one of the most tender times for me to both watch and join. It was impossible to do without envisioning how Joe would have fit into the mix. I guess these things were on my little guy's mind too.


It was two days after the news of Dave Rosser's death when he approached me on the beach looking sad. He cuddled right up to me and wanted to have his beach towel wrapped around him. Once he was comfortable I asked him what he was thinking and if he was ok. I don't think I'll ever forget what he said to me.

He told me that he wants to be a baby again. When I asked what he meant he said that he wants to stop his life where it is and start it over again because he misses his daddy. If the news of Dave Rosser's death was like ripping a bandage off an old wound, these words from my 6 year old were like that scene from Temple of Doom where the beating heart is ripped out of the guy's chest. I couldn't even catch my breath as I processed what it meant for him to think this deeply about his loss and how much he wants to have his dad here with him.

I do everything I can to surround him with love and help him grow, but I cannot give him his father back. I can grieve with him (which I did) and I can share stories with him (which I did), but there is this space in his life which Joe occupies that I just cannot fill for him. I am realizing more and more that he is on a grief journey too. He certainly will rely on many of the people around him to love and support him, but in the end it will be his journey.


There were many lovely things about Catriona Menzies-Pike book, not the least of which being that it kept encouraging me to run while I was reading it - encouragement which has not been easy to come by for me of late given some seemingly endless health challenges. The most important part to me though was a section at the end because it captured my own feelings towards running while also reminding me to be gentle with myself through all that life throws my way.

"I might not have become a champion, but I've become a runner, and somewhere along the way I stopped raging about what my life might have been like if that plane hadn't crashed. That's a life that I can now see has been plotted by surprises: including both an horrific airplane crash and the discovery of contentment in running. I've been fit enough to run marathons and, in between, I have slowed down and sped up again, delighted by my body's capacity for renewal. There are many limits to my progress as a runner: some of them lie within me, some are beyond my control. Instead of trying to master the contingencies, I just live with them."

If there is one thing that I have learned in my years of running since Joe died it's that so much running advice is also good life advice. So, perhaps for me right now life calls for a little less of trying to master the contingencies and a little more trying to live with them.

Last night, the little guy and I were back at the ballpark and for good measure I went in my Viva La Rosser shirt. It just felt right.

With my son at the Trenton Thunder game
July 4, 2017

(I encourage you to check out both books... Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me by Stacey May Fowles and The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion by Catriona Menzies-Pike)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Trainspotting Redux: Choose Life

Today my husband Joe would have turned 42.  Instead, it is the sixth time his birthday will pass without him here. Even six years later there is still a sharp tug each year when the month changes to April and I still have a cry when I wake up on the 4th unable to wish him a happy birthday. It's just one of those days where inevitably grief weighs in.

It also happens to be one of those days that has come with a life lesson for me.

In 2011, when he celebrated his 36th birthday I was in Bangor, Maine on an assignment for work. We had discussed it when I was first told about the trip, but since neither of us were in the habit of making a big deal out of our birthdays unless it was a "big year" we figured I might as well just go. I have no idea if he quietly hoped I would refuse the trip and stay, but my own mind was just not there. I was overwhelmed with my workload and a 6-month old and a husband undergoing chemo treatments. I wasn't thinking about life. I was just trying to do it.

Besides, he was doing well. If you looked at him at that time you wouldn't have even known he had cancer. We both thought he had plenty of birthdays left. But the thing I know now is that April 4, 2011 when things seemed to be going ok and when he seemed to still have plenty of birthdays ahead of him was exactly the moment that I should have made celebrating his a priority.

I knew it before I even returned home from that trip. Before his health started to decline that fall. Before he died in December. It's one of those moments that continues to define choices I make today and for that I am thankful.

It meant some incredibly special moments with Joe and Domani in the months that followed (and some other less important things that fell to the side). It has meant not only fun birthday celebrations with family and friends, but also the seizing of countless everyday moments. It has also meant learning how to say no to the things that would steal away the opportunities for those moments whenever it is necessary.

In our home we celebrated Joe's birthday today. I took off from work and went to watch T2: Trainspotting. Twenty one years ago this August Joe and I went to see the original Trainspotting on our first date. It seemed fitting to spend his birthday seeing what Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie are up to now. On the way home from the movie, I had a great visit with a friend from high school and finally got to meet his lovely wife. Visiting with them left me marveling again at the beautiful simplicity of mutual love and the truly meaningful aspects of the work I do - both valuable reminders to me right about now. 

When I picked up Domani, the two of us spent some time looking through old photo books and talking about his dad. Then, I bought Domani a small gift in honor of Joe's birthday and we met up with one of Joe's best friends for dinner at our favorite Mexican place. Our dinner plans were Domani's choice for Daddy's birthday. 

Being away for Joe's birthday in 2011 is a regret that I learned from and so I no longer regret it. My life has undoubtedly been richer because of the choices I've made since then.

I wish I could remember the whole new "choose life" monologue from the movie today. But this part certainly applies...

"Choose the ones you love.
Choose your future.
Choose life."

Getting ready to head in for dinner tonight.

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.