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. 

GRIEF PART ONE

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

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.


GRIEF PART TWO

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.

RUNNING

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.