Moving Forward

Yesterday, Emma and I enjoyed the sunshine before the impending spring snowstorm and went for a bike ride. She received a “big girl” bike for her 3rd birthday, and it has given us a good excuse to get out of the house and get some exercise. Her giggling as we wheeled around the bike path was good for my heart. The fresh air was needed. We have both been getting a little stir crazy. As we paused to catch our breath on a bench, I noticed the dedication:

The quote helped me embrace what my reality currently is. We learned this week that the doors to our school would remain closed for another two weeks. As I process the update, I realize it is time for me to stop hiding in denial and to face that things are different. Previously, I chose what to attend and what not to attend, forgetting my privilege to be able to choose. Now, to protect others I choose isolation.

In a FaceTime wine date with a friend this week, she shared “Before this, I was working so hard to slow down, to spend time with my family, to cut out the excess. Now, as we are forced to do just that, it is hard.” She has been my mentor over the years as I prioritize what and who I put my energy into. We discussed how much we miss the social aspect of being busy. Not because we don’t love spending time with our families, but because we thrive being with others.

One of the Twitter handles I follow posted this:

My list so far includes:
– hug Mom and Dad
– sit in a coffee shop
– have a barbecue
– grocery shop in a leisurely way instead of our current sprint-shopping style
– have a glass of wine (or a flight) at City Vineyard
– celebrate the life of a loved one & grieve with those left behind

The Ramsey Keller Memorial recently announced this year’s Run for Heave’s Sake will be virtual. It was the right choice, but it is yet another different for me to accept. The race is close to my heart as it is the sponsor of the Joshua Tyree Half Marathon. Courtney is the race director and I help organize over 100 volunteers most of whom are friends and family who supported us during our toughest time.

In January, I set a goal to run the half marathon with Emma in her stroller. As I mentioned in Finding My Pace, the half marathon distance became our tribute distance to Josh after Courtney and his sister Tiffany completed thirteen half marathons (13.1 miles) in 2013. Two months ago, it was an important goal for me because it would be a way to honor Josh’s life and celebrate Emma’s. To reach it, I would also have to find a balance between my teaching requirements (graduation is scheduled for the week after the race), training, and organizing volunteers. For me, this balance was the larger challenge than running the half. I struggle to draw lines for myself and am frequently frustrated if I do not feel I have given everything I have to give. Essentially, I was worried I would be too busy to successfully reach my goal.

Now, a physical race is no longer important; however, the heart of the work is what must endure. I will still run a half marathon in Josh’s memory this May, but I will run on my own as will friends and family across Montana and in multiple states. A virtual race gives us a way to show our support for each other and Montana families while still honoring social distancing guidelines. Even though so much of life feels like it has been put on pause, there is still a need to support others. Baby loss, cancer, car accidents, suicide, and so many other tragedies continue in the shadow and isolation of COVID-19. My heart goes out to the baby loss families who currently are suffering and enduring the hardest moment of their lives, essentially alone as social distancing and a mandated stay-at-home order limit what memorials and funerals can look like. I think about the December Josh died and as alone as I felt, Courtney and I were supported physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially by so many of our communities.

Josh would’ve turned nine last month. On his birthday, I tried to tell myself it was just another day. It was OK. I was OK. I was needed at work. My colleagues needed me. My students needed me. I could not rationalize that I also needed me. How could I tell my heart that it’s OK to still hurt? How do I tell my family I still need space, for me? How do I explain to work on a day that was so critical as we continued to transition to distance learning, that work could wait a day? At the end of the emotional day, I retreated to the hot tub. It is my safe space. However, courtesy of my cell phone, I continued working. While doing so, I was angry at myself for not taking the time I needed. I felt guilty fearing perhaps I didn’t need the time the way I had previously. Then, the snow started to fall. Josh’s hand reminding me to take time. To put my phone down. To stop. To listen to the silence. To be still.

Why is it I insist on being busy when everything around me is pleading for me to take a break? Why when my heart is the most uneasy am I so afraid to stop and listen? After seven years of grieving, I admit there is something frightening to me in the quiet stillness. I question why it takes a snowstorm or a pandemic to make me stop being busy. This is part of what I am searching for when I say I am looking for grace.

In college, one of my poetry professors tried to teach me the art of writing about an inanimate object. His poem was rich with literary devices, but through it all, I was still blatantly aware he was writing about a dripping shower head. As poetic as it was, I kept feeling like I had to be missing something. Today, I was reminded of his poem as I sat at my makeshift teaching desk in the basement while Emma napped. For the most part my desk looks like what you would imagine: a standard particle board desk covered in papers to grade, books to read, and a baby monitor. This is not my normal work space. It is all so different. Last week, I went to school to pick up a few things from my classroom desk, tech office, and to check my mailbox. I walked by senior rail, but there were no seniors. Their senior year now so different. Being in a school without students felt empty. Each of my work spaces felt empty. My daily agenda still on the board from March 16th, even though we weren’t in school that day so no one saw it.

Sitting at my desk today, the memory of Josh’s oxygen tank humming in the other room replaces my current isolation. I remember calling my long term sub to see if she needed my help with anything. I wanted to be busy. I wanted an escape from my isolation. However, each time I called, she said everything was handled. I would hang up the phone and return to the stillness. She later told me that she knew she could find the answer somewhere. Whatever questions she had, they were not as pressing as “you spending time with your son.” Why in our current situation, am I struggling so much to find the same balance? I think part of my struggle is I hope Emma will outlive me so I do not feel selfish taking time from her now whereas I knew my time with Josh was short so nothing else mattered. This desk sat sturdy then as it does now witnessing love, life, loss, grief, and silence.

Tonight, I realized what I have been fighting to ignore since schools closed on March 16th. So much of these past few weeks have reminded me of the last two months I had with Josh. While it is very different, it is all a little too real. Part of the purpose of this blog was to be transparent in my grief process, but at the same time, it has also become testimony to my ability to continue living. As I read back through my previous posts, I recognize it is my way of capturing not only Josh’s story, but mine.

Last month, my blog reached the 3,000 view mark. I know for some blogs this is a daily view number, but for me it is a big deal. I do not know your story or why you have found your way to this blog, but I hope you know you are not alone.
Reach out.
Call a friend.
Text a hotline.
We will get through this.
Strive for balance.
Never lose hope.
Search grace.
We will keep moving forward together.

Run for Heaven’s Sake 2016

2 thoughts on “Moving Forward”

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