Of Time and Touch and Whales

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Eighteen Days – A Story
How much time is too much? How many days are too many? How much is not enough? Eighteen days? Eight years? 

For a few weeks last month, much of the world was focused on a killer whale, an orca, swimming off the coast of Washington State, with her dead calf lying across her forehead. It is typical, say those who study whales, for the mother of a dead calf to carry the carcass for a day or two, then to drop it to the bottom of the ocean and swim off. But this mother whale wasn’t doing that, and no one really seemed to know why. Was it a reaction to the changes in the whales’ habitat, caused, in part, by pollution levels in the waters? Did it have to do with a lack of food caused by overfishing of the Chinook salmon in the area? Or was it simply a mother’s grief and inability to let go?

There were times in fact, when the whale, named Tahlequah, watched her daughter slip from her forehead, and went diving after her, deep into the ink-black waters of the ocean, nudging her back up to the sunlight and air above. 

I followed this story every day, checking online reports to see if Tahlequah’s ordeal had come to an end. When finally it did, and she swam off alone to join the other members of her pod, my eyes welled with tears. A combination of being happy that she was able to survive, but also a deep sorrow for understanding what it is like to give someone up for a last time, to admit that they will take no further breaths, and that you must leave them in this spot, whether earthen ground or ocean water, forever.

Eight Hours – A Story
Many of you know that I have spent some time researching and writing about my grandmother, Blanche Wynn Huskey. She (along with both my mother and father and much of their extended families) was born in a small town in East Tennessee called Tellico. In an odd coincidence, Tellico is the Anglicized version of the Cherokee name for the town, Tahlequah. When I saw that the orca was named Tahlequah by the Lummi Nation tribe that watches over and tracks the pod’s numbers, I immediately thought of my mother and grandmother. 

My grandmother, Blanche, was blinded as a six-year-old by her brother, Charlie. A branch slipped from his hands while the two were hanging a tree swing. The branch blinded my grandmother in one eye; infection and something called “sympathetic reaction” caused the other eye to lose vision as well. Her eyes were surgically removed and she was sent to the Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville to learn to cope. At the school she actually flourished, memorizing Shakespeare, and learning Latin and trigonometry. She learned to play piano, use a typewriter, and take dictation.

After graduation, she returned home to Tellico where she helped her mother run a boarding house. It was there that she met my grandfather Carlton, a traveling salesman. The two married and lived in a small house around the corner from the boarding house where my great-grandmother could look in on her daughter whenever my grandfather was away, which was frequent. Within six years of marriage, my grandmother had four children. Sometimes, the family would pack up my grandfather’s 1928 Buick company car and spend a few weeks with my grandfather’s family in Newport, along the North Carolina border. With my grandfather away, I’ve often wondered what it was like for my grandmother to be in these strange surroundings with in-laws she didn’t really know. She was never a trusting person, the school having told her many times that her handicap allowed her to be taken advantage of. I’m sure she was never quite comfortable on those trips.

In 1931, the family spent the winter in Newport, but while my grandfather was on the road, all four of the children—Vivian, my mom Lillian, Carlton Jr, and Marshall—became ill with measles. The doctor was summoned, but nothing much could be done. They were given fluids and many home remedies until, one-by-one, the older children shook off the virus. But Marshall was just an infant, and his small body could not fight the illness. And so, early in the morning of February 3rd, as my grandmother held him in her arms, Marshall passed away. 

But my grandmother would not let Marshall go. Whether at first she didn’t know that her baby was no longer alive, it’s impossible to know, but within a few hours, her mother-in-law understood what had happened and tried to take the child from her arms, but my grandmother held fast and fought. She knew that, without her eyesight, all she had was touch. Once this child was removed from her arms, she would never hold him again, she would lose her only connection and she couldn’t let that happen. Irrational, perhaps, but any mother will tell you it’s not. It was not until my grandfather returned some six hours later that my grandmother would be talked into letting Marshall go. And even then, she insisted on being the one to wash his body, though it was no easy task in many ways.

Marshall was buried in an unmarked grave in a family member’s plot along a two-track road beside a barn. The family couldn’t afford to transport him back to Tellico, so he remained in Newport, much to my grandmother’s great pain. To her, it must have seemed she had to keep letting him go, again and again. She would have held him for eighteen days and more if possible, I’m sure. I understand. As I read about Tahlequah the orca, I am struck by these two stories of motherhood, one old and one new, but linked through the ages by this coincidence of a name and a response.

Eighteen-plus Years—A Story
A few weeks ago, I took my daughter back to Chicago for her senior year of college. She had spent four months in Italy, and then remained in Chicago most of the summer, coming to visit for a few days before this last year of school. She manages classes, a job, internships and relationships with great aplomb, despite loss and emotional challenges. She is already looking for a post-school job, one that most likely will not have her return to Detroit. 

She is an environmental science major who worries about what we are doing to our planet, especially recently as thoughtful measures to preserve our land and water have been rolled back by people who don’t care. She realizes that the plight of Tahlequah is but one more indication of the trouble we’re in. Rising shorelines, no weather that is not severe weather, wildfires. It must be frightening and discouraging to know that there is no saving at this point, there is only the hope of prolonging our existence on this planet. It won’t affect me nearly as much as it will affect her, and more likely her children. But she is a fighter and will stake her place in this battle; of that I am sure. I want to help and encourage, but mostly find myself full of fatigue and anger these days. It is a product of my age, of now realizing the toll that constant marching takes on ones feet and knees and heart.

Similarly, my son recently moved from his nearby apartment to a house in a suburb where he and his girlfriend can better afford the rent. There, they will also be closer to his girlfriend’s family who can use their help caring for his girlfriend’s elderly grandmother. I’ve raised a thoughtful, creative, feminist son who will work hard to improve things for those he loves, but that doesn’t make it easier to watch as he migrates to a new life just a bit farther from mine and closer to someone else’s. When I mentioned this to a friend, he said (only half-joking) “I am hearing you say this in my mother’s Polish accent.” And yes, he is correct that this is the age-old lament of mothers of sons (“for a man shall leave his mother…” I believe that wedding song goes). It is difficult nonetheless.

Eighteen years, or twenty-one or twenty-six. How many is enough before wishing them well and waving goodbye? I have friends who have suffered the unimaginable death of their child and I cannot begin to fathom that pain. I am proud of my children, and so very thankful that they are healthy, responsible adults leading mostly happy lives. But it is hard to see them off and not run after. I think of my parents and the role they played as advice-givers to me and Kevin when we first started out. They are not here for me to seek their advice and I miss them. I cannot understand how it is that I am now in that role of advisor myself. Accepting that role means accepting this passage of time, this aging, this loss of role models, of those upon whom I relied to help with decisions. Just as my kids sometimes think they’re not ready to be adults, I feel I’m not ready to be that advice-giving elder.

Eight Years – A Story
As the eight-year anniversary of Kevin’s death approaches, I thought I might be ready to read a few books that have been in the bedside pile for a while. I’m currently reading The Bright Hour, written by Nina Riggs about her Stage IV cancer diagnosis, which begins during her mother’s illness and death.  It has made me realize that time does not necessarily fade memories. As she describes going to the cancer center at Duke University Hospital, I am shoved back to that place at UofM where Kevin spent so much time. I hear the sounds, smell the odors, re-live the emotions. I usually read a few chapters of a book each night, but this book drains me such that I can only read a few pages. I know that feeling of the floor falling away in the ER when the doctor gives the prognosis, the feelings of fear and despair, the strange sense of wondering why the hell other people are going on with their lives. I know how it ends. 

I am surprised at how quickly and forcefully these memories return, even eight years later. And yet, I want to know her story, I want to read this beautifully crafted work. I underline sentences and bookmark pages. And I am at a time when I think I can write Kevin’s story, not just the story of my grief that takes place “after,” but the story of his fight “during,” his unwavering hope and strength, and also his fear and disbelief. I know that I will always be able to conjure those memories of warm sunny moments spent in the hospital courtyard, or the feeling of his hand holding mine as we lay in bed bracing for what was to come after hearing the words “stage four.” It’s all still there, eight years later, I can reach out and touch it as though there’s no distance at all. Someday I hope it will exist in the universe of words.

Hours, Days, Years. What is this time, this grief?
One of the many lines I’ve underlined in Riggs’ book is this: “I want all of it—all the things to do with living—and I want them to keep feeling messy and confusing and even sometimes boring. The carpool line and the backpacks and light that fills the room in the building where I wait while the kids take piano lessons…Light sabers cracking Christmas ornaments. A science fair project taking shape in some distant room…”

I read this and realize that I want those things too—I want them back. I want that simple life when my children were young and tragedy and loss had not entered our lives. My need for them does not compare to hers; she wants to return to a time when she herself was not sick and dying. But all of us, everyone who has suffered loss, wishes at some point for a return to that time before. We want to be back, to be whole; we want to hold on, we want to believe that the holding will count for something, will make it real and true.

We want to touch again the life we’ve known and the people we’ve loved, whether those relationships have ended or just changed with time. I don’t want my memories to crumble on the floor of the ocean. I don’t want to lose the feel of that touch my grandmother couldn’t give up, of my skin against another’s, be it my child or my partner.

The last dispatch about Tahlequah was the good news that she had moved on. This is wonderful because it means her survival was much more assured, and isn't that true for all of us? “J35 frolicked past my window today with other J pod whales, and she looks vigorous and healthy,” Ken Balcomb, of the Centre for Whale Research, told The Seattle Times. “The ordeal of her carrying a dead calf for at least 17 days and 1,000 miles is now over, thank goodness.”  I hope this means that she is happy, but I imagine with certainty that grief, like the briny ocean waves, laps at her skin from time to time.

I am happy that she is frolicking, and happy to report that I have been known to frolick a little myself these days, and have my own pod who cares for me and keeps me moving. I love my city condo, have great fun with friends and family, traveled abroad this year with my daughter and two nieces, and even started a new job which I really enjoy. I know it’s important to keep frolicking.

And as we move on, me through life and her through bright blue ocean waters, I send my thoughts to Tahlequah across the universe—the universe of my mother and grandmother, of my husband and my children; the universe that holds all our hopes and fears, our grand efforts and our mistakes; the universe that pushes us forward and that cradles the remains of those we’ve lost. I send her my thanks, for helping all of us to understand that eighteen days is nothing, that eight hours or eight years is nothing. 

But holding on is everything.

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Where've I Been? I've Been Marching

Sunday, July 2, 2017

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted. Truth be told, it’s been a long while since I’ve written much of anything and I miss it. I miss putting my thoughts on the page (or screen, as it were) to the point of becoming anxious and even depressed. It was nearly impossible for me to write immediately after Kevin died and the combination of grief and lack of my usual outlet drove me to strange panic attacks, loss of sleep, and days of staring into space. I rented a house near Lake Michigan for a few days and told myself I had to face the writer’s block. Once I did, the words poured out and this blog, along with the beginnings of a book, were born. But now I feel back in that space again and it’s almost as troubling.

Though I’ve hesitated to write about it, and felt for a long time that this blog was not the place for it, I am now willing to say that I attribute nearly all of this difficulty to current politics. If you are feeling like you don’t want to read one more thing about that, I hope you will hear me out. 

The mind goes through so many difficult emotions during significant loss and grief. The grieving are tossed into a tumultuous sea, battered around until our bearings are completely lost and we feel we can only tread water in hopes of eventually finding shore. Exhaustion, hopelessness, regret, anger, constant worry; those are the weighty emotions that the grieving bear. We try to shake them off until one day they are no longer so much a part of our daily lives. It is damn hard work. I have worked hard at it, as have my children, Kevin’s and my family, our friends. I could almost go through a calendar since 2010 and mark the times where I felt the various stages of grief and then learned to lay them down.

I don’t know if I’ll ever again live without worry. Death and grief create a sense of vulnerability that is unparalleled. I worry about my own well-being and health, for I am my children’s only parent. I worry about our finances (I am extremely lucky that Kevin planned and we’re ok, but we are nowhere near where we would have been were Kevin still here and working a job where he was achieving). I worry about my children’s futures and how they will be impacted long-term by the loss of their father. I worry about growing old alone. But, because I am a person of the world, I also worry about bigger things like the planet and inequality and living in a just society where everyone is valued.

Since November,  I am disheartened in a way that I haven’t been in a long time. I have low energy, no focus, and most days, I pour my creative momentum into trying to correctly explain my POV as a liberal to people on social media who have no interest in understanding or finding common ground. So why begin a blog about the election with a primer on the emotions of grief? Because I have felt all those things again over the past eight months.

I fell in love with Kevin for many reasons, not least of which was because he had dropped out of college as an engineering major and returned when he decided to pursue his first love, political science. He ended up in the corporate world, but would have made a wonderful politician, especially later as he became more deliberative. Our early dates were filled with talk of how we would save the world and what Reagan’s presidency meant long-term (much of which has come to pass). Together, we attended rallies for Mondale and Dukakis, and canvassed for Bill Clinton with our infant son in a carrier. 

I credit my dad for making me a political person.
He was a proud Yellow-dog Democrat from Tennessee who schooled me on how the Dems lost the South the minute Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. He was a union member with whom I walked picket lines as a young girl. He once was nearly thrown off a bus in Kentucky in the 1950s because he gave up his seat to a young African-American woman. He idolized Franklin Roosevelt because he lived through the Great Depression and believed firmly that we all have a responsibility to uphold even a small piece of the social safety net. He knew from experience that those New Deal programs saved millions of lives. When I met Bill Clinton last year, I told him first about canvassing with my infant son, then told him about how my parents kept his picture in a frame in their guest room. 
,Telling Bill Clinton how much my parents loved him.

And now I find myself struggling, angry, and genuinely afraid for our country and the division that we currently face. I’m trying to understand how people, some of whom I know and love, could vote for someone who behaved in the way our current president behaved. I won’t provide the litany here, it’s been done in many other places. We have come to a place where there is such division between those who want everyone to have equal rights, regardless of who you love or the color of your skin, and those who believe that this equality means taking something away from them. The lines are drawn and they don’t follow the lines drawn in the past. My father disagreed with Republicans over issues like limited and had no place in people’s homes. Those were debatable topics that were discussed civil tones. Now, much of that party is about judgment of anyone who is "other" and a seemingly narrow definition of what it means to be American. The current administration says they were elected to disrupt, but what it appears to me they wish to do is to dismantle all the strides made in the 20th century to ensure the affirmative role of government in our life, the part where they “protect the general welfare” of the citizenry, especially the least among us. It is difficult for me to see this as anything but heartless selfishness, though I feel compelled to try to understand.

When Kevin died, I lost the provider of health care for my family. His employer allowed me to purchase at the same rate for one year. Then, overnight, the cost went from $150/month to $950/month. All of us were seeking grief counseling which, along with all other mental health services, wasn’t covered at all. My son was on ADD medication, which wasn’t covered. It was a terribly frightening time when I could see that the life insurance legacy Kevin had so carefully planned would be eaten away each month as I struggled to pay for insurance. As I had a plastic bin containing over $1 million in medical surgery, treatment, prescription, and emergency visit bills, I knew I could not ever be without insurance. I have taken extra work teaching in order to remain at a job I love but which cannot provide insurance for me. When I post about this publicly, I’ve been called a “welfare queen” who "mooches off the government dole." This is what we’ve come to. We don’t try at all to understand the real situations of real people. We simply name-call anyone with whom we don’t agree. 

And it is not just my personal fear over losing health care. It is also my concern for science and for our planet. It is anger that an international emergency like climate change has been politicized and people have been wrongly convinced that it’s not real. How can this be? Equal pay, the protections offered by Medicaid, the war on facts and on the press, accessibility to the voting booth, the vilification of certain religious groups and immigrants, the war on higher education as being the playground of the “liberal elite,” or the demonizing of public education as a place of brainwashing; the list goes on. My parents worked hard to make sure that their kids could go to college so they wouldn’t have to toil in a factory (though that is good and honorable work). Now, I’m being told I don’t understand the very demographic in which I grew up because I’ve gone to college and entered the professional class. Where do we go from here if an entire segment of our population feels it is wrong to improve their situation, or that it’s more honorable to struggle with unemployment and addiction than to go to college? I honestly grapple with these issues daily and have felt no effort from anyone who espouses them to attempt to explain to me how they make our country better.

It’s a daily assault on so many things I hold dear and important.  It’s an assault that is exhausting and seemingly has no end any time soon.

I often wonder what Kevin and my dad would think of these strange days. I so miss having them both to talk to. I know that not having them has impacted my physical and mental health. Holding on to anger, fear, and frustration, or dousing them with red wine and boiled carbohydrates has taken its toll. 

I don’t know what our future path can be. I am trying to get back to reading, trying to find empathy in situations where none seems to exist, trying to rest so that I can battle another day. I make near-daily phone calls, write emails, sign petitions, attend organizing meetings, learn how to circulate petitions. I am resisting what I feel is an administration that has absolutely no moral compass and no concern for those most vulnerable--the refugee, the disabled, the unemployed, the woman wearing a sari or a burka, the young black man who simply wants to walk down a neighborhood street. I am resisting senators and members of Congress who, I believe, are terribly
Women's March, January, 2017, DC
troubled by their leader, but not enough-so to give up the power they’ve been thinking about for the past eight years. I am resisting a system that is increasingly based on money, lies, manipulation, and outside interference. I believe my resistance would make Kevin and my dad proud, and sets a good example for my children, both of whom are articulate and active in politics. But it is debilitating work (and I’m not even on the front lines).
I know I am a different person having lost Kevin and having lived through the grief of his loss. And I can see that I am becoming a different person yet again—a fighter, a resister, a more outspoken feminist. I have commented before about the meta-experience of watching yourself change from outside forces, the deep analysis that tells you that you’ve become a different person, with different motivations and priorities. I feel that happening again and hope that it is enough. Friends might say that I should concentrate on myself and my kids; that no one would blame me for backing out of activism after all I’ve been through. But if I’ve taken any of those “life is short” lessons to heart over the past seven years, then I cannot walk away from what I feel is wrong. It isn’t enough to value every day, you must also, of your own volition, make something of that day. I want to fill each day with justice and knowledge, and spend my time working to help the world inch closer to equality, acceptance, civility, and love. It is not how I thought I’d be living this time of my life, but outside forces sometimes compel us to become better people than we once were.

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Wherever You Go, There You Are *

Sunday, October 23, 2016

It’s autumn again, that difficult time of year. This time six years ago, I was in the worst throes of grief and loss. It still amazes me how much I feel this time of year coming on. As foliage begins its dusky turn and darkness nudges the dinner hour, my thoughts turn to those difficult last days. The first cool nights settle in against me and prod my mind to memory. It is unavoidable and outside of my control. 

This time last year, I was also settling into a new home. The strange mixture of excitement and newness coming on the cusp of my saddest time of year created a strange situation that took months of adjusting to. I also sent my youngest child off to college and was acclimating myself to a life more solitary than I had ever lived before. My memories of that time are of darkness coming very early and a chill that I’m sure my mind exaggerates. I continue trying to make myself comfortable in this new life, trying to shape myself into this new person who feels fully and happily single. I don’t know how long that will take.

On a recent chilly day, I pulled one of Kevin’s favorite flannel shirts from the closet. Many of his things are packed away and stored safely in bins and boxes. Despite two moves, I’ve parted with very few of his belongings. Some things that were only his (as opposed to ours) I brought with me—favorite ties, his navy blazer, his shaving kit, his running shoes, and a favorite summer hat. Until recently, I haven’t been able to wear anything of Kevin’s. Many find comfort in wearing something that belonged to their loved one. But for me, I have always felt that putting myself into his clothes would take him out of them. I know that makes no sense and I struggle to explain it. It is difficult to think of putting anything of his in the washing machine. I want forever to hold something that touched his skin and know that nothing has happened to erase that closeness. Whatever cells or molecules of him that might still remain in the sleeve of his shirt, I want to know that they will always be there. But on that day, I wrapped myself in his shirt and sat on the balcony of my new home watching a young family stroll down the street.

So much has happened since my move, and in many ways I do feel settled in my new home. I love living in Detroit. My neighbors are wonderful; my neighborhood is cool and friendly. I can walk or bike ride to most everything I need. I take walks along the riverfront. I go on weekly bike rides around the city with a thousand other people. I’ve met a former president and the current president, along with senators, fashion designers, rock stars, writers, and television personalities. I’ve joined clubs, re-connected with old friends, and made new, life-long friendships. I’ve hosted dinner parties, started teaching at the nearby university, attended concerts and gallery openings. I'm on a first-name basis with folks at the bakery, the bookstore, and the farmers market. That’s a lot in one year. I worked with an architect to design the space I’m in by myself, with no input from a partner. Aside from some furniture from the farmhouse and those few small items of Kevin’s that I brought with me, there is very little of him in this new space.

And yet, as I sat on the balcony in his shirt, I understood that he is everywhere. And he is missing. 

I had the mistaken idea that moving to a brand new space, in a different city, in a building that couldn’t possibly be more unlike the one in which I lived with Kevin, would be a new start in so many ways. I didn’t want to erase my memories, but I did think that a new place would nudge me toward making new memories. And I have done that. But at the same time, I am surprised at how much I miss Kevin in this space.

It is a different emotion, for sure. At the farmhouse, his absence was a gaping wound that would never heal. It was an emptiness that rung out at every turn and from every room. It frightened me to think of being there on my own because I knew that the memories and the absence had such a strong hold. 

Here, in this new place, it is absence of a different sort. I grieve not that he was here in this place and is now gone, but that he was never here at all. And that grief is far greater than I ever would have thought possible.

I remember when I used to travel for my job. I would always look forward to a work trip as part mini-vacation—no chores, no meals to prepare. But once I got there, especially if it was in an interesting place, I of course missed having my family with me. I would squeeze in a few minutes to do something touristy and be disappointed because I knew it would have been better if it had been shared with my family.

That’s the feeling I often have in my new home. I’m doing all these wonderful things, but the thought of how much Kevin would love living here sometimes makes the enjoyment hollow. I know he would run every day in the neighborhood, or along the riverfront, or on the greenway path. I know he would love having his favorite brewpub just downstairs. He would hang out with the neighbors, play with the puppies and kids, and chat-up the people we would encounter on our evening dog walks. He would love it here. He should be here. He was never here, yet I miss him so much. 

It has been a definite realization over the past several months, that missing him will always happen, regardless of where I live. It is like the shirt that I feel has bits of him woven into its fabric. He is woven into my fabric. He is a part of me wherever I go, whatever new experiences I have, whatever new life I create. He will be in it, and he will not. He will be a part of it because he is not. Moving-on will always be moving-on without. He will make himself known by his absence. And wherever I am, there he'll be.

P.S. The title of this entry comes from a line in one of Kevin's favorite movies, The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the Eighth Dimension in which it was uttered by John Lithgow's crazily hilarious character John Warfin.

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Watch Me Run

Saturday, June 11, 2016

I ran a 5k today, my first. I didn’t really run. I completed it in 39 minutes which is barely a jogging pace, but I jogged the entire time, stopping only once to linger in shade. It was 84 degrees at start time, quite reminiscent of the day in 2007 that Kevin ran his first and only marathon. That day was so hot a few of the runners crossed the finish line on stretchers, one was intubated. Kevin was suffering from dehydration and heat exhaustion. He had a look on his face that was different from anything I had ever seen. But I would see it again when, a year and a half later, after surgery to his spine, he developed a hematoma and wasn’t getting enough air to his lungs or his brain. That run precluded his cancer by only a few months and he came to think that the extreme training regimen he endured could have had some causality.
Twin Cities Marathon

I have never liked running. Honestly, I still don’t. I’ll run a few times a week and improve my pace, maybe shoot for a longer run someday, but I don’t think I’ll ever get the “runners high” that Kevin loved so much. I am a social person who loves group exercise like aerobics and Zumba or group bike rides. Kevin was more solitary than most people realized and he loved individual pursuits. He also loved a challenge, especially one that he gave himself. So running to him was a personal challenge to be better than he thought he was, or better than others thought he could be. I understand now, more so than I ever did before, how one can be caught up in the self- imposed challenge. I have dared myself multiple times in the past five years to move forward, try something new, do something I never thought I could. The decision to run a 5k (and I should say, I did it as part of a social group) was just another in a line of tests I’ve given myself.

Rising to those challenges has changed me in many ways. And I am constantly dealing with that change. I can’t help but feel sometimes an almost overwhelming sense of betrayal for all that I’ve started and accomplished in the past five years (and thanks to my dear friend Dania for helping me put a name to this strange feeling). If Kevin were here right now, he would barely recognize this person I’ve become: a teacher, a writer, a Detroiter, and hardest sometimes to reconcile, a happy person.

As I trained for the 5k--running with a group of people I’d never met before and making new friends as we moved along the Dequindre Cut Greenway, one of my favorite spots in Detroit--I very often thought about Kevin and his love of running. As I've mentioned, it was something that we didn’t share and there were times when I would be aggravated by his need to get up and run in the morning when the kids needed tending and we were all rushing to get out the door, or Saturday mornings when there was a long list of chores and he would go out for an hour to drive to the trail and run. It wasn’t until after he was gone that I fully understood how much he needed that time and that routine. His ADD made it difficult for him to stay on task and being able to tick something off each day before he even got in the shower was important and helped to get him focused for the rest of the day. Some of his ashes are spread along his favorite trail. I wish I had understood more thoroughly and been more generous.

As with many things around loss, I learn about Kevin and I learn about myself as I learn something new. I know that this challenge to run and complete a 5k was motivated in part by the feeling of betrayal or moving away. I know on some level I thought that maybe if I do something he would have  loved for me to do, I can be at peace. The first time this thought came to me, about two weeks into training, this Kenny Chesney/Dave Matthews song came up on my phone as I was completing my run.

Of course it never had before. It was part of  Kevin’s chemo playlist and was suggested to Kevin by another dear friend, Jenny, as he was compiling treatment music. I had purposely avoided loading any of Kevin's treatment music onto my phone because it's still very emotional, so I have no idea how it even got onto my playlist.

When the song came on after our run, I didn’t hang around the group to stretch, but went straight for my car and had a good cry.

Today, I purposely loaded Kevin’s running playlist onto my phone. I felt it fitting that he would be with me in this way; another challenge. I was running with him and for him and for all the running he was never able to do. I was running for me and our kids as we see a future and try our best to embrace it with all our hearts. I was running for forgiveness. More than anything else, I was running for forgiveness. 

 About five minutes into the run a goofy song came on that Kevin loved and I hated. I won’t even mention its name since it is really goofy and I’d have to tell the whole long story behind it. But of course I knew that he was laughing at me having to listen to this song, and telling me it was ok that I didn't love every single thing about him.

As I crossed the finish line, this song by Social Distortion was playing. And I know that it was no coincidence, either. Because I know Kevin, and I know this is exactly the way in which he would tell me to move on, already. As the song warns, "you can run all your life but not go anywhere."

"Live this good and full and happy life," Kevin would say. "To do any less would be the real betrayal."

"Leave that burden right here, at this finish line, and don’t keep trying to make me happy. Make  yourself happy. Live your life."

I don't think I’ll ever grow to love running. But I’ll keep doing it. I'll keep running toward all that awaits me.

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