Looking Back and Forward: Day 1

Today is Day 1. Day 1 of the end of the first year since March 16, 2014, the day Marcy died. She would have come out running with us today to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. I’ll head out at 6 up Green Mountain certain to remember many training runs up it with her.

I’ve written, journaled really, at least 15 minutes every day since. This habit I’ve maintained for almost 20 years began after a class at Columbus College of Art & Design. Surprised and put on the spot to answer “What is your art?” I scribbled on a yellow scrap of legal paper: “[Writing]’s the only thing that works.”  I didn’t feel like an ‘real’ artist then anymore that I felt like an ‘athlete’ when I started running, but rather an interloper escaping corporate scheisse (German for bullshit). Now, I feel like as much an artist as I do an athlete. Running works as well as writing.

Sometimes this past year, I cried while writing and wondered, ‘When will the missing ever stop?’ Other times I wondered, could I have done a better job organizing so that more people could have seen her as much as they wanted? Should I have advocated harder for other treatment options? Should I have questioned when she asked for more morphine? Did I swab her mouth enough as she slipped into a coma? Was she in pain? Did I call hospice often enough? When will I remember more often the good memories  than the hellish ones of her last sixty days?

Hospice recommended that it be a year before I made any major decisions. They said depression was normal. Other than quitting my job, I followed this advice. No regrets. It’s been an unplanned life since last March. A time that wouldn’t have been as meaningful without the support of my partner, Jorge, our running group and my extended family. I am deeply grateful.

I was warned about the “difficulty” of the firsts. Some were obvious and expected, like the first time I went for a run without her. The first time I remembered I couldn’t call her for a training run so that we could talk about what was going on in our lives. The first time she or I couldn’t rely on each other to take Scout or Baloo when the other was off to Moab or Telluride or wherever. The first time she wasn’t here for a running planning party. Her first birthday she wasn’t here to celebrate with the girls. Each first reminded me of her absence. At the same time I began after some time passed to notice how much I appreciated the moments with the remaining living. After run beers at Southern Sun with out running group. Impromptu garage cleanup with Jennifer. Time with my sister, her kids and extended family in Germany after her husband’s death from brain cancer.

Marcy's birthday 2013

Marcy’s birthday 2013

The mental drain followed by awareness of how much life is left to be lived also came at unexpected times. It was usually at the top of a mountain I’d worked hard to ascend faster than the last time, alone. Out of nowhere, I’d have been climbing consistently hard for two hours and start sobbing. There wasn’t a memory that preceded it or a sad song on my playlist. In fact, in these moments, my mind felt empty and free then suddenly overwhelmed by intense sadness. Part of it was missing…I will never again get to listen to her telling the story of her first, and only, 100-mile race. I’d heard it three times and my only regret was not filming her. She glowed every time she talked about it. Then, sadness would give way to a subtle shift to awareness that I can choose in every moment to allow richer living, right now.

This time to feel everything from sadness to appreciation has been a wise investment I’m not sure I completely understand yet. I know it frames the way I walk (and run) through life now. I know it has been and continues to be an epic destination. I am ruthlessly clear in purpose now.

I’m still angry that pancreatic cancer took my best friend, running partner, and loved one to so many. The anger is the kind of anger present and direct-able into projects to keep the dream alive that someday there will be a cure. I use it when I’m training. Take hill repeats, for example. I notice anger at myself for not being faster, for getting tired or hurting as I run hard up the 450-foot climb of North Shanahan trail and back off. I tell the anger that its job is to move me faster. “Nothing is as hard as seeing yourself dying,” I encourage and on we go together.

The perspective this year has gifted me is this. The answers are never, no, no, no, no, yes, no, yes and finally….finally, those days have come. All through last summer and fall, you would have seen a woman running a trail not sure if she was sweating profusely or sobbing as she listened to “Dancing Queen.” Now, you’d see that same woman smiling. She’d be recalling Marcy clasping her arms around her neck so that she could lift her from a sitting position at the edge of her bed. After they stood, they’d both start humming “Dancing Queen” as they shuffled the 10 feet to her bathroom. Sometimes it took as long as 5 minutes as they rested along what felt to Marcy like a climb up Green Mountain. During a break, as they hummed this Abba favorite, these two women, friends, sisters from another mother, held onto each other and snapped at death: “Fuck off. We’re still alive and awesome.” Even though our bravado was not enough to save her life, I treasure that moment.

I miss her everyday as I know so many do and I think she’d be happy to know that the smiling memories are the ones taking over now.