Then we signed up for a LifeTime Fitness membership so he could run and I could swim -- by far, my exercise of choice.
This August marked nine years since James was killed. Some days, I can hardly believe it's been that long. Other days, our beautiful marriage does seem like a lifetime ago, as I've become a teacher, author, wife again, and mother (in that order) in those nine years.
Now I'm becoming a runner, too. And what surprises me the most is how much of a spiritual connection I feel to James. It's more than the sense that he's next to me; it's the sense that his light is inside me: growing, stirring.
I haven't felt his presence like this in many years. When I reflect back on my grief therapy, I think the answer lies in what bereavement counselors term healthy and unhealthy relationships. Dwelling in guilt or living in a museum, for example, propel unhealthy connections. Creating something new out of memories or sharing common interests fosters wholesome ones.
I used to think that acts like burning a candle, visiting his grave, and making his favorite foods would be worthwhile practices for me. Instead, they only yielded sadness. Perhaps that's why some people try to suppress their feelings and close chapters -- it's uncomfortable to live in the mixture of past and present. Especially when it feels like the world wants you to just "move on." Oh, if only they realized that moving forward is far healthier, accepting the full tapestry of experiences.
Writing has, unsurprisingly, served a healthy connection for me. I don't write because I'm stuck or yearning to live in the past. I have a beautiful life again with an understanding husband and sweet toddler who take me on all sorts of adventures. I write to help others and keep James's memory alive. I write to reveal/document/explore the kaleidoscope of both pain from trauma AND appreciation of the journey, anger and heartache over all that was lost AND joy within my present.
As writer Lexi Behrndt says, "This is my normal, and I’d rather live honestly and out loud."
That said, writing is a more cerebral connection for me as I process through words. Running holds a physical determination in my muscles and synchronization with the trees and rocks I pass. It allows me to "be," open and quiet, away from words, pondering the spiritual realm and the light inside myself. It's a medium for the present and past to be honored, as I care for myself in a way that James loved.
So for his 10 year "angelversary," I'm going to carry his picture up one of the tallest mountains in the country by completing the Pike's Peak Ascent in Colorado Springs, a half marathon. I observed and supported runners at this year's event, upon invitation by Keep Kids Alive Drive 25, a nonprofit that organizes families who've lost loved ones to motor vehicle crashes.
What beautiful people I met there. Mothers, fathers, aunts, sisters and brothers creating memorials and/or participating in this grueling mountain challenge that mirrors the path of grief: rocky, windy, lengthy. People yearning to connect with others who've endured similar tragedies. Returning families presenting medals to new families with their loved one's name: a tradition that declares You are not forgotten and will cross the finish line with us. Artists documenting the love shared in song and poetry. I'm so inspired and excited to run with this group next August.
Tomorrow morning, my goal is seven miles. I'm on my way.