Sixteen months ago I weighed 188lbs. I had spent the previous five months training to get faster in three disciplines – swimming, cycling, and running – and had improved enough in each one that I had cut my time in Sprint distance triathlons down by half an hour from 1:45 to 1:10. HUGE leap for a 30 year old former athlete trying to get back into shape while still living an adult life. I started doing triathlons to support a chosen family member and continued them because they gave me a sense of accomplishment as an athlete that I hadn’t felt in quite a while. I was eating very healthily, sleeping fairly well, and was in better shape in my downtime at home than I had been for years. Then we lost Luke.
We spent two weeks at home, wrapping ourselves up in grief. No training, no work, few text messages. No real contact outside of a few family members. I stopped doing many of the things that had helped me navigate my adult life because my world was turned upside down, and developed bad habits in the process. I began letting myself eat junk food and garbage meals because I had a hard day and “earned it”. I allowed myself to stop exercising, first because I didn’t want to see people but then because I “didn’t feel up to it”. We got pregnant with Jonah several months later and started a cautious upswing of emotion, knowing that he could be taken from us at any time but trying to stay hopeful that things would be different this time. They were, but I never had the foresight to understand exactly what we would go through as Jonah’s parents.
Today, I’m 216lbs – slightly down from a high of 219lbs. I can’t run further than a mile and a half without my left knee aching for days when I used to make it four miles in under 30 minutes. I fight the urge to go home early because of how I feel at any given moment. I can’t swim more than 200 meters without resting when I used to go 2000. I work to keep my guard up when I’m out with people, but when I get tired it’s far too easy to let things get to me and speak with a tone that doesn’t show what’s in my heart. It’s a constant battle to keep from eating an entire pizza in one sitting. Grief has changed me emotionally and mentally in ways I’m still discovering, but it also changed me physically. I’ve tried to get back to training and moving forward, but guilt and heart break has kept me from sustaining anything.
On this day, I’m giving myself permission. I’m going to take a step each day towards allowing myself to feel like me again. Doing the things I used to do and putting more focus on myself doesn’t diminish my love for Jonah, and that’s been the hard part thus far. The times that I can’t feel a connection to my son give me such a feeling of guilt that it takes me weeks to overcome, because that’s all we have left. Moving forward, I have to keep in mind that I’m not leaving Jonah at home or thinking about him less because I’m thinking about me more – I’m taking him with me. My sons will never get to experience what it’s like to swim half a mile in a lake or to go on an 80 mile bike ride for themselves, but they’ve already done it with their dad because I carry them with me. Each day that I make a little more progress I’m working to make my children proud of their dad, and every time I make a better decision about the food I eat (or don’t) I’m reinforcing something I wanted to teach them as they got older.
In grief it’s so easy to hold myself back from the things that I used to enjoy because I’ve grown accustomed to identifying with the darkness. What’s funny is that I’ve always found Jonah in the light. Too many occasions have come where I was going out for an event or we were going hiking and the forecast was another Oregon rain, but Jonah brought out the sunshine. In those moments, he was giving me permission to live. Don’t let the hardships you’re experiencing move you further towards losing yourself, because that road is as long as you choose to make it and the trip back is harder than anything we’ve seen before. Let your loss take it’s place in your life – grieve; get angry. Those are things that let you know you are still alive. But while you’re there, look for things you can identify that let you know they are watching over you because they are there every day. Let them take you home to a place where you carry that person with you and live your life in a way that makes them smile. Picture their face, beaming with pride, and know that doing something for yourself today has the power to change a life: yours.
You have permission if you can give it to yourself. Let them bring you home