At a Loss

Grief.  Loss.  Sorrow.  Heartache.  A big gaping hole in your chest.  Call it what you wish, but we can all agree on one thing – it’s painful.  Note:  this is not one of those Cymbalta commercials.image

I live my life aware of the fact that every experience I have makes me who I am today. Whether in my own life or through the lives of those I cross paths with, I am constantly moved and affected by what I see, hear, feel, and experience, and often times, forever changed by it. In my work, I am surrounded by grief and loss on a regular basis, be it death, divorce, incarcerated parents, or children being neglected, abused, removed from their homes, placed in foster care…the list is endless.  Every so often, something even more devastating occurs: the death of a child. Despite having dealt with this type of crisis on numerous occasions, it is always one of my biggest struggles in my work.

We all have experienced loss, or will at some point in our lifetime. Whether it be a death of a loved one or a relationship, the accompanying pain is inevitable. No matter how much you try to run away from it, it will always catch up with you eventually. You can try to hide, but rest assured, it will find you. It’s true the only way past the pain is by going through it. Grief must be felt and dealt with before you can move on, and any attempts to squelch or shrug it off will undoubtedly cause it to hold on even tighter.

Being a distant relative of the brilliant Alfred Adler, I am always searching for the “why” in life experiences. The purpose behind everything that crosses my path.  I believe that everything happens for a reason. Whether it be as simple as a poor choice or as significant as a twist of fate, there is reason for it all. When it comes to dealing with loss, what I’ve found to help me cope with the pain is to find meaning. I once read of a man who was grieving the loss of his wife for several years, to the point where it was keeping him from functioning in his life. It wasn’t until he found meaning in her death that he was able to finally find peace with it. He came to realize that, by her passing first, she was spared the pain of losing him one day. Ever since reading that, it’s been a concept I not only use in my work, but in my own life.

A wise man once told me “It’s not the ones who move on from this world into the next that we have to worry about…it’s the ones they leave behind.” I have found truth in his words many times over since hearing them.

PoohThe truth is, we can never spend enough time together here on earth. All we can do is be grateful for and make the most of the time we are blessed with. Winnie the Pooh said it best: how lucky I am to have something that makes it so hard to say goodbye. Wise old bear.

I believe death is not an ending; it’s a change in how we experience someone. We may no longer see, hear, touch, or feel them in the same way, but they live on through us. In our hearts, of course, as our love for them always remains, and in our memories of time shared. When we love someone and experience life with them, that becomes a part of who we are. A part that doesn’t just disappear with death. While the physical connection may be lost, our spiritual connection remains forever. Glimpses of our loved ones can often be seen in our own mirror reflections, and heard in stories retold and words of wisdom passed on. Look for and listen for them, and believe that they are always near, walking quietly beside you. When you hear their favorite song on the radio, sing it/bust a move for them. If there is something you know they wanted to do but didn’t get the chance to do it, go do it for them. Cherish every moment you have on this earth: laugh, cry, dream, love without limits, and for God’s sake…LIVE.

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Some may say that believing in spiritual connections is merely a way to hold onto what is gone. My response? So what if it is? As long as you are moving forward and through your grief, and what you are doing isn’t hurting others, it doesn’t matter what means you use to cope with your loss. That said, the most common regret I’ve found with those who are grieving is the “I wish I would have told them…” At which point, I say, “tell them now.” I often use the “empty chair” and “letter writing” techniques in therapy both because they are healthy, effective outlets that allow a cathartic release and they create an awareness that our words don’t necessarily need to be “heard” by a particular person for us to heal…they just need to be released. It’s freeing…almost like one of those dreams you awaken from feeling relieved and equipped with the answer to a lingering question you’ve been pondering. Whether it be written in a letter or spoken through prayer, in your car, during a run, or simply sitting in front of an empty chair…say what you need to say. Cue John Mayer.

There are many thoughtful words people share when attempting to bring comfort to the mourning. Words fumbled for in an attempt to fill the uncomfortable silence that falls at a time when most people have no idea how to help the hurting. Words that, at the time, we may not hear or even register as making any sense. The truth is, there are no magic words that heal….that is something only time will do. Even then, the question still lies: do we really ever heal after losing someone? Or do we move on aimlessly, forever searching for a way to exist without them?

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Clearly this post stems from my own experience with loss, and while running always provides me with a clearing of the mind and cleansing of the soul, there are times when I must turn to my writing to find both clarity and peace. I’ve found that, through helping others, I often help myself, too. So if you find yourself reading this, I hope my words help you along to wherever it is you seek to go.

May you find comfort in the countless memories you have of your loved ones, and in knowing he or she is at peace.

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Tough Times Reveal…

It’s been said that, in the most difficult times, you will see the true colors of those you care about. This can be interpreted in both a positive and a negative light, and throughout my life, I have seen both sides. I believe in the power of positivity, so I will begin by sharing the bright side of this enlightening quote.

I’ll be the first to admit that being on the receiving end of support is unfamiliar terrain for me, and not exactly on my list of favorite places to be. Since life has a way of turning itself upside down, and every which direction it could take, sometimes there isn’t much choice in the matter. 2014 has been a year of major curveballs being thrown full-force at my head, so I would definitely classify a good portion of it as dark, and even sinister at times. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and in keeping with my “find a positive aspect to every situation” attitude, I am grateful for the strength I’ve gained and have big plans for utilizing it in 2015.

image-2But what’s most important to me, and what I have focused on are the people who have shown their concern and compassion in my time of need. It was throughout this year of major challenges that I found who truly cares and means what they say when they offer “I’m here if you need anything.” I learned who would stick around when the circumstances aren’t the most convenient or comfortable, when all I had to offer was my company, in its rawest, most vulnerable form.

For me, it was the ones who showed up without being asked. Those who listened when I needed to talk, vent, cry, or scream. Those who respected my privacy when I didn’t want to talk or share, who didn’t drill me with questions or feel a sense of entitlement to my personal business. Those who put up with my moodiness and out-of-character unfiltered outbursts of frustration and angst. Those who managed to make me laugh when I didn’t even feel I had a smile within me. Those who took the time to listen to the things I wasn’t saying, and still reminded me of my strength, determination, and willpower.

Untitled 2Those who know me enough to understand the significance of what I’ve already accomplished and overcome in my life, and reminded me of those things. Those who reassured me with confidence that the best is yet to come. Most of all, those who were there when there was nothing more to do but just sit with me in silence while I was at my “rock bottom” worst. I am forever moved by and will never forget their kindness, compassion, and unconditional acceptance. Gena Rowlands summed it up perfectly in Hope Floats: “My cup runneth over.”

Untitled 3Then there is the not-so-bright side of this life lesson. Finding out there are those who will offer their support or help without any real intention of giving it. If it’s not convenient or comfortable for them, they run in the opposite direction, finding every excuse they can to avoid the situation. If it’s not something that serves or puts them in the center of attention, then they have no genuine interest in being there. People who want to know what’s going on with you, not out of genuine concern, but out of curiosity and/or plain old nosiness. People who don’t respect your privacy and think your information should be broadcast to others because they are desperate for a topic of discussion and/or gossip. The people who don’t “get it,” and never will. It’s a sad reality to face, but one that is also enlightening and freeing in its own way.

Untitled 25One of my most engrained life theories is that there is a purpose or reason, a “why” behind everything we do, and that everyone is fighting some battle I may know nothing about. This theory has helped me to be more patient and understanding of others, but I’ve never perceived it as an excuse for bad behavior. Being someone who always attempts to see the good in everyone, I once believed that others, especially the ones who I thought cared, were willing to do the same for me as I have done/would do for them. While initially I was disgusted and angry at the revelation that took place, I quickly chose to let that negative energy go. Not only to avoid falling prisoner to a dark emotion that wreaks havoc on all in its path, but because the last thing I needed at such a difficult time was more negative energy. At the end of the day, the “why” doesn’t matter and no explanation will change the way things transpired. So I chose to forgive those trespasses and instead take away a valuable life lesson for moving forward. Now equipped with the knowledge of who really cares and who is just taking up space, I have adjusted both my priorities and approach to others accordingly.

10407152_889372784467762_2487401037606077668_nI am blessed to have a few in my inner circle who not only reminded me to have faith in the light I couldn’t quite see at times, but who chose to walk alongside me in my journey towards brighter days. As I move forward in this walk, soon to be run, of life,😉 I know exactly where my time and efforts will be spent. For those wonderful souls (you know who you are) – from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all you have done and continue to do. I hope you know, when the time comes, I will be there before you can think to ask.

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Come Back

Starting over. Back to square one. Back to the drawing board. These words can either come in as refreshing and liberating, or provoke feelings of exhaustion and defeat at their mere mention. It all comes down to your perspective, attitude, and above all, how you choose to look at/deal with it.

Of course I’m referring to my own runLESS journey, and everything that comes with getting back out on the road, trail, or any other “fair game” stretch of ground that lies ahead of me. With nearly half of my 2014 having been stripped of my running, struggle doesn’t do justice in describing what I have faced/am facing. Continue reading

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Angel at Mile 24

On November 12, 2011, I ran my first marathon in Richmond, Virginia. America’s Friendliest, to be exact, and believe me, the name speaks for itself, and I can confirm this: they get their name honestly.

DSC_0090It was one of the greatest races of my life, but also the most painful. Not in the usual way 26.2 miles can hurt, but because I sustained my worst running-related injury there. Continue reading

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Running…Gone

“You’re not allowed to run.”

Some of the worst words a runner could hear. Almost as bad as hearing that your perceived great health isn’t quite what you thought it was. Or learning that something has taken up residence in your body, wreaking havoc on everything in it’s path, in turn creating your own personal version of hell. Continue reading

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Runner of Steel: The Sequel

Nearly two months have passed since I ran the Pittsburgh marathon and reclaimed my all-time favorite runner’s title: Runner of Steel. I’ve finally climbed down from my post-race Cloud 9 bliss, which begs to be reflected upon.

There is a saying that there is nothing like your first marathon experience, and in some part, that is true. My first marathon, while one of the best experiences of my life, was also one of my greatest and painful challenges to date. I have found with each marathon I complete that they all have a lasting, yet different impression on my being, bringing with them trials, victories, lessons, and values that cannot be measured or compared to one other. Continue reading

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Injury, Doctors, and My Savior

I must say I’ve been one lucky runner when it comes to avoiding injury. I haven’t had a major injury that has set me back for longer than a few weeks. Dear body, please do not interpret this as a challenge. Continue reading

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Runner of Steel

In one week, I’ll be returning to the Pittsburgh Marathon to reclaim my “Runner of Steel” title. Pumped, pysched, anxious, wired…the list goes on for the emotions racing through my body right now, and so I write to find solace. Continue reading

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Treadmill Musings

Once upon a time, several years ago, after some serious mom nagging pressure, I became a runner. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with the sport, often labeled by friends and acquaintances as crazy, animal, beast, running fool, and many other nicknames I simply take as compliments. They say crazy…I say dedicated.😉 Continue reading

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Seven Months Cleaner

This week I celebrated seven months since embarking on my cleaner eating journey, and I wanted to give an update on how it’s been going and what I’ve learned so far.

That hype you read/hear about it getting easier as you go?  Absolutely TRUE. Continue reading

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