Three weeks have passed since my marathon misery, enough time to be (kind of) philosophical about it and move on. Marathons are hard, that’s the point. The first week afterwards was a full blown week off; no running, no exercise. It was great, but by the end of it I was keen to get back out. The next week was a three run week, no structured training or anything, just easing myself back in and topped off with a 7-miler on the Sunday. Then it was back to running club last week, fielding questions about the marathon and taking some comfort from the fact that almost everyone there had a similar tale to tell. They didn’t tell me that beforehand though! Other than a Saturday run which included a beck crossing to try (and fail) to dodge a herd of bemused looking cows (no, I couldn’t figure out what I was doing there either) it’s been a good couple of weeks of running.
Unfortunately the passing of three weeks also marks another milestone, the start of my next marathon training plan. Eurgh. I’ve ditched the plan I followed for Edinburgh, that was too much. I ended up injuring myself and let’s face it, it didn’t do me much good on the day. That plan was 6 runs a week, based around running a set distance each time save for one session a week which was varying efforts. This new one is 5 runs a week, based around running for a set period of time (again with one efforts session) with a strength training workout built in mid-week. This feels kinder, and the strength training should help. That was my undoing last time, in terms of injury, I didn’t do enough to strengthen my body to cope with all the extra mileage. The strength training is going to take some practice, I currently have no idea what a “Scorpian” is but that’s what YouTube is for I guess. And it’s going to take some extra discipline, we have a set of weights at home that have been used twice since purchase a few months ago. Ever since the gym membership got dropped I’ve quite happily neglected any strength training, such are the perils of not having a summer holiday booked for this year. I need to get back in to it.
The other difference is the time over distance factor. It’s purely psychological but seeing “3 hours steady” on the training plan feels a lot nicer than seeing “20 miles”. I suppose the danger is that once the runs get longer it’ll be tempting to drop the pace as it gets harder and not push on as much, but that’s a battle for another day. For now, this feels like the way forward. I don’t think I could face trudging through that other training plan again. The main thing I’m curious about is how you plan a 3 hour run to finish near home without knowing how far you’re going to run.
I’ll be honest, I did fall out of love with running again immediately after Edinburgh but a steady reintroduction over the last couple of weeks has worked wonders. I’m still significantly slower than when I started on the marathon training but that’s something I’m going to have to live with for this year. This was my year to conquer the marathon and I’ve still got one go left. That go starts tonight and thankfully is limited to an easy, albeit sweltering, 15 minute run.
I started this blog after we lost E as a way to help me cope, then stopped writing it when it became evident it wasn’t helping. Earlier this year I reread my old blogs and decided to kick things off again to compliment my marathon training for the Edinburgh Marathon as running had been a big help in managing my grief. Then it struck me, I use the word grief a lot. Even defining it as “my grief” seems scary. I understand the principle behind this, and honestly I think acknowledging ownership of it is a big thing in coping with it. But as a word its one which only has negative connotations and to be honest I’m sick of it. I’m sick of how it’s come to define every aspect of my life and how, no matter what, it’s going to continue to do so until the day I die. I don’t want to hear that word any more, and I don’t want to say that word any more. So I’m not. This post will be the last time it gets a mention so lets get everything that plays over in my mind out in one go. In fact, why delay to the end of this post, the ban starts now. This is a post about it, that won’t mention it again.
One key thing I’ve taken away from the past 20 months is people experience it in very different ways, it is an extremely personal thing. I’ve seen a lot of discussion about how living with it is a little like having a grey cloud following you around, always ready to rain down on you. For me it’s not like that, my experience feels more like something from It’s A Knock Out. My life now is about moving forward, passed the obstacles being thrown at me, and a lot of the time that’s doable. However there’s always something tied around my waist, waiting to pull me back. Sometimes there’s plenty of slack there and its pull is negligable. But inevitably the further forward I get the more it pulls, slowing me down until it eventually snaps me back
Time, the great healer.
Perhaps at 20 months in I’m not qualified enough to comment on the passing of time. Perhaps the purported healing properties of time take longer than 20 months to take effect. However at this point I can categorically say it doesn’t get better with time. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Sure the pain isn’t as immediate anymore, but it still hurts. Time masks those wounds but it’s a temporary fix, and not a great one. Time is a bodger.
I realise this sounds a little contrary, but I’m ok with the bodging nature of time’s work. Some wounds are just too deep, and in truth I can’t say I want them to be fully healed. I want to remember what I’ve lost, and more importantly what I had. To fully appreciate the special time we had with E we need to be willing to put up with the hard times as they provide the context. This is where time comes in to its own. What time does is teach you how to put up with the hard times, how to get through the day without succumbing to them and adapt to your new life. Because that’s what your life is now, new. It’s not a gleaming glistening kind of new, and you’d give anything to go back to your old life. But it is new, and you need to learn how to live it because the old rules no longer work.
Having A in our life makes a massive difference. She was the one who made sure we got back on our feet straight after E died, and keeps us looking forward, working to build more and more slack in to that bungee cord. She seems to be growing in to a happy little girl, and I hope she hasn’t been affected by spending all but the first three months of her life being brought up by grieving parents. That word, this time, was unavoidable as unfortunately it best describes how we have been these past 20 month. Thankfully we can still enjoy life with A, seeing her laugh is one of the few times when the bungee cord falls completely slack and you can soar forward without restriction. We’re learning to more relaxed with her, the slightest sniffle or temperature can drag you back and leads to some anxious times until things settle again. And I do worry about her reaching the age where she understands what happened to her sister, and how we make sure we explain this without frightening her or causing her too much upset. It’s sad to think she’s growing up without a big sister to play with and look after her, but that’s our dark spot. A will never know any different and that, as sad as it may sound, is reassuring.
The next step.
I can write all this, and I believe every word, but it’s not straightforward. There are times when it takes hold, triggered by a song on the radio, a memory from social media, or more commonly something A does that immediately sparks thoughts of her lost sibling. It takes time to get back on track again, but time is the key. Time has taught me that when I do succumb I will get back, I just have to put my faith in time and let it do its thing. The focus now is about how to manage those hard bits whilst time is doing its thing.
A week where enthusiasm waned slightly, but still just about keeping on track with everything.
The week begins as always with a dull 3 miles. It was run, that’s all that needs to be said about it.
Hills on Tuesday with running club. I know I’m not alone in this but I find hill sessions difficult. It’s the one training session where I feel like I’m having to work twice as hard as everyone else to keep up with the pack. Some of ‘em don’t even look like they’re trying as they power off in to the distance. However this week I felt surprising good, managing to keep a reasonable pace throughout. My breathing was still a little erratic in places but my leg coped with it. I even had enough left to sprint the last 100m effort to keep ahead of the guys behind. Something clicked during this session, I stopped leaning in to the hill and concentrated on not running off my toes. It made a huge difference. Apart from that last 100m sprint my technique felt better, keeping control of my legs and not ending up hunched over gasping for air. Despite these positives it was almost all for nothing – Strava was down. There’s probably a hundred blogs about that this week, but it was genuinely annoying. What’s the point of running up those hills if they don’t count towards your monthly climb challenge? Thankfully, with a bit of manual upload jiggery-pokery, I was able to add the run data to Strava and finish the February run climb challenge. Two from two so far this year, I think that’s all I managed in the whole of 2017 so a decent start.
Wednesday was back to the morning run. Worked as a recovery 3mi after the hill efforts from the night before. My legs were genuinely knackered so this is when I see the benefit of these short runs, my aching legs perked up no end by the end of the run. It was a struggle to get up and get out though, this was the first time I considered sacking off a run. But, I made a promise in my last blog that I’d be back on the morning runs, so off I went.
Thursday was another run to work along a slightly elongated route to get the required 7 miles in. This should be an easy run, for the most part it’s all downhill from home to work however it’s becoming my slowest effort of the week as I fail miserably at running with a backpack. More organisation required before the next one to make sure I stockpile clothing and lunches at work the day before, meaning I can leave that sodding backpack behind. If fairness, this will teach me for ignoring the advice of not skimping on a decent backpack for running with. It’s my birthday soon, a new one is on the list (or more accurate IS the list).
With another 10k road race coming up on Sunday, my second of the year and another attempt to break the 40 minute barrier, I took and extra rest day to prepare and did no exercise on Friday or Saturday. Well, no official exercise. Saturday afternoon with A involved a lot of “sleeping bunnies”. If you’re not familiar with this it’s a nursery rhyme that starts off with sleeping bunnies, for which you lay down pretending to be asleep, then half way through the bunnies wake up and start hopping around with gusto. As you do. After a while this up and down, jumping and hopping starts to take on a HIIT vibe and left me begging A for mercy. She was relentless, revelling in my suffering as her laugh took on a sinister undertone, laying down beside me saying “No daddy, See-ba-boo” (that’s A speak for sleeping bunnies).
Still, who needs rest when this is the alternative? We never did sleeping bunnies with E, it’s a new one on us. That helps a bit when mucking about with A. I know it shouldn’t happen, but when you find yourself doing with A what you used to do with E it can get hard. That tinge of sadness creeps back in, maybe even guilt sometime, and takes the sheen off what should be a happy moment. She loves it though, she’s getting more and more grown up by the day.
To Sunday and race day. I still had this niggling doubt as to whether or not I should even bother with this. Even with my bonus rest day my legs were tired from the extra running I’d been doing recently. And according to my training plan, todays run should have been at least 13 miles. “What’s the point of going all this way to not run as far as I need to and in all likelihood, not run as fast I as want to?!?!” Still we went, the sun was shining and we’d arranged to meet a friend there who’d set me on to this race in the first place as “a good one for a PB”. As we travelled across to the wrong side of the Pennines the sun slowly disappeared behind the gathering grey clouds. We arrived in the dry, quickly ducked inside to collect my race number only to remerge in to a monsoon. The rain started about 30 minutes before the race started and only got worse. We lined up at the last possible minute, desperate for the race to start. If running away wasn’t an option then we needed to get running to warm up a bit.
The race started. A slightly clumsy start followed through tight congested streets, these soon cleared and I hit my stride with the only concern being how numb my face felt with the cold rain pelting down in to it. “It’s too cold, too wet to worry about times. Let’s just finish this and get some coffee to warm up.” The first couple of miles ticked by and my pace was good. By this point in my February 10k the kale smoothie had kicked in and was slowing me down. First milestone passed, breakfast this time had been a success. “Let’s keep this going, see what happens.” Miles three and four were equally uneventful. I wasn’t checking my watch often, but a quick pace check around mile four showed my pace was still good and averaging below 4min/km. “This could actually be on, don’t let your pace drop now.” As the realisation dawned that I was running a good race I focussed and was finally warm enough to expose my hands from within my long sleeve top. It’s worth noting I was the only person in eyeshot who, not only had long sleeves but had any sleeves at all. Its commitment to the club vest when you’re rocking it in this weather. As I got in to the final couple of miles I was within reach of a sub-40 and more importantly I knew I could do it. My vow to not keep checking my watch went out the window as I kept checking to make sure I wasn’t slowing down. The rain was worse now but, other than the puddles which were now merging to form lakes, it wasn’t having any effect. I had enough left to push on slightly but I was conscious this wasn’t a time to be stupid and risk making anything go pop. “Four minute kilometres are all you need, don’t push it and blow up.”
In the end I got round in a time exactly as planned for the Feb10k – 39:45. I’d done it, a sub-40 10k to add to the list. There, waiting at the end was my sodden wife and well concealed A who had the best spot of all; snug in her pram safely behind her rain cover. (Just to guard against thoughts of cruelty on my part, my wife and A hadn’t been outside all race. There was an indoor sanctuary). Soaked, cold, and hungry after skipping my lovely kale smoothie it was time to return home. A napped most of the way, tired at having been woken up from her bed for the 7am depart, and making sure she was well rested for the afternoon. After all those bunnies would need waking up again when we got back.
With no more races planned before the Edinburgh Marathon its back to normal now for this week. My longest run for almost six month awaits on Sunday, 13 miles. I’m quite happy to be hitting this point, I racked up a good few Strava half marathon badges last year but am yet to score in 2017. Ah Strava, who would motivate me if you weren’t here? Don’t ever go offline again.
Today we travel back to the hospital where E passed away to meet her doctors and discuss what happened. This is a daunting prospect. We start with a long train journey to get us there that quite frankly can’t take long enough.
I don’t want to go back there. I don’t want to see those faces that fought so hard for E, and were clearly saddened by her passing. I have nothing but thanks for everything they did for E, they threw everything at her illness. It was just too strong. They were our heroes for that week. But I don’t want to see them again, I don’t want to be reminded of what happened in that room. I have to work to make sure my memories of E run no further than that morning when it all started. The memories after that are too painful. Of all the memories I have of E, it’s the ones from that room that snap in to the clearest focus. Everything is preserved. The long, lingering ache of not having E is enough to battle with. I struggle to hang on when my mind, my blasted wandering mind, takes me back. My best efforts to block those memories out will be fruitless for now. We are actually going back.
But we must. We need to know what happened as simply put, it’s still not clear. We need to know why E ended up in that room, and why she never made it out. We need to know our youngest isn’t at risk and we need closure. I don’t think we’ll get all the answers today, some will do for now.
I’ve come to realise that for me, the word that will cause the most upset is should. Should reminds me of what’s missing from life, what was taken away so quickly, and what will never return. Should takes away all perspective on the good times in the past and reaffirms their place there; they are in the past and that’s where they’ll stay.
Our first should came fairly swiftly after our daughter’s funeral. We were due to move house the day she fell ill and given the distance involved, this move was halted until she was laid to rest. We eventually moved in to our newly rented three bedroom house to be greeted by a shattering should. That should be E’s room. We should be putting up the sign that marks this as E’s room. We should be bringing out her drum to bang on (only when her baby sister naps of course). We should be worrying where we’re going to store everything. Instead E’s room is the store room, and her things are in storage there. Her favourite shoes, packed away instead of laid by the front door, summoned the most significant tears as they were gently set down in a box marked E and sealed away.
Christmas was the next, obvious should. At almost three this should have been the first Christmas she really got. We’d been telling her about Father Christmas since September, such was our own excitement. Instead we found ourselves working hard to avoid Christmas as much as possible, whilst not completely writing off our youngest’s first Christmas. Thankfully at 6 months old she was too young to see the sadness behind her first Christmas.
E’s third birthday swiftly followed in January. Another day we should have celebrated. We tried, our friends and family joined us in an attempt to celebrate E and for some of the time it worked. However E should have been there. E should have been wowed by her amazing Frozen birthday cake. She should have been opening birthday presents and blowing out candles. Instead we were left to tearfully release balloons for her and miss her dearly. That day the shoulds were unavoidable and unshakeable.
It seems there’ll be little let up in the near future. Mother’s Day next, then family holidays, Father’s Day, more birthdays, day trips. Even silly little thoughts like “I should update the wallpaper on my phone” are now potential breakers as the prospect of a new wallpaper without a new picture of E is devestating. The big ones, such as starting school, are suitably far off for now, but the little ones remain.
That said, in clearer moments it is possible to look past the shoulds and focus on what we have, and have had. We wouldn’t change anything from our time with E, save those last seven days. She brought so much joy and happiness that it’s impossible to imagine a life where she never existed. We should remember this. We have our youngest to care for and give us the drive to go on. Whilst she should have a big sister to help her grow up, she’ll always have a big sister who loved her, who shared her toys with her, who kissed her head, loved a baby cuddle, and always said “night night” to her. We should tell our youngest this everyday. These are the things we should focus on, the things we can use to keep E with us and make sure her sister knows E was the best big sister ever.
I’ll open with the context. In 2015 I became a daddy for a second time and our family grew to four members. Three months after the birth of our second daughter, our eldest became very ill, very quickly and sadly passed away after seven draining, dreadful days in intensive care.
My hope for this blog is that, first and foremost, it allows me to talk about how I am coping (or not) with our loss. I’ve found it difficult to open up when talking face to face with anyone, be it family, friends, or colleagues. I’m overcome with emotion before my words even come close to forming. Inevitably any response to “are you ok?” is dealt with by a firm nod of the head, avoiding all eye contact, and resolutely chewing on my bottom lip to try and hide the trembles. I know there are things I need to talk about, I’ve even been to see a counsellor in an attempt to overcome my reserve, however the result was much the same. All the things I had mentally prepared to say before the session were swiftly locked away behind chewed lip with the first “Tell me about what happened”.
Although this blog will be an outpouring from me, I don’t want it to serve as a blog to generate support for me from readers. I want it to reach those who are going through, or have gone through similar experiences, so we can share our thoughts and support one another. And as much as I would like to think otherwise, I’m not expecting that it will act as a comfort to others in a similar situation. Grief is a very personal thing, and no two people will respond to it in the same way. At best this may serve as a “what not to do” guide -it won’t take long to spot that my tendency towards taciturnity, and a head-in-the-sand approach to dealing with loss (which has served me poorly since 2007 with the death of my mum) is no good. However if it can generate conversations here, I hope they will help those of us who need anonymity to open up, to share what we’re going through and move forward.
I’ll close with a request for understanding of the anonymity of this blog. As may well be evident already from this brief opening, I am not one to deal with things publically. If friends or family knew of this blog, and who was writing it, my immediate thoughts would be towards an urge to delete all evidence of it, and do my very best to avoid all talk of it with those people. Furthermore, if I knew friends and family were reading I would undoubtedly dampen my writing, tailoring it to suit a familiar audience. It is with this in mind that I choose not to attach my name to what I write. My hope is that the lack of identity doesn’t detract from the writing. The underlying message remains the same, presented far more openly without my name attached.