Giving up on grief (not a running blog)

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.

The metaphor.

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.

The future.

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.

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Joining the injured runners club.

It had to happen sooner or later. Training was going well and optimism was high. Just 4 miles in to my 19 mile run last weekend I pulled up. My right knee wasn’t having it. At first it felt like my knee just needed a good stretch to get things moving so I dutifully tried my best to loosen it off and set off again. A few sore steps followed, for a moment I contemplated pushing on and trying to run it off, but common sense made a surprise appearance and I stopped. The sensible part of my brain winning the argument with a reasoned “you’ve got 15 miles to go on this run and you’re already in pain, stop now or you’ll only make it worse”. So I did. Luckily this struck at a point where I was only half a mile or so from home so I didn’t need rescuing (good, as my wife doesn’t drive). I made my way towards home, occasionally grimacing and clutching my knee as cars passed so they knew I was injured and not just taking a break. Yeah…. I know. (On the plus side I resisted conjuring up a run name on Strava to justify my poor showing; “Aborted Long Run” perhaps, or “Long run – knee gave up at 4mi”. It remained as “Morning Run”, an unprecedented double victory for the sensible side that morning).

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So much for the long run – not quite the 19 miles it was meant to be.

Deflated I made it home, still battling the idiotic side of me which was determined to just run it off. I explained to my wife why I was back early and received some much welcomed reassurance that there was still plenty of time to the marathon and just to rest for a few days. I sat down to sulk and quickly turned to Dr Google to figure out what was going on. Symptoms entered in to the search bar returned a monumental list of articles and forum posts, all along the same theme – Iliotibial band syndrome.

“ITB syndrome can result from any activity that causes the leg to turn inward repeatedly. This can include wearing worn-out shoes (nope, they’re still ok), running downhill (yep, that’s when it kicked in) or on banked surfaces (I’ve been trying out off-road running recently, that might not have helped), running too many track workouts in the same direction (nope), or simply running too many miles (we have a winner).”
http://www.runnersworld.com/tag/it-band-syndrome

I’ve never heard of the iliotibial band before, it seems as though this is the runners equivalent of the metatarsal bone which David Beckham helped to popularise in 2002. Now I know what it is, it looks like there are iliotibial bands flaring up everywhere.

I did worry that I was pushing it too far with this training plan. Running six times a week, clocking up some pretty hefty weekly miles would push me towards a decent marathon time, but did carry a risk. It looks like that risk has been realised. Following the diagnosis, Dr Google has subsequently prescribed a break from running and stretching exercises. The exact length of this break wasn’t clear, so I initially took this to mean a day and set off for a nice and steady run on Monday evening to test things out. I managed around 1km before realising this was a mistake and turned back to home.

By listening to that sensible side again I’ve rejigged my training plan to give me an entire week off running. That was hard, and in all honesty sticking to it will be a battle with the idiotic side still chirping away telling me I need to go for a run. It’s disappointing, not least of all because training has been going well so far and I was finally starting to feel like running a marathon was an achievable goal. The main thing now is making sure I’m fit enough to actually run on the day, because above all else this run is about raising money for charity. If I can‘t run at my best on the day, I’ll be disappointed but I’ll cope. If I can’t run at all on the day then I’m letting down a charity and missing out on running with E on my chest again. Hopefully, by telling myself that this rest week is part of my training plan to get me to the start line then I can be disciplined enough to stick to it.

 


 

This setback has come at the end of a trickier week all round. Another birthday rolled by recently and once again, as with any milestones, brought out all those emotions that are kept sealed away on a “normal” day. A thoughtful birthday card from my wife on behalf of E was a little too much and while emotions were just about kept in check in the house, the subsequent car ride was soundtracked by one of E’s favourite albums. I’d gotten better at listening to this album in the past few months, but with the heightened emotions it was a little too much and tears flowed for the first time in a while. Thankfully this was before my introduction to the iliotibial band so this was one thing I could run off.

It’s the Shoulds that’ll do it.

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.