Monday, July 28, 2014

The saddest month so far

Two angels

There's a reason I've been so quiet for the past month and a half. It turns out there are things that are simply too sad to share - in the short term, at least. Dealing with Laura's death was hard enough, but it was closely followed by two more goodbyes.

First, my beautiful mother-in-law passed away at the end of June after a tough battle with cancer. Then, our dear old cat, Ranee (aka Her Majesty), became so ill that we had to put her to sleep just a few days later. (The photo above is of the two of them, taken in April when June last visited us.)

My heart is aching and I dissolve into tears at least once a day wondering how I will get through my days without them. Laura, my new friend, with whom I shared so much. June, the best mother-in-law a woman could ask for - kind, patient, encouraging, forgiving.  Ranee, a gentle presence who accompanied and comforted me through so many difficult days. My life was immeasurably better with them in it.

June was a woman of faith and conviction. She loved unconditionally, gave freely, and pursued her passions. She was a woman who told you what she thought and made no bones about it. When Husband and I announced our plans to marry, her response was to lean back in her chair and say, "Oh, Janice, love him, live with him, but don't marry him!" As it turned out, I didn't take her advice but I always appreciated the fact she cared enough to warn me.

And of course she needn't have worried. As unreliable as Husband may have been in his youth, he'd already learned the secrets of a long and happy marriage from his parents - patience, forgiveness, humour, and devotion. Two weeks before her death, June and her husband celebrated 65 joyful years of marriage. Sixty-five years - a lifetime of love.

When June fell into unconsciousness, I flew home to work and see to our cats while Husband remained in Ottawa. Soon after I arrived back, I noticed Her Majesty was picking at her food and sleeping more than usual. The Thursday evening, when June died, she followed me to bed and lay on my chest purring and licking the tears from my face but, by the weekend, it was clear she was really ill - though she was still purring and following me around the house as usual. By Sunday, she wasn't eating so I called the vet and arranged to take her in.

The diagnosis, when it came, wasn't unexpected. We'd known her kidneys were failing slowly for years. Blood tests revealed they'd stopped working altogether and there was nothing more the vet could do to make her more comfortable.

More than anything, I wanted to take her home for a few days so that Husband could be there to say goodbye but June's funeral was still five days away and there was no way I would let Ranee suffer so long so I made the decision to euthanize her immediately, then held her and talked to her quietly as the deed was done. She died peacefully in my arms, for which I'll always be grateful. When I brought her home, I spent a little more time holding her and saying goodbye, brushed her fur carefully, then wrapped her one of my running shirts for burial.

It's not surprising that it was so hard to say goodbye to my little friend after nearly 17 years together. She wasn't "just" a cat. She was my confidante and companion, my comfort in hard times, a constant, loving presence. I miss the way she greeted me in the morning then snuggled into my lap to be petted while I sipped my coffee, her determination to interfere with my effort to make the bed, her quiet purr as she lay with her head on my shoulder at bedtime, her habit of following me around the house, and most of all her reassuring company when I awakened in the night and couldn't get back to sleep. I know for sure that I'll carry her in my heart and mind forever.

Since returning from June's funeral in Ottawa, life's been a joyous blur of travel, friends, family and work but I feel as if I'm in the final stages of a marathon with two more busy weeks ahead. By mid-August, I hope to have more time for running, writing and quiet reflection so that I can begin to come to terms with all the loss and get back to a more normal routine.

In any case, I'll do my best to start running and blogging more regularly soon. Thanks for sticking with me while I sort it all out.

Happy running and writing, friends.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A run for Laura

I awoke this morning to the terrible news that my dear friend Laura passed away suddenly last evening. Though I've spent most of the day in correspondence with her family and friends trying to make sense of what happened, her death still feels completely unreal. Laura was… well, wonderful. Funny, brilliant, compassionate, loving, insightful, wise and occasionally tough, she brought a warm light to the lives of all who knew her.

The strange thing is that I never met Laura in person. We connected on Facebook a year and a half ago, introduced by mutual friends, and struck up a friendship that, in the ensuing months, became one I cherished. I suppose we became friends partly because we had so much in common. We'd attended the same school (though in different years) and had dozens of mutual friends. We shared a passion for justice, laughter and art. And we'd both been affected by abusive past relationships. Just as importantly, however, our friendship grew from the fact that she seemed such an incredibly kind, generous and open person. She never tired of seeking out old friends or making new ones, and always found time to read and comment on others' posts as well as writing her own. Whenever she sensed a need - for a listening ear, a word of encouragement, a gentle reminder of alternative perspectives - she took time to help.

Which was extraordinary. Because, you see, Laura was a divorced mother and accomplished scientist who suffered from various health issues and worked ridiculously long hours. As the many tributes rolled in today, I was astonished to learn she'd corresponded regularly with dozens of people. Given her heavy workload, family responsibilities and physical limitations, where did she find the time and energy to be so supportive and engaged?

Which makes me feel guilty on top of everything else. Did those of us who called her friend, who drew on her strength, love and compassion, ask too much of her? Did we exhaust her to the point her body was unable to carry on? I prefer to think we didn't - to believe that the love she gave and received strengthened her - but, of course, I can't know that for sure.

What I am sure of is that she will be greatly missed - by her son, who was the centre of her world, by her family, whom she adored, and by her many friends, who will carry her in their hearts forever.

Laura couldn't run due to a degenerative joint condition, although she often said my posts made her wish she could. So when I finally pulled myself together late this afternoon, I went for a run. I ran for Laura - because she couldn't, and because her death has reminded me again of how desperately fragile life can be.

Laura, wherever you are, I hope you are at peace, joyfully reunited with your dad, Johan and everyone else you loved who went before you. Try not to worry about us. The grief your friends and family are feeling is just another expression of our great love for you. Yes, it's painful but it will become more bearable in time and the joy you brought to this world will be the thing we remember best. The many gifts you gave us in your lifetime - understanding, compassion, wisdom, and laughter - remain in our hearts and memories to support, encourage and inspire us for the rest of our lives. Rest well, my beautiful friend.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Race Report: Cabot Trail Relay 2014 - Everything according to plan…not!

It's Monday night and I'm still recovering from what turned out to be another great weekend on the Cabot Trail. 

The weather was cooler than expected but mostly good for running. The folks who ran legs 9, 10 and 11 had to contend with dark, damp conditions that made their runs more treacherous than usual but everyone performed well. My team, the Smokey Mountain Daredevils, completed all 17 legs of the 276km race in a total of just over 24 hours, placing 38th out of 70 teams. Not bad considering the team included so many newbies.  

I ran my own leg (#1) faster than I expected, "making the mat" with an average 5:57/km pace - which I was pretty damn happy about given that leg #1 was just a tad hillier than I expected, with ascents totalling nearly 400 metres. 

Logistically, things went well too…for the first while, at least. Team members arrived in Cape Breton early Friday evening, enjoyed a community pasta dinner together, then headed up the road to settle into rooms at the Gaelic College before reconvening for our team meeting later that evening. Before joining them, I went to a local hotel to attend the mandatory captain's meeting, filled the car with gas, and stopped to take a couple of photos. As I drank in the gorgeous views, I was confident my plan was unfolding perfectly.

My confidence was short-lived however. The first four legs went well…

...but in the midst of leg 5, a caliper on Sarah's van seized and we were suddenly scrambling to make alternative travel arrangements for five teammates stranded on the side of the road.

The next couple of hours are a blur. I remember a lot of good ideas being thrown around as we waited for those who'd been travelling in the van to rejoin us (thanks to the kindness of other teams who offered lifts), and more than a few moments of panic as I tried to figure out the best alternative. However, by the time leg 7 was underway, we had a new plan and everyone was pulling together to make it work.

And, wow, did they ever. With little or no sleep, the two Sarahs and Gwyn ran great races in the wee hours of the morning with terrific support from Ruth and Krista. The late night crew, who faced some of the hardest runs, stayed focused and ran brilliantly with only minimal support from their driver/captain (me!) who was quickly running out of steam after all the unexpected decision-making and tough driving conditions. In fact, by the time we finally rolled into the motel around 1:30, I was so tired, I could barely string two words together and, to be frank, wasn't enjoying myself much anymore.

Fortunately, things looked a good deal brighter with a few hours rest. My teammates and I awoke to blue skies and beautiful views of Cheticamp harbour. As we sat outside sipping the hot coffee and tea David had thoughtfully popped out to buy first thing, we shared our favourite moments from Saturday before jumping in the car and heading up the road to join our teammates at the end of leg 16.

After a beautiful drive along the coast and through the Margaree Valley, we arrived to find them in good form - happy with their runs, enjoying one another's company and talking about "next year". By the time we reached Baddeck, we were all in full party mode, laughing and dancing as we waited for Julian to cross the final finish line. What a great feeling!

Looking back on the weekend, I realize that I'm already only remembering the good things - amongst them, my teammates welcoming me over the finish line at the end of leg 1, Jim gently counselling and Julian patiently listening while I struggled to rework our race plan, Ron and Hughie sacrificing their weekend plans to enable the team to finish the race, Deidre's strength as she climbed North Mountain, the excitement and fearlessness in "little" Sarah's eyes as she headed out into the darkness at 2:00 am, the joy on Tristan's face when he finished his leg in fifth place and on David's when he conquered MacKenzie Mountain, and Sarah's warm hugs and encouragement.

Did the weekend go exactly as planned? Nope. Was it terrific just the same? You betcha! Will I do it again? Well, the jury's still out on that one but I expect it'll be hard to stay away. The Cabot Trail Relay truly is a race like no other.

Thanks once again to the organizers and the people of Cape Breton for hosting such an amazing event and to my teammates for making CTR 2014 such a positive and memorable experience!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

One more sleep!

Another long silence. Well, that should tell you something. Let's just say keeping the team roster full has proven to be a bit of a challenge. Injuries and family duties have lead to about half our original members opting to pull out of the race. Fortunately, we've managed to fill their spots, but the chaos of dealing with so many changes means I haven't been sleeping or training well. And, given that, I'm not expecting much good to happen during my run on Saturday.

On the upside, I'm really pleased with our final roster. We've got a nice mix of ages, genders and running abilities. A few members are old friends and running mates, others are former Devils I look forward to racing with again and the rest are friendly, dependable folks - so I'm sure we'll have fun together.

The weather is cooperating too. After several weeks of grim long range forecasts, it now looks as if we'll get sunshine and perfect temperatures - cool enough for the runners, warm enough for spectators. Of course, it may also be perfect for blackflies but we Bluenosers are tough enough to handle a few bugs.

It's been interesting to watch my psychological and emotional reactions to the chaos of the last month. I've lain awake more nights than I care to admit planning and worrying. I mentioned to a friend that I found being Team Captain more stressful than doing my day job, which seemed a bit bizarre. I suppose it's because I tend to be just a tad type A  (no sh-t, Sherlock) so typically aim to perform whatever tasks I take on as well as possible. At work, that's relatively easy to do because I have plenty of control over how I do my job. However, organizing a team of 17 people to run a race 285kms long is a whole different matter. There are any number of things that could go wrong over which I have no control whatsoever, which is crazy-making for someone like me.

Anyway, as tough as the past few months have been, I'm glad I took on the Captain's role. It hasn't been easy but I've certainly learned a lot - about recognizing when I'm demanding too much of myself and others, about dealing with uncertainty, about asking for help, and about letting go. Now that the hard work is done, my goal is to relax and just let the weekend unfold. We've assembled a great team and come up with a decent race plan (see above - I'm pretty darned proud of it!), and the Cabot Trail Relay is a first rate event. Whatever else may go wrong between now and Sunday, I'm sure we'll have a great time. And, as long as my teammates have fun and run well (for them!), I'll be happy.

Look for a race report early next week and more regular posts as my calendar opens up.

Happy running and writing, friends!