Pedal Another Mile

Bicycling, death, life after death.

Filtering by Category: Grief and Recovery

Panic, Running, and yet another reality check.

So it's been a while since I posted. Again, I'm not abandoning the blog, just would rather have quality over quantity :). Warning: I have been typing this over several sessions and now over a week plus of time. Lots of Dave pottymouth follows, at least in act one :)

Here's what's been going on since the last post:

The day after my last post I let Wrigley out at 4:45 like usual and began to get ready for work. At 5:10 or so I went out to get her (remember- I have had to drag her back in now... she knows in the morning I am leaving and refuses to listen). Well, there was no sign of her. I looked in the few hiding spots...nothing. Then I saw a giant hole under the fence and knew she was out. Zen Dave left the building. What the fuck was I going to do?!?!? I immediately got in the car, put out a desperate facebook post, and started driving around. A few friends drove over and started canvassing the neighborhood. My neighbor started posting pics to the lost dogs sites on facebook. At 6am. I am so thankful for the help I got that morning.

Anyway, after two hours of driving, walking, calling the PD non-emergency number, and posting full info to Lost Dogs Illinois, I began to shift to "fuck. she's gone and driving around ain't gonna find her and I need to start making posters and the animal control offices open at 10 and I have two counties to call and OH WHAT THE FUCK AM I GONNA DO WITHOUT HER?!?!?" mode. On the outside I think I appeared much better than I was on the inside. This fucking dog has gotten me through so many tough times, and thoughts began to creep into my mind... "how good you have been doing is REALLY going to be tested" ... "Is this the trigger that fucks me up?" I was not in a good place those few hours.

Just as I was going to call in the troops to thank them and to stop driving around aimlessly, my neighbor across the street backed out of his garage on his way to work. I haven't seen him in months. Certainly not since I left for Florida. He asked how I was doing and I told him that until that morning I was doing really good, and told him that Wrigley got out. He said he was going out the south exit of the subdivision and would keep an eye out. I thanked him but didn't hold out hope - I mean I walked miles, I drove miles, I had friends driving sign of her. So I decided to stop looking and start printing posters. Before I even had a chance to go inside, my neighbor was back, asking me if she was short, black, and with a white underbelly. I said yes. He said "get in. She's right down the block."

He drove me quite literally half a block and said she was walking down the sidewalk. There was no sign of her so I told him I'd get out and walk into people's yards. First yard I walked into, I saw her about 40 feet away. I called her, she looked at me, and ran right towards me. She was soaked and muddy but otherwise just fine.

Holy shit was that something I never want to experience again. I'm taking steps to make it much harder for her to dig her way out, and I decided to pay for peace of mind. Yes, Wrigley is sporting a GPS tracker on her collar now. Crisis averted. I am so thankful to my neighbors and friends who helped me at 6am on a Thursday, as well as everyone on Facebook sharing her pic.

Saturday May 4th was the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition's annual walk (now with a a 5k run!) If you recall, I hate running but said I'd do it in an attempt to raise $250 for the NOCC. Well, I raised $255 (big thanks to everyone who donated!!!) so run I did.

I didn't pass out, I didn't puke, and I actually didn't do too bad time-wise. 27:37, and that included two pretty long stretches of walking as I tried to figure out why the oxygen I was inhaling wasn't doing anything ;). Anyway, I finished 72nd overall and 7th in the male 40-49 age group. Not too bad for someone who despises running :)

The event was a very good one. The weather, which wasn't looking too good early, really turned out well. It was great to spend the morning with family and friends. I look forward to next year's event. Not the run, which I am going to do again (but this time with ZERO training), but the overall day :)

Now, for another shitty reality check. A friend of mine posted on Facebook that while he was out of town his wife passed away in her sleep at the age of 43. There was no warning this was going to happen - she had a complete physical in January and nothing was out of the ordinary. He is understandably devastated. I reached out to him and told him while I don't know what it's like to lose a spouse suddenly, I am here for him to help him any way I can. I know the importance of having someone who can relate to you in times like this. I believe that "my someone" is one of the top three reasons I am doing so well. I want to pay forward whatever I can. Brad - I am here for you whenever you need me. Sara - may you rest in peace... the one time we met was just an awesome evening and one I am glad happened. 

Everyone reading this... hug those you love. Don't let petty bullshit matter. Do not put off things you want to do or experience because you'll "get around to it." We have no guarantees in life or how long ours will be. Buddha gets credited with this quote all the time but apparently it is from author Jack Kornfield. It doesn't matter who said it, it's true:

Lastly, my birthday was a few days ago. I am 42 now! I had a great day complete with awesome weather and a Blackhawks playoff win over the Red Wings.

Overall, I really feel great. I am happy, I am sleeping well, I rarely watch TV anymore (unless it's playoff hockey), I'm actually getting really good at cooking, I am maintaining my weight (something not easy for me to do - I usually either constantly lose or constantly gain). I may be 42 but I feel mid-20s, physically and mentally. Sure, I sometimes forget what I ate for dinner the night before but hey what can I do about that, right?

My bike riding is still going well, and I am over 900 miles for 2013. RAGBRAI is in 64 days. I'll be ready. That reminds me - I have to order a shitton of labels soon and get to work on printing them up for my bike. Please fill out the form if you want a friend or family member to ride with me.

So that's it for now. Next post will be, well... whenever :) Expect the RAGBRAI stuff to ramp up pretty soon. I will also soon be annoying and ask that you donate to SU2C. Even $5. All of the donations from the public go directly to research. My team has raised $12,902 since I started it 2 1/2 years ago. I'd like to hit $15,000 by the end of RAGBRAI on July 27th. Thanks to all who have made donations already - I never dreamed it would get to an amount this high. Team Pedal Another Mile is at #20 on the top fundraising teams for SU2C - that's quite an honor.

Okay, until next time - go live your life!!

A trigger date, but the firing pin is missing.

Today would have been Billy Jo and my 15th wedding anniversary. In early March I was beginning to worry a bit about it. Would that be a meltdown day? After all, the last time I had a meltdown (or really, any type of sadness) was her birthday, and it was not pretty. I was fine the next day, so I knew even if it were bad on 4/25 I'd be fine 4/26. It didn't stop my concern in early March though.

What did stop it was the speaker at one of the bereavement workshops. He talked, as if reading my mind that night, about how many people tell him that they spent 6-8 weeks worrying about a milestone date only to have it come and go without incident. They said they felt bad for giving it so much attention and emotion leading up to it, and for it to be okay once it was upon them. Wasted emotions, wasted worry. It was that moment I stopped all thought about it, and I've been that way since.

As this week started, I knew today was coming. I'm still doing well...I didn't anticipate any issues. Regardless, I decided I wanted to do something nice for someone on this day. It would make me feel good and as a bonus to feeling good I was "hedging my bets" that I'd be ok. I can't be miserable if I do something that makes someone happy, right? 

While in Florida I had sent Billy Jo's doctor offices and staff thank you notes.  I feel that wasn't satisfactory enough. I've been home long enough, enough time has passed, I wanted to really show my appreciation.

Yesterday I picked up gift cards for Panera and delivered them to the Palliative Care office, the chemo infusion center nurses, and the oncologist office. I wrote in the cards how thankful I was for everything they did and that I wanted them to have breakfast or lunch (or both) on me, with the stipulation that they do it today. While no one I knew was available in the Palliative Care office, I spoke at great lengths with one of the oncologist nurses whom I knew well, and two of the infusion center nurses. They were so happy and thankful, and this in turn made my day :)

Yesterday was also the first time I was back at Central DuPage Hospital since the day we left there to transition Billy Jo into hospice care, seven months ago. There were so many bad days filled with bad news over the years in this place. Too many to count.

But guess what? I had zero issues. Zero. I could have been walking into a place I've never been before. That's how little effect it had on me. I knew right then that I'd be fine today. If a building full of those kind of memories doesn't trigger anything, a day on a calendar sure as shit isn't going to.

Today consisted of work, leaving a bit early so ComEd could pick up my energy sucking garage refrigerator ($50!), the first yard work of the year, and in a few hours I will meet friends for dinner. It's a good day. A normal day. I'm typing this at 3:30 pm because I am confident the rest of the day will be just fine.

I am pretty certain I am totally past the grief stage now. There still might be a pang of it now and then in my future... who knows. If there is I'll deal with it. I miss her, but I can do so without grieving. I just miss her, nothing else. Being depressed about it isn't going to bring her back, it would just hurt me. I don't want that. She certainly didn't want that.

That being said, I will keep working with my therapist and see what lies ahead for me. There's plenty to talk about, and I like how our sessions are not totally about bereavement, grief, death, etc. I really am glad I decided to go. I no doubt still have challenges facing me - continuing to see her can only help me in all aspects of my life from here on out.

I rode my bike Monday 26 miles. Tuesday it rained AGAIN. Yesterday I decided it was time to really start training - I did a ride solely for the hills. Yes, there are two hills in NE Illinois, and as luck would have it they're a little over a mile apart. This allowed me to go up each five times. I froze my ass off (it was about 45 and windy) but I felt great afterwards. I needed some no-thinking, leg-murdering, heart rate rocketing bicycle riding, and it delivered. No, my max HR was not 221 as the data shows... the wind sometimes causes the monitor to malfunction. At the 221 point I was going downhill at 35mph into the wind. Looking at the data, 202 seems like it was the max on that ride. Still crazy, but not "my heart is going to explode out of my chest" crazy. It was only for a few seconds. I can do 185 for an hour. 202 for a few minutes ain't shit.

It feels so strange to not be concerned about wind at all and actively seeking out hills that I dreaded doing (even once) two years ago. Unless there's lightning and tornados the entire week of RAGBRAI, it will likely be much easier than last time. I am in a much different frame of mind. "I can't" is losing it's grip on me really really fucking quick.

A first?

I know it's been over a week since I posted an update. Even the Facebook "Pages" app for the Pedal Another Mile Facebook page sent a "where have you been?" alert to my phone last night because nothing has been posted :)

In what may be a first since I started this blog back up, I just really don't have much to say right now. I look at this as a very good thing. Not that I don't enjoy writing it, not that I don't enjoy when readers tell me how much I help or inspire them, but it's a nice feeling to just be content, comfortable, and not giving how I am doing much (if any) thought.

I am simply living my life. 

As a result, this post may not have the same feel to it as many of my past writings, but I hope those of you who look forward to them can still take something away from it.

Work has been very very busy. I'm mostly caught up on everything from my time off but I now find myself in budget season, and that is an extremely busy time for me. April through June are by far my busiest months.  Add to this the big changes on Tuesday with the election results giving me three new bosses beginning in May. I'll miss the outgoing trustees, who have been involved with the Village in one way or another the entire 14 years I have been here, but I am not worried in the least of what this change will bring. There's no point in worrying. I look forward to working with the new trustees and hope they appreciate the job I do as much as I know the outgoing ones did.

Outside of work I am keeping busy as well. I'm still exercising 4-5 days a week. This "spring" has been a shit sandwich, weather-wise, so I am not on the bike as much as I'd like to be, but there's other things keeping me busy. I'm accelerating the "Couch to 5K" program so I can finish by the May 4th run date. I am no good at this running thing. I suck at it and I don't like it at all, but I'm sticking with it until May 4th. Stick with your goals, keep your eye on the prize, all that bullshit :) I also began lifting weights again.
I've slowed down the weight loss, thankfully, but it hasn't stopped. I'm down 52 lbs since Labor Day. It's hard to eat enough calories healthily to stop losing, so it seems to be an "eat a lot shittier or cut back on the exercise" type of thing. I have been alternating between not eating a lot at a meal and eating so much it's a bit embarrassing :).  I have always been a gain weight very easily, lose it almost as easily person. Maintaining a weight is very very hard for me to do, but I have to figure it out.

RAGBRAI starts in 99 days. It's amazing how quickly time has passed since I got home from Florida. I really need some favorable weather soon - I don't want to struggle that whole week. I should be just fine, though.

I am doing more than just exercising in my free time. Going out, seeing friends, etc... I have settled into a good groove. Living alone for the first time in my life has been far easier than I thought it would be. If you recall, I was quite worried while in Florida that I'd not know how to handle it, but I'm doing very well. I keep the house clean, I'm getting better at cooking, I continue to make changes and reorganize furnishings and decorations, and so on. I've even started, albeit slowly, writing the book again. Even on days or parts of days when I don't want to do anything at all, the silence is not something that is hard to handle - it's just a relaxing, restful time.  

I watch about 20% of the television that I used to. I'm even thinking about downgrading my DirecTV package because I watch so little of it. Seems like a waste to keep paying for these many channels. 

I'm surprised at how little sleep I need anymore. Sure, 5-6 hours a night catches up with me eventually, especially on a work week like this one, but that's what naps are for. The difference is I've taken one or two naps in the last several weeks. They used to be a daily occurrence (and that was with 7-9 hours of night sleep on top of it!).  I like having more hours in the day to do things - another sign I am healing just fine. If I weren't I'd be sleeping as much as I could to pass all that time.

Anyway, that's what has been going on lately... and I'm perfectly happy about it :)

One on One

I type this part of the post Monday afternoon as I sit in the lobby waiting for the counselor to come and get me for my first one-on-one session. I'm seated very close to the doors that lead to the hospice patients. The looks of sadness, stress, and despair of loved ones coming out of that wing remind me of what I was dealing with almost four months ago, and reassure me of how well I am doing now, and how far I have come.

I don't remember everything about that final eight days that I did or that happened, like I did the first six weeks or so. It's getting foggy. PTSD? I don't think so. I think I am just going through the "time heals wounds" process I've heard and read so much about in a normal (although possibly accelerated) fashion.

Regardless, I want these bad thoughts to continue being fogged out and replaced with the good memories that were buried in an avalanche last fall.

Billy Jo's uncle Rich visited in those final days, five months after seeing his spouse/partner pass away from lung cancer. I recall asking him how he could even bear to be there with that experience so fresh in his mind. I said I would have experienced "Nam flashbacks" and dove under the bed and curled up in the fetal position for safety. He told me that it didn't have that effect on him, and he didn't know why. He just knew he needed to be there. I can see where he was coming from now. I am very thankful there is no one currently in my life in the same situation Billy Jo was in that final week, but if there was, I think I'd be able to handle being there for them and their family and friends. I do not think I'd be under that bed.

(end of Monday afternoon post)

It's just amazing to me how quickly things can change once the overwhelmingly stressful, painful, and unbelievably sad part is over and replaced by acceptance, healing, and yes... even relief. Relief for Billy Jo that she is no longer suffering and in pain, and relief for me as well. Relief in knowing I was there for her throughout all of this hell, that she always had me to lean on. Relief that for the first time in so so many years cancer is not ruling my life... I am.  Billy Jo used to say to me how depressed she was because she felt like she was a burden to everyone and especially me. I told her that was never the case and I still believe that. She was never a burden. Cancer, on the other hand, can be a HUGE burden. Dealing with it as a spouse or loved one can feel like the weight of a skyscraper is on you. I can't even imagine what personally having it feels like. Speaking for myself, it wasn't until that skyscraper got off my chest that I realized how burdensome it can be. But remember, this is the cancer I am talking about and NOT Billy Jo. She certainly didn't ask for it. She certainly didn't want it too keep coming back and keep coming back.

However, knowing what I know now, what not being under that weight feels like, would I go back and take her up on one of those countless offers to leave over the years? No fucking way. If she were still alive of course I'd still be there, but she isn't. I love her and always will, I miss her and always will (but this is getting easier as days pile up), I wish none of this had ever happened but it did. As a result, our relationship has changed but still very much exists and will continue to. I feel as if she's watching out for me and making sure that I be as happy as I can be, because she wanted nothing less for me. Hell, she's probably still thinking she was a burden and is thrilled at how my life is moving on. It can be a difficult thing to grasp...moving on... but once you know that it's exactly what they'd want for you, it becomes quite easy to do.

My first one-on-one session went as well as I could have hoped for. She had laryngitis and told me I'd be doing most of the talking, which she already knew wasn't going to be a problem as I blabbered on for 40 minutes the first group meeting, of which she was the facilitator :) . I didn't let her down. The hour and ten minutes flew by. She doesn't think I am in the biggest case of denial at all. She really thinks that my opening up in this blog, coupled with my determination to reverse my declining health are to thank for this. She agrees with what I thought was the case... 17 years (the last 13 non-stop) of dealing with all the hardships of a spouse with cancer caused my grief period to be very very short once Billy Jo passed away. She has encouraged me to continue writing, which I plan on doing.

I asked her to be on the lookout for anything I might say that would raise a red flag and to then force it out of me. To rip me open no matter how much of a meltdown it could cause. I want to deal with anything like that NOW, while I still have the professional support rather than later when I don't. She told me at the end of the session that she heard nothing of the sort, but would definitely let me know. We talked about other concerns I had and was assured that I am truly doing everything in a normal fashion. I am healing. I am glad to hear this. Very very glad that the river of denial doesn't exist.

She thinks that I am doing well enough that she wants to see me every two weeks, not one, which I am more than happy to do. I am so glad she reached out to me because I wouldn't have done it on my own. And yes, I still plan on going to group meetings every month. This doesn't change that at all. I think it will be good for me, and I want to try my best to help others in the group who may need my help.

I follow a cycling club out of Texas on Facebook. Why? Well, not to ride with them but because they have some great motivational pictures that apply to life in general, not just to cycling. This morning there was a great one:

Damn straight. And if someone else puts up a wall in your path, only you can forge a new one.

On the fitness front, last week was great for cycling. In addition to Saturday the 23rd, I got out Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. My performance has seen a big big improvement over past years. I don't know what is causing it. It can't all be the new bike. Maybe the key to performance is lack of stress, better health, and dare I say it... happiness. Also, dragging a skyscraper with you can slow you down quite a bit ;)

RAGBRAI is going to be a friggin' walk in the park at this rate. A 420+ mile walk, but a walk nonetheless ;)

This post is long enough so I will spare you the maps. If you want to see my rides you can find them here.

A week's worth of posts in one easy package

:) I can't think of a better title since I'll be all over the place in this one :)

Last Thursday was the final of the weekly bereavement workshops. It goes back to third Thursday of the month now. The speaker was Rachel, and she shared her story with us. Her and her husband David were expecting their second child and discovered that he had a rare genetic defect called Trisomy 13, also called Patau syndrome as well as many heart defects. 80% of children born with this do not live to see their first birthday, and Jason was one of them. The NICU at the hospital was not very supportive, and the family felt rather alone as a result. Thankfully, friends, family, and their church helped them, giving them gifts, books, and support they needed. Joliet Area Hospice was there for them as they brought their son home. Counseling and therapy helped some, but something was still missing.

This is where she decided to have their son live on by doing something for parents that find themselves in similar situations, and began a foundation called Heavenly Brothers. This foundation creates boxes to help parents get through what is no doubt a ridiculously difficult time in their lives. It has taken nearly three years, but in January the foundation received 501(c)(3) status - quite an accomplishment. If you are interested in donating or for more information, the website is here. Note: It has auto playing music so if you're at work you may want to make sure your speakers are lowered. 

Rachael had a choice... let this ruin the rest of her life (and her husband's and young son's in the process) or as she put it, forge a new path. She chose to forge a new path and now not only does her son's memory live on, it thrives every time a new box is delivered and helps a family that needs it. The hospital is also making changes so no parents have to deal with what they did, and she is a vital part of those changes. A giant bureaucratic-filled hospital is taking direct input from someone they wronged. Amazing.

I am telling you about this to reiterate the fact that we all can choose the path we will take. If you come to a fork in life and don't like the way either path looks, forge a new one. It's up to you. No one can make you choose or forge paths - it's up to you.

Before the workshop, I had a doctor appointment to discuss the blood tests I mentioned a few weeks ago as well as some other items. The doctor told me that the stress and depression I was under was literally going to kill me if it had not stopped. I had heart attack or stroke making a beeline straight for me. I would have been lucky to see 50.

Quite scary. I wish I had been able to discover the new me a lot sooner. I know the stress would have been there... it was so total and enveloping that I had no chance of escaping it, but I likely could have lessened its control over me by seeking help, by letting my feelings out, by doing anything other than what I did - hold it all in. I know I sound like a broken record now, but do not think you can handle things on your own. You may be able to, but if your feelings don't change, if your mood doesn't improve, if your health begins to slide, you are NOT capable of handling it on your own. If you don't feel comfortable talking to anyone, professional or not, then at least write stuff down to release the pressure valve a bit. 

Being told that you were heading down a path of doom is a bit hard to take, however, I have reversed all the serious issues I had. I truly feel as good physically and mentally as I have at all in the past 20 years. As a result, I am now either off most of my prescription drugs or tapering down for a month before stopping them. The only one left is Linosipril for high blood pressure, but he thinks I may be off that later this year. If we get to that point, I will be medication-free. I am unsure when the last time was that I could say such a thing.  As if on cue, tomorrow marks the five year anniversary of me quitting smoking.

I was told by a friend that I needed to watch a show that just started this year, a sitcom starring Matthew Perry (Friends) called Go On, on NBC. He is a 40-something guy who loses his wife and joins a support group in order to keep his job. He doesn't want to go, he just wants his paperwork filled out. That changes. Weird topic for a sitcom but it works, and I can relate to things going on in this show. Some are downright eerie. It's like they are in my head.

Here's a clip from the pilot. No, this isn't what I was talking about when I said relating... and the group I am in is not anything like this, but it will give you an idea of the premise

I love it, and hope it gets picked up for another season. 

Finally, last Saturday I got to ride my bike! Outside!! It wasn't too windy, it was about 43 and sunny, and I said screw it - I'm not waiting for spring any longer. Felt great to be back on the road :) - it was a little cold but not too bad:

I also am in week 3 of Couch to 5K and ran it outside with Wrigley yesterday, as opposed to on a treadmill. I still friggin' hate running, but I am determined to try and run that entire National Ovarian Cancer Coalition 5K in May... no walking. After that I can start really getting ready for the big goal of the year - RAGBRAI in late July.


Since I have been home from Florida I have been doing very good. Like I said last week, it's what Billy Jo wanted of me and it is in my best interest do so. I have my moments but they are not crippling. They are small pangs of sadness or missing her that pass almost as quickly as they appear.

It is because of this that I have not called the Hospice Home to schedule the one-on-one counseling that is available to me. To be honest I wanted to stay with Erin, and she is not on the bereavement side of things there. I knew that before-hand but it didn't make it any easier. Add that to me doing well and going to the bereavement groups and workshops, and I just didn't see the point.

As if my mind was being read, I received a phone call Tuesday from a bereavement counselor there. She is also the counselor who facilitates the young adult spouse loss group. She asked if I wanted to do one-on-one counseling. I spoke with her about 30 minutes and we decided I'd see how I do until the April group meeting and go from there.

Well, I gave it more thought since hanging up the phone. These services are available to me, and I think it would be wise to take advantage of them, no matter how good I *think*  I'm doing. I'm not saying I'm not doing well, but if there's a small chance I just happen to be sailing the widest river of denial ever, on a slowly leaking boat, I'd rather find that out now than much later when such levels of professional support may not be available to me. 

I may be asked questions in these sessions that may awake something which hurts, and hurts bad. Again, I'd rather a professional find these issues (if they exist) now, so I can face them and get through them. I've never really truly experienced death before, not to this level, and certainly not with a spouse. I am going blind at this... no idea what waits ahead.

If I have fear of anything in the world right now, it's that something like this could  happen and I will find myself ill-prepared to deal with it, having squandered an opportunity to do so. I don't want to think I'm good for a long period of time only to regress into who knows what.

Additionally, there's some things I may not feel comfortable talking about in a group setting that I may feel more comfortable talking about one-on-one. Everyone grieves in their own way. No way is right or wrong. However, in some cases, especially with those who lose someone suddenly, I may be doing better than they are. After all, I had plenty of grieving leading up to Billy Jo's death.  My feelings and concerns may be on a totally different level than them, and when it's 1.5 to 2 hours once a month where people can let things out, I feel like the time would be better spent on other matters.

Again, I'm not saying this will happen, but I can't rule it out. At the very least I get nothing out of it (highly doubtful in any case), at most it saves me from a future hell. So I am being proactive and moving forward. I called and left a message yesterday to see about getting in quicker than the end of April.

Two quotes...

The first one is paraphrased. It's mostly from Albert Einstein (but he wasn't smart enough to finish it so I helped him ;) )... 
Life is like riding a bicycle. In order to keep your balance you have to keep moving forward, even if it's an inch at a time. 

The second one is from former entrepreneur and New England Patriots owner Victor Kiam...
Even if you fall on your face, you're still moving forward.

I don't see this as falling on my face. If anything, I have gotten myself up a very steep hill but one that isn't over yet because I cannot yet see the summit. This is more like trying to avoid rolling back down and ending up on my ass.

Note: I wrote some of this last night and some this morning. Before posting I heard back and have an appointment scheduled.