Saturday, March 24, 2012

Grief and Emotion in a Fitness Quest

Well, it's been quite a while since my last post.  A lot has happened since that time that has somewhat derailed my quest to maintain fitness this year.  As some or all of you may already know, I lost my dad to a long battle with leukemia last month.  He put up a courageous fight, but when the body is ready, the body is ready. 

As anyone who has lost a parent can probably attest, the loss of my dad has been quite a blow to me.  Emotionally.  Physically.  All around, quite a mess.  He was the most important man in my life by leaps and bounds.  He was my rock.  While we weren't close in the physical sense, I knew I could always call him up and ask for advice on any subject (especially money, parenting, and cars) and he'd always have a straight answer for me.  Not that I sought his advice a lot, but not even having that as an option anymore is a sobering reality.  The man whose actions, beliefs, love and understanding molded me as a person is no longer living and breathing on this planet?  Say it ain't so!

Well, it is so.  Over the last several months, when it became clear that his health was declining at a faster rate than my family would've liked, I starting preparing myself mentally for that phone call that would send me to the airport to fly back home for his final moments.  I secretly and embarrassingly hoped that he might pass in his sleep unexpectedly so that I wouldn't need to face the last few days and see him in such pitiful shape.  Even when I did receive that dreaded phone call and made the trip home, I thought I'd be okay.  I had been preparing for his death for a long time.  When he finally passed, I thought I held up pretty well for the days and couple of weeks afterwards.  The fact is, it's been very hard.  I think about him every day.  I miss him every day.  I have periods of grief and emotion every day.  Never doubting his love for me, but sometimes questioning whether I did enough as a son to show my love for him. 

For people who know me, it would probably come as no surprise that my dad was not a very outwardly emotional person.  It probably wouldn't surprise you either that he wasn't someone who would participate in a lot of "small talk" and engage in typical "bull-shitting" amongst friends.  He was a no-nonsense guy who always gave an honest and straight answer and rarely let emotions cloud any decision he ever made.  It is said that between me and my two siblings, I am the most like Dad was.  Because of our similarities, I always felt that we had a fairly close bond.  The type that didn't need words to bridge gaps.  I knew how he felt about me without him having to voice it.  I assumed he knew how I felt about him without me having to voice it. 

Though I really didn't want to go back home for my Dad's final days, I am infinitely glad that I did.  Yes, it was extremely painful to see him in such a degraded state.  The big, strong, male father-figure reduced to bedpans, painkillers, and soiled sheets.  Not the way he wanted to go out.  But those final couple of days were, in a word, magical.  He was stripped down to his emotions.  Stripped down to the realization his days were limited.  Bare-boned, blunt, honest, naked, and raw.  While his body was quickly declining, his wits were about him until the final few hours.  The two nights at his bedside in the hospital before he passed, he was making jokes, offering unsolicited yet sage life advice to me and my siblings (as was often the case with him), planning for our future and making sure we were going to be okay.  The day before he passed, all of his sisters (there were 5), my siblings, my mom and I all took turns getting into the hospital bed with him and having what he termed "flesh time".  Warm body on warm body.  Hugging, sharing stories, burying hatchets, and saying what largely probably didn't need to be said.  It was an awesomely painful and beautiful thing to behold.  As difficult as it was, I know that there are a lot of people that don't get to have those "closing" moments with a family member.  I am so thankful that I had those last precious moments in those last couple of days.

So upon returning to Colorado after the memorial service, I basically jumped right back into work.  I had been gone for 10 days and couldn't really take more time.  While they would have been okay with it, I couldn't let my co-workers continue to pick up my slack.  Since then, I've had a very difficult time getting back into the workout groove.  I didn't work out at all while back in VA.  Coming back here, I didn't pick up a weight or hop on the bike for about two weeks.  So that made it about 3 weeks without exercising.  I often found myself completely drained after work.  I'd spend 10-12 hours at work, then hop in the car for the drive home and find my thoughts drifting to Dad.  I'd end up crying on the drive home.  Then get home, have dinner, spend some time with the kids and Andi and then go to bed where my thoughts would again drift to Dad.  He would say I was wallowing in self-pity.  I'm not sure it was self-pity, but it was definitely wallowing.  I think that in some sense, I didn't, and still don't, feel like I should be happy.  I lost my hero.  I'll never be able to give my dad a bear hug again.  I should be sad, right?  He would also say to "get over it, Son.  Life goes on and so should you."  It was in that spirit that I finally mustered the energy to get out of bed early one morning to begin the workouts again. 

To say that I've been faithful to my exercise regime would be a hysterical lie.  I've been anything but.  I'm lucky to get two workouts done in a week.  I keep finding myself wallowing.  I am lacking the emotional strength to give this pursuit the attention it deserves.  It's pitiful.  It's embarrassing.  I need to do better.  Dad would want me to do better.  The positive things I need to keep reminding myself of are that I actually feel very good after a workout.  Endorphin releases from exercise are an amazing way to make yourself feel better.  Also, the weather here has finally started to look like spring.  That means I can get back on the bike and actually ride outside.  I'm so looking forward to the first warm-day ride of the season.  The last and probably most important thing is that I know Dad would not want me to lose my momentum completely because of his death or anyone else's.  He would want me to continue to do the things I was doing before that were making me happy.  Because hey,

Life goes on and so should I.               

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