This week in one of my Facebook groups the posts have been filled with pictures and memories. A woman who’d been with us in many training sessions died after a brief bout with pancreatic cancer.
Her friends reflected on her ever-present smile and the fun she brought to even the most mundane workouts. In fact, sometimes they missed the turns they were supposed to take because they were having so much fun. She trained with the training groups sponsored by our local running store and she served as a mentor for other training programs. She was always ready to encourage someone else, trying to seduce them into loving running as much as she did.
I spent some time looking at the pictures they posted and yes, she was smiling in every one. She was strong and she was fit, but she wasn’t petite. Still, she was a runner.
As I looked at her beaming face, I thought about how many women keep themselves from such joy simply because they don’t think they’re the right size. They’re afraid of what someone might think. Their fear of what doesn’t matter (what other people might think) keeps them from doing things that really do matter.
When I bought my first tri suit the saleswoman warned me, “it’s going to show every bulge and you just have to step out anyway.” She was right, it does. But she was also right in that I did. Now I’m training for my seventh triathlon. More than that, I have the joy (okay, and sometimes the agony) of all of those races. I didn’t let the fact that my body wasn’t perfect keep me from a perfectly good time.
Lynn was average size with a bigger-than-average heart. And she was a runner.
Thank God for that, for through her running she blessed us all.
I’ve been reading Ruth Reichl’s memoir, Garlic and Sapphires: Adventures of a food critic in disguise. Reichl served as food critic for the New York Times, although you may know her, as I do, as a judge on Top Chef. One of the challenges of any food critic is remaining anonymous. Before she even arrived in New York for her interview with the Times, local restaurants had her picture on the wall for employees to see. Of course, if you’re found out a food critic the visit is worthless; you’ll get the very best treatment possible.
When Reichl began working for the times she began getting creative with her disguises. With the help of her friends she began creating not only a disguise but a persona, crafting a story that fit her character. She enjoyed this rather advanced version of playing dress up. What took her by surprise, however, was how different she felt inside the garb of each woman. With some she felt free and outgoing; with others she felt burdened and invisible.
But she didn’t just feel different; she was treated differently. From the doorman of her apartment building to the taxi drivers to the restaurant staff, her interactions varied widely according to her disguise. Sometimes people were eager to engage with her. Other times people are just as eager to hide from her.
All of which made me think: what guises do we put on? As you prepare for the day, do you put on the emotional clothes of the failure and screw-up who can’t do anything right? Do you wear the jacket of a victim who never seems to win? Do you put on confidence or a trusting curiosity about the world?
Just as Reichl discovered, the people we become affects the people we meet.
Tomorrow morning as you prepare for your day, ask yourself: Who am I today? Who do I want to be? Who do I choose to be?
A lot of things contribute to our failures. We make goals that are too big and too broad. I will never eat sugar again for the rest of my life. (There’s a reason people in recovery talk about taking it one day at a time. Forever is a big bite to take on at once.) They are too much of a leap from where we are. I will start running and do a marathon in a month. They are too vague. I will get into shape.
Good goals are SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound.) If I make a resolution to give up brussels sprouts that’s not relevant because I never eat brussels sprouts anyway. If you’re into such things, here’s a worksheet.
But there’s another reason we drop out before reaching our goals. We define what we’re going to do but we never address the mess inside our head. It’s like trying to drive with the brake on. It’s hard to succeed if there’s a voice in your head telling you that you’ve always been a failure. (Here’s more specific information on dealing with the critical voices in your head.)
As a mentor with the No Boundaries program sponsored by Fleet Feet (as well as in my own journey) I’ve seen how much our heads can get in the way of our feet. That’s why I created MindRight/BodyFit, a weekly podcast or PDF addressing an issue that can get in the way of beginning or maintaining a fitness program. You can read more about it (and even sign up!) here.
The beginning of a new year is a great time to set goals for living in healthier ways. Just don’t forget to take care of the unhealthy stuff between your ears.
If you came to my house (and please do not consider this an invitation), among my many books you’d find an entire shelf or more of biographies and memoirs. I love reading about other people’s lives. As I read about how they faced their challenges and followed their dreams I learn lessons for my own life.
So I want to focus a couple of blog posts on learning from one particular life.
My father, Joe Haymes, died earlier this month at age 87. He was, by all accounts (and not just mine) an extraordinary man. I learned a lot from him over the years, but I think he still has things to teach us.
So I start with the ending.
My father had Pulmonary Fibrosis, a progressive lung disease in which supple lungs gradually grow hard and unable to take in oxygen, probably the result of nearly 30 years of smoking, a habit he began in the war. At the end, he also suffered from dementia. The dementia really began after my mother’s death and I am convinced that after a lifetime together, his mind could not accept being in a world where she was not.
In January he began going downhill sharply. He also started to tell us he was dying.
Lesson # 1 – Listen to what dying people tell you. When Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (EKR) began her work, part of what was ground-breaking (and scandalous at the time) was that she listened to people talk about dying. Before that dying patients were shuffled off into far corners of the hospital where they could be safely ignored.
When my father began saying, “I’m dying,” some of his caregivers became upset and told him not to talk like that. Because of my work and my training, I knew that it was important to pay attention and to begin preparing for the final stages. He was telling us what was coming.
Lesson #2 – Listen for symbolic language. After my father had been moved into the nursing care unit, he asked me one night, “Do I need to pack for my journey?” It took me a few seconds to realize what he was asking, and I reassured him that no, he had everything he needed. He smiled and relaxed.
EKR used to tell stories of families who tried to correct patients who told them that they were going home the next day. The families didn’t want the patients to be disappointed when they were unable to leave the hospital. But, of course, in a deeper sense going home is exactly what they did.
Lesson #3 – Sometimes dying is a lot like birthing. Over the last weeks as I sat by my father’s bedside, I realized I felt a lot like a midwife. Now I’ve never actually been there when someone was giving birth (well, there was that one New Year’s eve party that wound up moving into the maternity waiting room, but I digress.) Even so, it seemed so similar to me.
We were waiting for it to be time, a time no one could predict or control. I couldn’t make it happen or not happen. All I could was sit and tend to those elementary needs – a sip of water, rubbing his back, sharing a chocolate chip cookie, reassuring him. I felt like a midwife.
Dying seemed a lot like birthing, and as a Christian, that is exactly true. We believe that death is not an ending but a transition. There are times when our faith demands of us a dying as a gateway to a birthing – and in the end our bodies get in on the action as well.
Lesson #4 – Sometimes death is a friend. After being moved to nursing care, my father developed pneumonia. “I’ll call the doctor about prescribing antibiotics,” the nurse said. “No,” I stopped her. “If you cure this, he is still dying of lung disease.” Actually, pneumonia was known as the old person’s friend because when they were ill and frail with no hope of better, it came in and ended their suffering.
There is a temptation to do a medical intervention just because we can. We feel as if we are being mean or heartless or abandoning them if we do not do everything that can possibly be done (which these days is a lot.)
But we were not made to live forever. At least for now, all of us will come face to face with that point at which our bodies have gone as far as they can go. Even so, with modern medicine, we can be kept here beyond that point. Beyond the point of life having any meaning or value, the point at which there is only pain and discomfort. There comes a time when the most loving thing we can do is to let someone die as their body needs to die.
Lesson #4 – Hospice is wonderful. While Hospice had been involved in my dad’s care for several months, for the last week of his life he had the gift of being at the Kate B. Reynolds Hospice home in Winston-Salem. When he first arrived, the doctor announced that they were taking him off all medicine except what was needed to keep him comfortable. (I mean, really – did we care if he had high cholesterol at that point?)
They took it as their mission to make him comfortable and did not rest until they had the right combination of medication that allowed him to be peaceful. They also took it as their mission to care for me and other family members who were present.
I’ve occasionally heard older folks say they didn’t want to go to hospice because “my friend was there and they wouldn’t even give her food and water and that’s just cruel.” They took my dad off food and water for the last couple of days as well but not because they were cruel. It was because they understood that one of the ways that the body prepares for the end of life is to start disengaging from life. The patient no longer wants food or water. They are moving beyond those things. The patient isn’t suffering hunger. They no longer need those appetites.
As I see it, the purpose of hospice is to create a place where a person may be gently held as they make this last and maybe most sacred journey, a place where the body is allowed the grace of doing what it needs to do with the only intervention being for comfort. It is also a place where loved ones are held, sometimes literally as well as metaphorically. Families are given all of the support they need so that they can focus on the holy task of supporting their loved one.
For me, it was a place where I could relax and just be present with my father. And that is a priceless gift.
Next time we’ll have a little lighter look as we learn from a childhood in which adventures were had.
I’ve been checking Facebook a little more eagerly these days. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the updates from all of my friends. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the videos of dogs singing and cats exacting revenge. But there’s something a little more important – no, a LOT more important going on these days.
I woke up one morning to the news that my friend was going in for a heart transplant. Since he’s a Welshman, I took it as a good sign that he got his new heart on St. David’s Day, the patron saint of Wales. I’ve not known this person for a long time but to know him is to love him and appreciate him. He has met challenge after challenge with strength, resolution and an infectious grace. He speaks of the blessing he’s found in our faith community but I am quite sure that we have received from him far more than we’ve given.
According to the updates, so far so good. With a new heart, he has a new chance at life. And we have a renewed chance to be blessed by the gift of him in our midst.
But my friend’s story wasn’t the only big thing happening in the last week. Someone, somewhere had to reach through their own shock and grief and loss to give the okay. Someone made the unimaginable decision to give up the heart of their loved one so that my friend could have a chance at life. I’m sure it wasn’t only a heart. Chances are that a liver, kidneys, eyes, perhaps even lungs and pancreas were also harvested and sent off to be transplanted into the bodies of other people who were down to just this last hope.
My friend isn’t the only one I’ve known who’s received a transplant. Many years ago a kidney transplant enabled a friend to realize her dream of becoming a mother, allowing her to live to adopt a baby girl. A pancreatic transplant enabled my cousin, who’d battled severe and unpredictable diabetes since childhood, to have years of life without a constant shadow hanging over her head.
The joy of all of these transplants has been tempered by the realization that they are only possible through the death of another. That’s still the case. Maybe one day we’ll be able to grow organs, but we’re not there yet. There is only one hope for people who wait; that somewhere a family will be brave enough and selfless enough to give the word to go ahead, to share the physical body of their loved one with those in need. No greater gift can be imagined.
Some people decline because they cannot bear the thought of their loved one being cut open. But if you’ve ever gone to a viewing at a funeral home, you know that after death the body is but a shell. A shell to be treated with respect, to be sure, but a shell that no longer houses the true soul and spirit of the person you loved. Some people fear that if we agree, then our loved one somehow won’t be able to enter heaven without a functioning heart or kidney or liver. Really? It seems that this would be the least of God’s challenges. If God can handle the whole eternal life thing, I think God can handle the details.
The decision is hard because it is the first acknowledgement that your loved one is not coming back to you. It is the first of the final steps. But sometimes it is hard because you have not talked about it. You know how you feel – but what would they want?
As we move through the Lenten season, we journey towards remembering the gift of a life, a selfless and loving gift. What better time to have conversations with our own loved ones about our wishes in such a situation? Make it clear to them that your wish is that if anything can be used, then allow your body to be used to give life. With any luck, we’ll all live such long lives that our bodies will be quite used up by the end. But if that’s not the case, we have a chance to change someone else’s life – forever.
The article has some very good information about how to have a healthy lifestyle, but I was amazed by this blanket (and inaccurate) statement:
Depression is a lifelong, chronic condition, and it needs to be maintained like any other disease.
I’m sorry, but that’s just wrong. I’ve spent a lot of time working with people who are depressed. In many, if not most of the cases the depression is actually a strange sort of gift. It’s a warning light to let them know that something is wrong in their lives. It may be a relationship that needs addressing. Or it may be time to pursue that dream that they’ve put off for too long.
The depression may be a signal that it’s time to change an internal dialogue that keeps a person beaten down and feeling bad about themselves. It maybe time to give up the old family rules and roles that dictated who succeeded and who failed.
Depression may point out that how you’re living your life doesn’t match up to who and what you want to be. It may be the cry from your body and soul that it’s time to take care of yourself.
Depression may also be the indicator that it’s time to heal very old wounds. It may be time to finally grieve that loss you’ve not been able to acknowledge, much less grieve. It maybe time to deal with the fact that not only was your childhood not “not that bad,” there were times that were just plain abusive. Many times I see that depression in an adult is actually the cry of a hurt and scared child who has been living in that adult body.
Here’s the danger in promoting depression simply as “a chronic disease like diabetes.” When we think of depression in that way, we don’t take the time and do the work to hear what it is actually saying. We may band-aid the pain but never address the cause. I encourage you to follow the lifestyle tips in the article, but not because you’re trying to keep a terrible disease at bay. Do them because you’re trying to live the healthiest and best life possible.
When you change how you think about such a thing, it’s amazing how much difference it makes.
So two mornings a week I’m helping with a training program sponsored by our local YMCA and run by Fleet Feet sports. I’ve helped with this program before, helping people move from being inactive to completing a 5K race, and I love it.
This time is a little different. One difference is that we’re meeting in the morning. Another difference is that one day a week, the TV cameras are there. Morning show personalities from our local TV station are participating in a weight loss challenge, and one of the things that they’re doing is participating in our program.
On the day of our initial information meeting, I came dressed in my running clothes. Before the meeting I’d been across the street, doing speed work on the track. I was sweaty. My hair, dirty before the run, now had the benefit of being frizzy and sweat soaked as well.
After the presentation ended a couple of us were talking together about how much we did not want to be on TV. The words were no more out of our mouths before a microphone (and camera) was in my face. “Would you share your story?” the reporter asked.
I took comfort in the hope that they would not use it. But after a day or two I started getting messages on my Facebook wall: “Saw you on TV!”
My first thought was to be embarrassed. I knew I looked a fright (and it wasn’t even Halloween yet!) But then I kept thinking…
When a football player is interviewed after a game, the last thing on his mind is how his hair looks. I’ve never known of a player who ducked an interview because he hadn’t washed his hair yet. It doesn’t matter. It’s not the point.
We who are women are often focused on the wrong things. We focus on all that is wrong with our bodies instead of all that is right. How we look is always the trump card that carries more weight (no pun intended) than everything else. A few years ago I could not move my left leg, and now I run. And I was worried about my hair?
I realized that I just needed to get over it. When I run or work out, my hair does get messed up. And it doesn’t matter. The point isn’t how good I look. The point is profound gratitude that I can move, that I can run. My body is doing what it’s supposed to do.
If I’m booked for a TV interview, I’ll do the hair and make-up routine. But if you catch me on the run, you’re going to catch me as I am. And that’s perfectly fine by me.