Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Heaven's Proximity and Thanksgiving Day

As many of you know, if you've been reading this blog for awhile,November 24th is the 2nd anniversary of my nephew Evan's death. For those that haven't been following along for a few years, my nephew Evan died the day after Thanksgiving in 2006 from complications from bacterial meningitis. He was a few months shy of his third birthday and his loss has caused my family inexplicable pain and we still miss having him in our life every single day.

My sister in law Pam, my brother, family and friends gathered at a park to release balloons to remember Evan yesterday. My kids and Ryan and I couldn't make it out to their park but we also released balloons to remember Evan at a park near us. To explain to the kids what we were doing we told them we were sending notes to Evan in heaven.

Carmella had no problem with this and wrote a very sweet note telling him that she missed him everyday and hoped that he was having fun in heaven and she loved him always.

Beau, ever my little scientist, commented as we watched the balloons disappear from sight that he just "didn't think it was going to work." He explained that surely a plane or lightening would take the balloons out before they and our notes could reach Evan in heaven. Heaven, he explained, was very far away. There was even mention of Mars and Pluto.

Carmella told him that of course the balloons would make it. Heaven was closer to us than planes and planets, she explained, somehow, to Beau. And then there was much running a muck and it was starting to rain harder and then Beau face planted in the mud and we took that as our cue to leave.

Two weeks ago, when I did my final longish run I found myself remembering Evan and Thanksgiving morning--the day before he died. Evan sometimes has a way of sneaking into my thoughts when I do those long runs. It is okay, most times welcomed even. Not sure why but it can be motivating somehow; the anger and that overwhelming emotion of loss. At the very least, it is a diversion-- something else to focus on, unspool in my head and get me through the miles. And since I am in the taper for Atlanta marathon I can't help but think of my past Atlanta half marathons/marathon races. Especially the one I ran on November 23rd 2006.

I never wrote a post about the race and just had a blurb in one of my posts that I ran it and it was my best time for the course. At the time, the race was such a small, insignificant part of that terrible Thanksgiving day because it was about 2 hours after finishing that race that we found out we would lose Evan forever. But since then, I have found, my memory of that day is entangled in running, or rather more specifically the Atlanta half marathon-- and by default the Atlanta Marathon since the last 13.1 miles of the full course is the half marathon course.

And anyone who has ever run a marathon will tell you the real running doesn't even begin until that second 13.1 miles. Or sure there are those that argue even about it being the last 10k but regardless I think of the first half as just a warm up. (Right I warm up that run wayyy tooo fast. Neither here nor there.) I personally don't even consider that I am running 26.2 miles until I hit the half point. Up until then I am just thinking about getting to 13.1 miles. That is all I am doing. Not at all worried about what might happen after that point. Which, right, might be why I have such a tough time in the last half. What can I say, I am often guilty of not seeing the big picture.

Anyway . . . my point is that I can't help but think about Evan now on that course and so I have wondered how that will play out for me in what can be the valley of darkness already in a marathon. Ever since I signed up for the full marathon I've been riddled with this question.

And on my last long run two weeks ago and throughout this taper this is how I have answered it for myself: I have lit upon the notion that I will tell myself I got through those 13.1 miles two years ago on an impossible day under such impossible duress and ridiculous obstacles that surely I can get through it easily having only run 13.1 miles. Which of course, I'll be the first to admit, that everything sounds possible in theory.

Allow me to further explain where I am coming from on this. Keep in mind my thinking process also has to do with how crappy my races have been this year. I feel like I haven't been able to "suck it up" where as I use to consider myself queen of sucking it up and getting it done in a race. I have not had the best of luck in races in general: bad weather, race disorganization, lack of sleep, injury, sickness, bad weather etc. But really, I've come to realize the Atlanta half marathon 2006 really stands out as a triumph over adversity in terms of a race. (I know. One might be inclined to wonder why I keep doing these things. I sure do. And I don't really have an answer other than I seem to think they are fun.)

Race day here is how I found myself: Even taking out the equation of what was happening with Evan the odds were not in my favor to have a good race that day anyway. I had raced the Silver Comet half marathon less than a month before and nailed a pr at that time of 1:41--an almost 15 minute improvement of my fastest half marathon at the time. Two weeks later and 12 days before the Atlanta half I had ran the Outer Banks Marathon in pouring rain and cold and set a new 23 minute marathon PR of 3:42. Then a few days after the marathon I came down with bronchitis and a sinus infection. So Thanksgiving morning I was on day eight of a two week course of antibiotics. I was definitely better --able to smell again and breathe without hitting the inhaler every 15--but the doctor had instructed me not run or if I did to "take it easy." (It is funny, but I just recalled--upon writing this-- that I actually passed that doctor in the first mile of the race.)

So those facts alone were points indicating that I probably wouldn't have a great race. But of course I still wanted to run-- no matter how ridiculous of an idea it was to run. I love this race. Why? Seriously, I don't know. But I do!

But add to those strikes of why not race that I had a family crisis going on and well, most rational people would have bagged the race. However, we had been given hopeful news of Evan on Wed afternoon, so ever the optimist I went through my regular pre race rituals and laid out my clothes--number pinned to my outfit and ready to go. Though I admit that when I climbed into bed at 11 pm that night that I knew I might not be running.

At midnight my mom called and asked me to come down to Children's-- the latest news was not good. I didn't ask questions or really think but grabbed my clothes on the way out the door and drove down to the hospital. My sister, who was also signed up for the race was there too. From about 1 am until 4 am we just sat and stared at each other and had those inane conversations that seem to only occur in ICU waiting rooms. Finally we were told that we would not be able to find anything out until the neurologist came on duty at 11 am and that Evan was stable.

So since we were up my sister and I decided we would go run. The choice, at the time, seem logical: sit in ICU waiting room or run 13.1 miles. I mean, sleep wasn't even on the table so really, those were our only choices.

Oddly it was the most perfect weather for racing as I have ever had running the Thanksgiving race not that, at the time, I thought it was going to make any difference. I was just looking for a little distraction, alone time with my music, thoughts and doing the thing that makes me feel good: running.

I remember trying to convince my sister to come closer to the front but she wouldn't go any closer than the middle of the 8 minute milers. I wished her luck and walked up closer to the 7's. We were off and as we rolled down Peachtree Industrial towards day light the heaviness of the day hit me. By the end of the first mile I was a heaving, crying mess. I wanted to be done. I couldn't do it. Sometime around mile 3 I pulled myself together and began my mantra that got me through the race: I can't quit cause Evan can't quit. Funny the deals we will make. Like we really have that sort of control and bartering power.

I was so tired and sad and worried and wanted nothing more than to quit. But I didn't and ran as hard as I could that day because getting done would get me back to the hospital where I decided, after starting the race, was actually where I was suppose to be.

I vaguely remember crossing the finish line and knowing that I had a run a great race but didn't care at all. There was no elation or joy in finishing as there usually is; only relief to be done with it.

I found my brother in law and waited for my sister to finish. She had also ran her best time and had a similar race experience to mine. There was nothing to be said and we went to her house showered and back to the hospital where the day further unraveled in its horror and despair.

As I have gotten closer to the marathon, which is now only two short days away, this memory gets clearer. Every run I have done it has edged its way in. At first I have that knot of sadness in my stomach that makes me want to throw up but then it turns into this crazy anger that is like a fire. I find myself breaking my promise to take it easy in the taper and it is like it was that day-- wanting to get it done and over and move past it-- and I just run as hard as I can.

So see, here I am two years later and I still have that same emotion: pain-despair-frustration-thing-that-I-don't-have-a-name-for- and nor do I know how to get past it-- over it, beyond it. But what I do know and have been thinking is that maybe, maybe I can manage it. Maybe even harness it. . .

And so here is what I am hoping: that the thing that gets me through those last dark and painful miles of the marathon will be the understanding that nothing ever hurts worse than the pain of losing someone forever. So this, this little thing, this thing that I do called running? Is infinitely easier. Suck. It. Up.

And with that (assuming I keep this cold at bay that I feel is brewing) know that I--marathon runner 794-- will be going for broke on Thanksgiving morning.

Thanks for listening.


  1. I will cheer you on!

    Go Ms Natalie!

    Hope you have the bestestest race ever!

    Have fun,

  2. Hoping you have your well deserved good race Thursday.

    Run like hell out there!

  3. A most compelling story, Nat. Thank you for reminding me of so many things. Have a great race on Thursday.

    I will think about you guys while I am going for my Personal Worst at the 5K in Marietta :-D

  4. Amazing post, Nat. I cried a little. Best of luck!

  5. Great post, Nat. In case i haven't said it lately, I love you. You will not be the only one thinking about Evan on Thursday.

  6. I believe the loss of Evan will forever be connected to Thanksgiving in my mind. However, it also brings to mind how thankful I am for what remains. Lala

  7. I wasn't reading then, but I definitely am reading now - and I am so, so sorry for your loss. Hoping for a great race for you on Thursday.

  8. Everytime I read about Evan it just makes me cry. So horribly tragic. I do hope that you have a wonderful run this year in his memory.

  9. I can't imagine the pain that you and your family must have felt that day. No parent should ever have to lose their child.

    Go out there and kick that races' ass on Thursday!

  10. Natalie, I have thought about Evan a lot recently, knowing that his anniversary was approaching. What a beautiful tribute to him. Good luck on Thursday. I will keep your family in my prayers.

  11. Natalie,
    I'm not sure if you'll check this tonight, but I'm with FOX 5 News in Atlanta, and we'd love to catch up with you tomorrow at the race for an interview.
    If you get this, could you call us at 404-898-0123 tonight? Ask to speak with Beth Black.
    Thanks! Beth

  12. Wow. Such a sad story. You will always have a deep connection to this race. Have a great race in Evan's honor

  13. Awesome marathon Ms Natalie! Way to go!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  14. What a beautiful post, Nat. Congrats on a wonderful day today, I'm looking forward to the report and pics!

  15. As a Dad of a two year old, every time I read one of your blog posts about Evan it sends shivers down my spine, trying to grasp all of the uncertainty that having a child can bring. Sorry for you loss.

  16. I've got a 16-month old son and am thankful everyday that he is healthy. I know Evan and his family appreciate your spirit.
    Awesome run, by the way. First in your division? Wow! Hope the rest of your Thanksgiving was just as great.