July 31, 2014
Endurance training is a time-consuming, emotionally exhausting journey. Ask any marathoner out there, and they will confirm that running 26.2 miles will test your mental strength as much as your physical stamina. Even before race day you’ve played countless mind games with yourself to keep going throughout hundreds of miles of training. Sometimes it’s just to get your shoes on and out the door for a run, and other times its to finish a run when all you want to do is quit.
Despite having run three marathons and a 200-mile relay race, I never thought much about what the word “endurance” truly meant until after losing my mom. Just as I find myself counting during long runs, whether it be miles left to go, figuring out my average pace, or calculating how many calories I’ve burned, I find myself counting things since my mom has died. As I write this, it’s been exactly 54 days, 12 hours and 13 minutes since she took her last breath, since I could feel the warmth of her body, since I could last whisper in her ear how much I love her.
I’ve also calculated that if I live to her age, 60 years old, it will be 26 years without her. I can barely breathe when I think about that—26 years without being able to hear my mom’s laugh, have her hug me, or be there for big events like getting married, having children, and celebrating holidays. And that’s only if I live to 60 (which is still pretty young).
After my first marathon in 2011, I bought a silver chain with birthday money from my mom so I could wear a little charm replica of the finisher’s medal they gave everyone who completed the race. To me, that necklace represented overcoming some huge emotional and physical obstacles. I very rarely ever took it off because it was a reminder to me that no matter how challenging something seems, I have the ability to overcome it.
The night before I flew back to North Dakota to be at mom’s side in her final days, I found a ring she gave me in high school. It’s a simple silver ring with a tiny diamond chip in it. The ring stopped fitting a long time ago, but I wanted to keep it with me. It reminded me of innocence, of simpler times, and of being carefree. Something I haven’t felt for quite awhile. I removed the marathon charm from my necklace and placed the ring on it, thinking it would be nice to show my mom when I got to North Dakota. It’s been almost two months now, and the marathon charm is still sitting in my jewelry box while the ring adorns my neck.
Losing a parent is like crossing over into another universe, and watching them die is nothing short of life-changing. There’s a line from a Death Cab for Cutie song that keeps running through my mind, “Love is watching someone die. So who’s going to watch you die?” I think about this line a lot because in my mom’s final days I realized that the ultimate finish line in life isn’t about what you accomplished, it’s about how you lived and who you loved. My mom was a very simple person who valued family and friends above all else. She gave of herself in a way that she was surrounded by nothing but love in the end.
So when I think about my life, and enduring the next 26 plus years without my mom, I want to make it to that finish line surrounded by love. It’s going to be a marathon in its own right, so I’m going to keep wearing this ring around my neck as a reminder of how to live, who to love, and what is truly worthy of the time I have left.
July 25, 2014
These past two years I’ve been unable to maintain this blog. I was going through the hardest thing I have ever faced, and at a loss of what to write that I could share publicly. I’m still processing everything, and have decided that the best way for me to process (other than running) is to write. Many blog posts have floated around in my head over the last two years that I didn’t put into words. Some poetic, some straightforward, some light-hearted and others downright sad. Looking back, I wish I would have been keeping them locked away for sharing one day. Given that didn’t happen, I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be sharing in terms of processing here, but I wanted to get the ball rolling. So, I’ll start with just the facts and end with the hardest goodbye I’ve ever had to say.
In September 2012, a few months after one of my last personal posts, my mom was diagnosed with early stage four cancer of her ureter, which is the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder. We knew the cancer was aggressive, and despite our best hopes, the odds were more than stacked against my mom whose body was already in a weakened state from two other battles with cancer and a series of other health conditions. My mom held her head high though and went into battle marching as strong as she could. She went into remission in spring of 2013, but the cancer returned with vengeance by summer’s end having spread to her liver, bones and bowel. After I got off the dreaded phone call with my mom last August, I vowed to myself that while I couldn’t control the situation, I could control how I handled it and that I would do everything in my power to come out the other side without regrets.
Less than two weeks ago on June 1, 2014, my mom passed on surrounded by all who loved her more than words can ever express. I might write more about that moment some day, as it was perhaps the most magical yet heartbreaking moment I have ever experienced. My boyfriend said to me before I flew home to be at my mother’s bedside, that over the course of what was to come, people would both disappoint and amaze me. I have to say there has been very little of the disappointment the past few weeks and so much more of the amazement. Not only in the caretaking of my mom in her final days, but also in the outpouring of love and support from too many people to count. I’ve been unable to respond to this outpouring given the amount of work that happens after someone dies, but please know I have read and cherished every text and email and Facebook message and voice mail. Sometimes when I can’t sleep, or the tears just won’t stop, or the silence is too much, I read them until it feels like I can breath again.
I’ll end this first post of processing the loss of my mom, Brenda Kaye Casavant, with the hardest goodbye I’ve had to say; the eulogy I gave for my mom at her funeral last Friday.
Mom’s Eulogy - June 6, 2014
To know my mom was to know laughter.
To know my mom was to know joy.
To know my mom was to know unconditional kindness.
To know my mom was to know strength.
The road my mom was given to walk in life was one that would break the spirits and the faith of most of us. But not my mom. She chugged along that road, battling obstacle after obstacle with a smile almost always on her face, and with laughter that could fill even the darkest hour.
She is a woman who when fighting cancer during her first battle in 1979, remained steadfast that she would bring her child to term no matter the cost. That child is me.
She is a woman who during her second battle with cancer and its after effect in 1994, refused to work anything less than full-time as a surgical nurse at the hospital. She is also the woman who during this time insisted on helping my dad build the patio in our backyard, despite how much pain she might have been in.
She is the woman who during her third and final battle with cancer the last two years, continued to take up new hobbies, insisted on cooking holiday meals for her family, or homemade treats for her grand-dogs. No matter how weak she was, she made sure she was there for myself, my sister Jacki, my brother Brent, her husband Aime, her new daughter-in-law Angie, her grandson Houston, her siblings, her mom, her friends, her in-laws, and whoever else might need her. An eternal optimist, she pushed fear aside and remained steadfast in her hope that this obstacle on the road would also be overcome.
Cancer and the other endless array of illnesses that plagued my mom are not what defines her. It’s the way she approached the fight and her refusal to live life to anything but the fullest.
She never questioned her faith or why God chose this road for her. She always said, “God will never give me more than I can handle.”
Even in my mom’s final days, her will to live was there. About a week before she passed, I laid beside her in bed and she said, “I just don’t know what to do. I don’t want to give up, but I’m so tired and I can’t keep traveling around with doctors all giving me the bad same news.”
I took her hand and I said, “Mom, there’s a difference between giving up and surrendering. To surrender takes more strength than anything else in this world.”
And when my mom did surrender, she still kept her kindness and her sense of humor about her. She may have been too weak to say much in her final days, but somehow she still managed to smile and bring comfort and laughter to family surrounding her bedside.
While my mom may not be of this Earth anymore, her spirit lives on in us through the laughter, kindness and joy we can bring to others.
June 12, 2014
October 2, 2012