When Love Shows Up in Grief and Grace

I fully intended to keep this week’s posts, “business as usual” until sharing an update on Friday. But over the past 24 hours we have suffered yet another devastating loss and it seems insensitive to act as if things are fine when scenes from our week have been filled with hospitals, hugs and home goings. I had just finished a training run late last week when my mom called to say her dad who has been in hospice care had taken a turn for the worst. It was the day before our big race.

He continued to decline throughout the day and shortly after lunch my bestie S was at the door ready to drive me the hospital so I wouldn’t have to make the trip alone. My mom met us in the parking lot and through sobs of grief said, “I don’t think I can run with you tomorrow. I’m so sorry because I know we’ve trained really hard over the past three months. I just can’t leave my dad.” If you knew my mom you would know it is just like her to say something like that. She’s always concerned about the feelings of others despite her own.

Honestly, I wasn’t even sure we should be doing the race at all so I promised my mom there were no hard feelings and handed her some tissues. We spent the rest of the afternoon and into the night telling funny stories, laughing and crying together as a family.   Hours later while we were at dinner, my parents told my sister and I we should still plan to do the race. I think we were both torn as to what to do but we both agreed and made the long drive back home.

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The next day on four hours of sleep, I received a text from my mom that read, “I cannot physically be there with you today but my spirit will be running beside you. I’m so proud of you.” At the end of the text she wrote our family code, a series of numbers, which not moments before receiving those words, I had written on the back of both of my calves.

I was pretty weepy in the car on the way to the race. I can’t tell you how many times I said, “Should we even be doing this?” “Is this a good idea? We’ve had 4 hours of sleep, our emotions are raw and our mom needs us.” I think we both knew we had to do it for our mom because she couldn’t though. Originally, we agreed to do this race because it was on my bucket list. But we kept our training up because my mom continued to encourage us every day for three months.

We sat in the car for a few moments and you guys, I was this close to just going home but I knew my mom was counting on me. I wiped my tears, dug my I-Pod out of the bottom of my bag which I had not used in months and headed for the start line. The first 5 miles were great…mile 6, I was growing really tired…by mile 7, I could see the big bridge just off in the distance and in between Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” the music suddenly shuffled to Jennifer Hudson’s, “Jesus Promised Me a Home Over There.”. It was the only song my sister, the one that was also in the race that day, had added to my mix and she had done it several years ago as our grandma was also nearing the end of her life.

I can’t even explain it but I knew I had to step up my pace. My legs were burning, my head was pounding with a major headache, several water stations had run out of cups, I had already eaten my last bite of nourishment and I was soaked from head to toe. As I passed the mile marker on the way up the bridge I nearly lost it….1600 meters…less than a mile to the finish line…this is where the “mind over matter” part of running kicks in…either you pull yourself up…or you don’t and I was struggling.

Out of nowhere I saw this old man who was barely making it up to the top of the bridge. The wind was whipping around us so hard it felt like we weren’t even moving let alone making any progress. I could only see the back of him but he had obviously had a stroke and had suffered some paralysis to the left side of his body. His shirt was soaked and his white hair had matted around his sweatband. His knee high white socks still firmly in place. He struggled to make it all the way to the top of the bridge but you know what? He never stopped – not even once – and it was because of him I finished the race. I followed him the rest of the way up the bridge and all the way down. We crossed the finish line within seconds of each other and when I turned to tell him thank you for helping to motivate me to the finish line, he had already disappeared into the crowd.

In his place stood S who was laughing and crying and yelling, “You did it!” I immediately started sobbing.

I grabbed a bottle of water and my Gate River Run Finishers Medal and asked S a question I’m sure she had been dreading for the past few hours, “Have you heard from my mom? Is her dad still alive?” She hesitated for just a moment and I could tell she was steeling herself for my response. “Yes, he’s still alive but we need to go. They think your Granny has had a heart attack and we need to get to the hospital as soon as we can.”

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I felt like I could barely move but somehow we made it to the car. One grandparent barely hanging on to life and the other needing emergent care. The ride to the hospital was a complete blur. How do you decide which grandparent to go to given they’re 50 minutes apart in the opposite direction from each other? Ultimately, I let my dad tell me where I was needed most and he said, “Your mom is having a really hard time.” He didn’t need to say anything else.

Less than an hour after we arrived, my mom’s dad passed away peacefully.

A few hours later, my big farm family was all in the waiting room when the nurse reported my Granny had successfully made it through surgery.

Incredible sorrow and yet at the same time incredible gratitude.

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I’ve spent a lot of time with my family these past few days, as you can imagine. We’ve shared stolen moments of laughter, lingering hugs, words of comfort, boxes upon boxes of tissues and sometimes we’ve sat in silence holding hands saying nothing at all.

Through each and every circumstance, every story, every tear and every heartbreak…without fail…love showed up.

Love showed up in a best friend willing to drive to the hospital, in a mom that puts her grief aside if just for a moment to encourage you to reach your goals. Love showed up in a funny uncle who made us laugh and cry with his stories, impressions and animations. It showed up in a family of deer on the side of the road seconds after sharing how it was so hard to stay awake on the long drive home. It showed up in my sister leaving wave 3 to find me in wave 4 so we could start the race together. It showed up in strangers lining the sides of the streets cheering thousands of athletes on and ringing cow bells at just the right time when I swore I couldn’t run one more step. Love showed up in an old man wearing sweatbands and knee high socks convincing me with his disability that I had abilities not yet realized. Love showed up in hugs, back rubs, in “It’s oks” and “I’m here for yous” and “You’re going to get through this, I promise.” It showed up in comfort food, lattes and warm bowls of soup. It showed up in skilled doctors, caring nurses and peaceful passings.

Love showed up through an unexplainable lavish grace, through forgiveness, redemption and do-overs, yes, even in the midst of grief.

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I think sometimes when we show how quickly a spring mantel, tablescape or porch comes together it makes it look like everything is perfectly falling into place when that’s not always the case. We post our best because that’s what you deserve, our best. But we have struggles and setbacks, triumphs and victories along the way just like you do. Our lives are probably not that much different than yours.

I’ve learned these past few days that sometimes grief can wash over you in the subtlest way, while other times it can envelope you with a crashing boom. Yet through it all, love shows up and grace can be found in the deepest of sorrow.

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It seems completely unfathomable there would be an update to the post you just read and yet not 18 hours after writing it, my Granny had a second heart attack after being released home from the hospital. She also passed away. To say we are utterly devastated seems too simple a phrase. The depth of pain we are feeling right now is a valley experience no one should ever have to go through. I know love will show up in the next few days and in the weeks, months and years to come because love always shows up even though right now we are too numb to feel it.

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Thank you in advance for your understanding, support, prayers, and encouragement through this most difficult time.

Our hearts are truly broken.

With so much love for each and every one of you,

CoCo

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