One of my all-time favorite movies is Finding Nemo. It’s endearing, funny, it appeals to my inner child, and as is the case with children’s movies, it’s packed full of valuable life lessons. Dory the Blue Fish still pulls me through many situations where the thought of packing it up and calling it a day is tempting. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming….” That voice got me through my first half Ironman swim and the bike course as we were pummeled by torrential rain, hail, wind and all manner of adverse weather. (This is also where I was forced to ditch my ladylike Kleenex for the art of the snot rocket. I swore I would never do that!)
In one scene, Dory and Marlin approach a trench. Dory had been warned by a moonfish to go through the trench, not over it. She suffers from short-term memory loss so she forgot by the time they reached it. Still, she had a strong intuition to go through it even though it looked dark and scary.
Dory: “Whoa. Nice trench. Okay, let’s go!”
Marlin: “Bad trench, bad trench. Come on, we’re gonna swim over this thing.”
Dory: “Whoa, whoa, partner. Little red flag goin’ up. Somethin’s telling me we should swim through it, not over it.”
Marlin: “Are you even looking at this thing? It’s got death written all over it.”
Dory: “I’m sorry, but I really, really, really think we should swim through.”
Marlin: “And I’m really, really done talking about this. Over we go.”
Going over the trench seemed easier to Marlin, but that route turned out to be worse, even destructive.
So it is with grief. I firmly believe that working through it versus over or around it is essential to healing. Grief is painful, dark and scary. It’s tempting to avoid it by giving in to distractions. But the pain will be there, waiting to surface, waiting for you to acknowledge it and allow it to run its course. Often distractions can be destructive but at the very least, I believe they delay the inevitable growth that you will achieve by walking through difficult situations, facing them head-on.
I grieved, but contrary to what many had expected, I was not devastated. Yes, I trained for a year for the biggest physical challenge of my life, and the very thing that motivated me to do it was what derailed me. But you have to understand that given how I had lived for most of my life, I was simply grateful for the fact that on most days I can do this without ANY symptoms. I really meant what I said in that message to my friends. To my colleagues at Whitworth University I added, “God always has a bigger plan and honestly, I don’t even feel like I need to know right now why He allowed this today. The fact of the matter is, He did and that’s good enough for me. The tendency will be for you to feel sadness for me and while I may allow you that as a natural reaction and a show of your affection and care for me, I won’t let you live there. This is still my miracle. True, I’m not all smiles at the moment but I will be again, very soon. I would love to have received that medal in just a couple of hours from the moment I’m typing this. But the medal I carry is in many forms; one of which is the support and care I’ve received from each of you.”
Put a pause on that comment about the medal for later.
I hadn’t planned on signing up for Ironman again. I was fine. I was over the moon about what I had accomplished over the previous year. The thought of another year of 4am swim sessions didn’t appeal to me. I spent the next week letting the asthma work itself through, which involves sitting around all day because activity of any kind causes it to escalate. Funny story: This time around, the prednisone made me swell up like a balloon. My legs literally looked like tree trunks. My friend, neighbor and colleague Janine was one of the lucky few who I allowed to see me that way. Poor thing. She stopped by to drop off some love from my friends at work, took one look at me and the swelling was so shocking, her reaction registered before she had a chance to stifle it. I saw the horrified look on her face and she quickly averted her eyes and tried to act normal. I imagined Phoebe in a Friends episode. “My eyes! MY EYES!!!” It really was THAT bad. Her reaction was hilarious and I burst out laughing (hard to do with asthma at that level). She relaxed and we both laughed. She later texted me to see if I wanted to go for some gorgonzola fries. I replied, “Honey, I’m not going out in public until I can walk out the front door without turning sideways. And the thought of yummy salty food just made each of my legs gain three more pounds. I am a blowfish.”
About a week later, I began to feel that pull again from deep inside. “You know you wanna.” I had to question that because I really felt resolved about not signing up again. I was completely content. I certainly didn’t feel the need to prove anything, nor did I feel defeated necessarily. Sure asthma won the battle that day but I had won the journey as far as I was concerned. So this feeling puzzled me. But there it was; that feeling in the pit of my stomach. I pushed it aside and let it brew while I awaited a clear answer, partly in the form of how to finance my quest for another year. I certainly wouldn’t be able to pay a coach for another year but at least I knew how to train and I knew he’d be there should I have questions or need support.
I prayed and pondered for another day. I had to make sure I’d be doing this for the right reasons. All roads pointed to yes, and once I gave into that, I had an overwhelming sense of peace and excitement.
Apparently I’m still crazy.