Saturday, November 3, 2018

6 months, 13 days

can we skip past near-death clich├ęs where my heart restarts, as my life replays? all i want is to flip a switch before something breaks that cannot be fixed.

6 months, 13 days. That's how long dad has been gone. In these 6 months I have been irrevocably changed as a person. Of course my life has too. The nightmares still come, but there isn't much I can do about that. I just hate waking up to the panic that he is not here.

Now my life is about the before and after.

It is almost surreal that dad was ever in my life for nearly 33 years. I can't remember his voice and that scares me. I literally count the days without him and I fear the future without him in it. He is always in the back of my mind and I think about him constantly even when I am doing something else. My favorite moments these past months, are the ones where people tell me a story about him or just ask me to talk about him. It helps. There is nothing people can say to make this better, but just talking to me about him makes me feel not so isolated. 

When I raced in Tempe 2 weeks ago, something was different. I had a shit swim and pretty bleh bike, but instead of letting it translate in to a shit run, I just ran to enjoy it. While I was tired, miserable, and experiencing all the crap long course racing throws at you, I felt gratitude. Could I have been faster? Most definitely. Did I care? Not really. I was just happy to be. I was happy to be there in that moment with my mom and Liz cheering me on and with all the athletes on course. I smiled, I thanked volunteers, and I just enjoyed the moment. When I crossed the finish line, it was just a small smile. A smile for dad, for me, for mom and Kari, for my family (and yes for a big PR too). It's always special to cross a finish line, but this one was just a bit more. When dad was diagnosed last year, a part of me knew how it was going to end. I didn't know how I was going to go on without dad and I didn't think I could. Fear was eating me alive, and while I still feel fear in this post-dad world (see above), I am still living. I would even venture to say that I treasure each day more now. Hence when I was racing all I could feel was gratitude. I got to wake up that morning and do something I love. And as cliche as it is, every time I put on that Fxck Cancer kit I feel pride and like a damn super hero. 

I normally hate pictures of me racing, but I love this one. Dad and I used to laugh at my "plodding" since I am not the most gifted runner, so when I saw this I was so excited! I've worked pretty hard at getting better at running, especially this year.

While I am changed forever, a lot of me has changed for the better. I guess this what this crazy life is about. We are here for a fleeting moment, so you might as well be damn grateful for it and continue learn and grow.

Also, happy birthday dad! I went out and bought carrot cake this morning to celebrate!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Running toward the demons

It's 2:15 am on Friday April 20th and I am sitting at the kitchen table in stunned silence as we have hospice call the funeral home to come get dad. My new way of life without dad has just begun. I hate it.

I don't need to go into the details about the week leading up to his death, but it haunts me. Three months have passed and it is still giving me nightmares. I suspect that it will haunt me the rest of my life. Cancer is brutal and robs you of just about everything. I spent 7 days just listening to my dad breathe and I was there for the very final breath. That is some seriously heavy s**t. I can't get it out of my head. That week won't stop playing out over and over again.

By 9 am, I was running.

Maybe it was just the need to do something. Maybe I just couldn't sit in that house anymore. Maybe it was just the shock, but I went to run. And it was amazing.

Everything was telling me to sit down - to process what just happened. Instead, I took a deep breath and put on my running shoes. Since that moment, swimming, biking, and running has helped me process his death and clear my mind. It's always fascinating what a pair of running shoes can do for your soul.

The demons come to me every night. The nights are the hardest. But instead of cowering in the corner, I have chased them back. I wake up and put on my running shoes and chase them from my mind.

Does it still hurt? Yes. I am absolutely devastated over dad's death. That's the problem with life, we all die. But in my sorrow, I have found a "another gear" as they say in racing. The only thing I can do is live for dad - to honor his memory. I wish he was here to see how well racing is going for me. I wish I could talk bikes with him. I wish he would be here to see me race AZ 70.3 in October. I wish I could tell him about all the cool things I am doing at work.  So I actually do tell him. I talk to him when I race, when I am at work, when I see something that reminds me of him.

I learned pretty early on in life that I don't have control of what happens and that it is pretty friggin hard (military beat for the win), but I do have control of how I react. I may not be able to cure cancer or make the disease go away, but I can live for my dad's memory. I can fight it every way I can. And every day I am out there swimming, biking, and running - I am telling cancer to f**k off. I am showing it that I can still live and be happy.

At the ESPY's they award a Jimmy V award. Every year the speeches of the winners are amazing and inspiring. Jim Kelly's was no different this year. He said "Make a difference today for someone who is fighting for their tomorrow." While I couldn't save my dad, I hope that he found peace in the fact that I was fighting for him. I hope that every day I went and lived my life, trained, and raced gave him hope. And as a family, we were relentless until the very end. It is my wish that I can carry on his legacy through racing. I'm not hard to spot on course with the rainbow bike and Fxck Cancer kit. I get asked a lot of questions and I always tell his story. Not only does it keep is memory alive, but helps me heal.

 I think what makes this even harder is that dad had one of the most dangerous jobs in the world and he always came home. Growing up as a military brat, death is a fact of life. I have met several people over the years whose parent did not come home. Even though I am an adult, part of me feels like a little girl again. I just can't get over the fact that daddy is not coming home this time.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

When life gives you lemons, eat them whole.

I feel like there really is no reason for this post other than to talk and ramble. That helps right now. It's been a little more than a month since dad passed and I still feel shell-shocked. Of course now that reality has started to seep in, things are starting to feel real. And it sucks. It's hard to believe that two months ago I could still talk to my dad and now I never can again. It doesn't mean I don't try though. I find myself talking to "ghost" dad quite often. I keep a little picture next to my bed and tell him good morning everyday. I even come home and tell him how hard this is. It's just such a huge void that I can't fill. The grief comes in waves. Memorial Day was, for lack of better words, excruciating. I didn't sleep Monday night and when I did, I woke up to an overwhelming sense of loss. I suspect I will have many more nights like that. But that's grief. It's not linear. I think the scary part is that my dad's life is a memory now and I'm fearful that I will forget. 33 years went by too fast and was not enough time with him.

I don't want to dwell on the sad. If there is one positive takeaway from this, it's that life isn't guaranteed, so make the most of it now. As much as I want to just sit down and mope, I can't. I still love life. I am still happy with my life, I'm just missing a big part of it now. In true Lani fashion, I have decided to come out guns blazing in getting back on track. See picture below.

While the process has been hard and an adjustment (who are we kidding, my life got turned upside down), I have been making progress to getting back to normal. I'm back to workouts, but that has always been an escape so it has been easy getting back on a schedule. I've made some big goals to focus on for next year. Sorry mom, more grandbabies are going to have to wait - one major life change was enough for now. I'm excited to get back to Ironman racing next year. I kept this year lighter since I didn't know what was going to happen with my dad and my body was tired from 4 straight years of it. It's been great getting out to workout with friends again and just getting back outside. 

We love bikes.

I think the hardest part has been going back to work. It's a sense of normalcy that I am not ready for. Also, since the grief isn't linear, getting emotional at work has been unavoidable. Luckily I have my own office, so I can just shut the door if need be. I am very grateful that people have understood that my mind is scattered and I may not be able to do something one day, but be ok the next day. Hell, today I was just excited to get a document to tech edit. As long as I keep making forward progress, the anxiety of being at work continues to lessen. 

Lastly, I just want to thank all of you. The support has been great and I love know dad was respected and that many people cared about him. It makes me (and my family) feel not so alone in all this mess. And finally, just remember - WTFWJSD.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

All the things I wanted to say

I wanted so badly that when I wrote this post that dad would be in remission. Unfortunately that is not the case.

Instead this post will be all the things I couldn't say at the funeral. If I had tried to talk it would have been 5 min of me choking on tears. So this is my ramble that I have needed to get out the past 3 weeks. I can't even get through this without crying.

Was my dad perfect? No. What he was, was human. He took his mistakes and learned from them. I've always looked up to my dad (and my mom for that matter, but you're not dead yet mom - forgive my morbid humor everyone). My dad came from a working class family, joined ROTC to put himself through college, and ultimately became a naval aviator. Not only a naval aviator, but a test pilot. These are the cream of the crop pilots that do all the dangerous things like fly untested aircraft, have their engines frozen midair, break the sound barrier (Chuck Yeager anyone?), and are generally crazy. He survived being a fighter pilot, being a test pilot, and the military in general only to be killed by lung cancer. Since he wasn't a smoker, it's likely the job he loved led to his demise (we have some ideas, more forthcoming once things settle). That said, dad would not have changed a thing if he knew it would ultimately kill him. Point is, my dad lived. He lived an amazing life. He gave me an amazing life and I wouldn't take back a moment of it. Because of him, I not only have a life, I've seen the world and the country. I know what a great marriage looks like. And finally, I know what hard work is. I know what it takes to get to the next level. I can only hope I live up to being half the person he was (and my mom too - again not dead yet :p ).

I think the greatest thing about dad was that he looked past people's flaws. In the last few weeks I have found out about how many careers he has saved, how many has helped start, and how many people he has helped.  When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he didn't judge me. In fact, he didn't even blink. His response was, let's fix this, let's get better. He came to visit me in the hospital and didn't treat me any differently, he treated me like a NORMAL PERSON. He knew I wouldn't break. I think my dad fought for the underdog because he started as the underdog.  And I can't even express how proud I am of him and I hope he was proud of me. I know that is silly, but he inspired me to work harder, to get my Ph.D., to push myself to the absolute limit.

This is so hard to write guys.

Two years ago at this time, my dad got to see me finish Ironman Texas after watching me pass out at Ironman Maryland that past fall. Seeing him (and mom) throughout the race filled me with such pride. Dad got to see me have a massive PR in the bike and the run (minus the stop because of the crazy storm). My first year of college, he flew out last minute to our conference championship to watch me swim. I didn't have a great meet, but we represented "Steamin' Seaman" with pride.

Did I mention my dad was smart? I made the mistake of asking him for help on my quantum mechanics homework once. His response after about an hour arguing, "I don't see why this is so hard." .......................................So yeah. Insert not amused face here.

I will leave you with a story I heard recently from a family friend. Once upon of time my dad was with an A-6 squadron in the Persian Gulf. He was flying back to the ship during a night mission and realized he didn't have enough fuel to reach the carrier. When you need fuel, the tanker is usually the brightest light in the sky. So dad started flying to the brightest light in the sky. The tower radioed him to say "where are you going sir?" Turns out he was flying towards Venus, e.g. the brightest light in the sky.

Well dad, now you can fly to the brightest light in the sky. As the dust has settled, the harder each day has been since reality has started to set in. I'm not one to hide my feelings, as I hope by me being open can help someone else. In this case, I will document my grief in the coming months. I'm not the first to go through this, nor will I be the last, but I hope I can be here for someone who had a loved one taken from them too soon.

There is so much more I can say, but I will save that for the coming months.