Please welcome my very first guest blogger tonight, my husband and Allie's dad, Gary. If you are friends with us on Facebook, you know he had a big race this weekend. It was an emotional day for both of us, but I think it's better explained in his words. So here goes:
By the end of the Spartan Race, I was bruised, bloody, and battered. A day later, I am more sore than I have even been, can't fully move my right arm, my left leg looks like a prop from a horror film, and I'm popping ibuprofen like they're candy. Yet, I had a wonderful day yesterday . . . during the four grueling hours of the race, alone with my thoughts -- I found my daughter again, and got to spend the day with her.
Nothing is ever the same when you lose your child, and it was no different for me and my wife, Sam. April 22, 2011 -- our world stopped when our daughter, Allison Paige, was delivered stillborn. We knew she was gone already . . . a day before, we received the news there was no cardiac activity, but we had to go through the birthing process which took nearly 24 hours. When Allison arrived, the lack of a baby's cry . . . the complete and utter silence . . . was so LOUD, it was incredibly painful.
Our lives changed that day. We survived . . . a combination of our own personal strength and a wonderful support system of family and friends who constantly monitored us and helped nurse us back to . . . normal?
Normal. That word. Six letters, but what does it mean? Who defines normal? There are countless other people who have gone through basically the same nightmare Sam and I have . . . some of these people shut out the rest of the world and pull away from everyone -- doesn't that sound like a normal reaction to you? Some people embrace life at this point, and pull friends and family together like a security blanket. Doesn't that sound like a normal reaction too? How can two completely different reactions (practically extreme opposites) both be normal?
That answer will always elude me. Sam and I have leaned toward the "embrace life" part of the spectrum, but we've spent some time on the other end as well. The decisions we've made, and the successes and failures we've had as a result since then, aren't suitable for everyone. Quite frankly, I don't know how we've done it, but it almost boils down to a simplified philosophy of "You can't change what has happened, you can't predict what will happen, you can only take care of what is happening now." So, that's what we do. We try to take care of what is happening now.
In the past, I had gone through some bouts of depression and taken prescriptions to help. With Allie gone, I knew it was likely I'd fall into a deep depression, and I didn't want the pharmaceutical help. I wanted to get things straight in a more healthy way. So, just over a year ago, I took up running. I was tired of being overweight, tired of having no energy, and tired of feeling out of control -- and running seemed to be a low-cost, easy-to-implement healthy approach to recovery.
It started slow. More walking than running until my body was ready for more. And as I started to increase my runs, started to build up my body, I discovered something else . . . I was connecting with Allie when I was running. I had time out on the road with only my thoughts for company, and I would think about her. At various times, I would feel like I was running after her . . . running with her . . . running for her . . .
The wind on my face became her light kisses . . . the sound of my feet on the ground became her clap . . . the noise of each passing car became her laugh. To the fullest extent that I could, I had my Allison with me on each and every run.
So, I ran more. I completed my first 5k . . . then my second . . . my sixth . . . a 10k . . . a Tough Mudder . . . another 10k . . . my second Tough Mudder . . . and more. I kept running. And then . . .
Then, I lost her. I don't know how. I don't know why. She was gone, and losing her again reopened the pain I felt at losing her the first time. I was crushed . . . my outlet for bonding with my daughter was suddenly useless. I was left with the wind, the ground, and the noise . . . but no kisses, no clapping, no laughing. No Allison.
I didn't know what to do, and I retreated into myself. I stopped running. I blamed it on my schedule or the weather or anything but the real reason. I just stopped taking care of myself.
By this time, I had already signed up for the Spartan race, and I didn't feel it would be right to back out of it. I hadn't been training or running, so I had no leg strength to get me through the first mile, no lung capacity to get me through the rest . . . but even in my darkest moments leading up to the race, I could still tell myself I had the willpower to get through this. Even though I didn't have her with me, I was going to do this for Allison.
The race started, and I went up the mountain. Within minutes, my legs and lungs were shot, and I was slowed to a walk. I climbed over obstacles, trudged through trails . . . the wind barely hitting me through the trees, the ground hard beneath my feet, and the sound of the ski lifts overhead grumbling in my ears.
I kept going.
At times, the pain was overwhelming, and I wanted to quit. But, without warning, I felt a light kiss on my cheek. A clap as I stepped. A laugh as I listened. Despite everything, she had found me again. My Allison was with me once more . . .
We kept going.
She never left my side the whole way. Throughout the course, I talked to her. Sometimes silently, sometimes out loud. We laughed, we cried. We just held each other . . . and sometimes, she carried me over the next obstacle or up the next hill.
Before I started the race, I had told Sam I might finish the race in two hours or so. At some point in the mountains, I realized it was long past that, and I knew Sam would be worried. I asked Allison to send her Mom a sign to let her know I was okay, and I was going to be there soon enough.
Allie and I kept going for about another hour, and then the end was finally in sight. As I expected, Sam was eagerly waiting for me as I made it through the last obstacle and across the finish line. We hugged and kissed, and before she even asked me about the race, she said, "There was a rainbow earlier! I took a picture and I have to show you later . . . I thought of Allie and I started to cry."
Tears started to run down my eyes, and I could feel the catch in my voice. I stopped her and said, "That was Allison. I asked her to send you a sign that I was okay . . . and she sent you a rainbow!"
(For those in the baby-loss community, a rainbow is a symbol of any baby you have after the loss. Sam and I also use rainbows and butterflies for remembrances of Allison.)
So, yes, I am battered, bruised, and sore. But it was worth every drop of blood, sweat, and tears for the time with Allie. I am not a spiritual person. But I have no issues in believing my daughter is looking out for us. Thanks for the rainbow, Allie-cat. I'm ready to lace up my sneakers, and see you on the road soon. Race you! First one to the mailbox wins . . .