Author: Linda Ambard
Sometimes I feel like a poser playing a part upon the stage. This isn't supposed to be my life. At times, times like now, I can barely recognize the girl I have become. The person I have become was so far from my realm of possibility that it literally brings me to my knees at times. How could a quiet homebody become the girl with a voice? How is it that I am considered to be a subject matter expert in military loss and resiliency when my life before was being a subject matter expert in running, swimming instruction, and youth? Who is this girl peering back?
Three and a half years ago, my life was following the trajectory that I expected. Things were falling into place. My children were grown and out of the house, and Phil and I were starting to talk about where we wanted to retire and build our "death house." Phil's retirement seemed really far away and on the e-mails or in the conversations we had, life was filled with promise and hope. I was content being Phil's wife and watching all of my children stepping into the world. It wasn't as if I felt marginalized, I had grown to embrace being the pillar of strength behind Phil and my children. While everyone else pursued lofty goals and had important jobs, I was content to be the person in the shadows quietly supporting, encouraging, and creating a positive environment that was able to put a positive spin on the military life style.
Somehow that girl is gone. While I know she is there in the shadows, it is as if I have outgrown the woman I once was. When Phil was killed, life as I knew it ended. I was lost and adrift trying to figure out where I fit, what to do, and how to get through the days that loomed large without him. One thing that helped me the past three and a half years was one of the two promises I made to Phil. In the very last moments before he deployed, Phil wanted to have the "what if" conversation. I wanted none of it, yet he was insistent. We had never had that talk before.
To understand the first of the two promises I made, one must understand that running was part of my life before Phil. I ran in high school and in college. When I was seventeen, a girl ran across the United States with her father. I wanted to do the same thing, but my parents understandably said no. When I dated Phil, I told him that running across the United States was my childhood dream. Years later, as the last of our children left the house, Phil said that I needed something to put my energies into. He was the one who came up with the plan for me to run across the United States one state at a time, one marathon at a time.
This was a costly selfish suggestion, but he wanted me to have my dream. When he was in those waning face to face moments, he wanted me to press on and finish those last twelve states. While I am sure that his focus was on me completing as many of those twelve as possible while he was deployed because it would give me something to connect with people and look forward to in the year of his deployment, that simple promise became something more when he was killed.
That promise became something I kept my eyes and heart fixed on. In running, I first found happiness again. It surprised me. One day I was out running and I realized my heart was quiet and I felt a spark of joy. Those races became a barometer of where I was on my grief journey. I was that girl who second guessed every decision and who felt totally adrift. A running promise helped me to bridge my past and my future. Running gave me a focused dream that helped me to lace up my shoes and press ahead in the moments when I was the most broken. I knew that if I could lace up those running shoes and go out the door for even a few minutes, I would feel better.
This weekend I finished my 50th state marathon. That finish belies just how far I have come in the past three and a half years. Nothing about a marathon is easy. 26.2 miles hurts and this weekend was even more fitting as it rained during the entire course- more than four hours that I ran. Grieving is like a marathon. Nothing is easy. At times, the journey seems too long, too hard, and too much, but by staying the course, keeping the faith, and just putting one foot in front of the other, I am hitting my stride and finding my way. Like a marathon, it hurts. Sometimes it hurts so much that I literally want to quit, but I recognize that I just need to keep moving forward the best I can whether it be running like the wind or stumbling one faltering step in front of another.
Now that the first promise is completed, I am considering how far I have come and what comes next. Completion means that one door is closed and there is only one promise left that I made to my Phil. That one seems harder. While that promise has nothing to do with physical exertion, it has everything to do with my heart. My other promise to Phil was to find a chapter two-find love again. He loved me enough that when I protested and made nervous jokes, he stopped me with one simple question, "Linda, would you want me to be happy again if you died first?" It is hard to think about, hard to even imagine he possibility of anyone but Phil, but I recognize how perfect both promises were. Those promises gave me something that I cling to and they help me step forward. I know that the journey is going to have moments that really hurt, but I also know that when I complete both promises I will have honored the love Phil and I had and I will have created a different life separate from him. It is a little frightening, but it is fitting as I press on trusting that my feet will carry me to the finish line that I cannot see. I know it is there and I press on through the raging storms because it will come.