Go for Five

Author: Don Lipstein

Friday, July 17, 2020, started out like any other day. My morning routine: A brief walk outside. Fifteen minutes of Qigong. A short workout that ends with a plank. On this day, however, my workout was interrupted. My son, Joshua, showed up. 

Josh asked if I would honor him. “How exactly do you want me to do that?” I replied. Simple, Josh said. “Push beyond your three-minute plank. Give me four minutes.” I laughed. That sounded agonizing, at best. At worst, impossible. I said I would try, but I’d need help. Josh told me not to worry. He was with me. 

Okay. Four minutes. I believed in my heart I could do this, just as long as I maintained the right mindset, the right attitude. My adrenaline got going as I set my timer. Then I straightened out on the floor. Begin! 

Don Lipstein doing a plank

If you’ve never done a plank, let me explain just how insane Josh’s proposition was. Your body is stretched out like a stiff board. Your weight is supported only by your elbows and your toes, your hands clasped, fingers intertwined as if in prayer. A minute feels like five. By minute two, your core is burning, your forehead is sweating, and your legs are shaking. You’re out of breath. Minute three is torture, each second more painful than the last. Your mind screams. I can’t go on! Not another second, let alone another minute

But this day I had Joshua. “You can do this,” he said. “I am with you.” 

I have no idea how far I was into my plank; I was afraid to look. But I noticed that the pain I normally felt didn’t seem to be affecting me this time. When I did finally peek at the clock, I was surprised by what I saw. 3 minutes, 30 seconds down. I was going to make it! I smiled with elation. All of a sudden, Josh, who had remained silent so far in my attempt, piped in with loving encouragement. “Go for five,” he said. “I am with you.” 

By now I believed him, trusted him. So I went for it. And then…Five Minutes. I collapsed into a broken, rubbery mess. A huge smile on my face. Mission accomplished. Josh had seen me through, just as he had promised. 

This was love.

Don Lipstein next to Josh's photos

Friday, July 17, 2020, was my son Joshua’s thirty-third birthday, but he didn’t live to see it. He died by suicide on March 15, 2011. Still, he was with me there on that morning, just at the start of my attempt at the impossible. My oldest child visited me on his birthday, spoke to me, gave me strength. It was a reminder that he has always been there for me and always will be. 

I often wonder what I will do differently on Josh’s next birthday, to remember the love he and I share. The first year after his death, I used a kayak he gave me for my fiftieth to navigate the rapids of a local river. In other years I’ve remade meals he loved or reminisced on moments we shared together. Sometimes, as with this year, it involves pushing beyond my comfort zone in tribute to the love and pride I have for that boy. Bonnie Carroll has coined a heartwarming phrase, which couldn’t be any truer for me and my relationship with Josh: “Love Lives On.” 

As I reflect on my early morning encounter in July, it is symbolic of the way my grief journey has played out. I’ve listened closely to others I trust to offer me support and encouragement. I’ve learned that the stories I tell myself are vital in how I deal with my pain. They are especially crucial in the times when I thrust myself forward to find comfort in my torment. And at the end of the day, it is the love I have felt since the day Joshua was born that gives me the strength and the courage I need to carry on. 

Happy birthday, Josh. I love you.

Don Lipstein is the surviving father of Navy Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Petty Officer Joshua Lipstein and serves on TAPS Survivor Care Team.

Photos courtesy of Don Lipstein.