On my 32nd birthday I had a mountain bike crash. I lay on my right side, hardtail still under my knees, my right elbow, hip and knee wedged into the dirt sideways across the tight, rocky single track. Like most crashes it happened so fast – I was shredding one moment and on the ground the next. I lay sideways on the earth in the cool autumn morning, a mountain breeze whispering through my helmet vents reminding me winter is on its way. Instead of hopping up quickly, brushing off and swinging a leg back over the saddle I stayed rooted to the ground. My mind was elsewhere, as it had been just a moment before, causing me to break concentration and end up on the cool earth. As I lay splayed, banged up, wiggling my fingers and toes and wrists and ankles (I like to call this “bone break check”) I paused a moment to let the tears formed in my eyes fully materialize.
Karen died on a summer Friday, only nine weeks after we found out her cancer wasn’t the kind that was going to be beatable. It was impossibly warm already when the doorbell wrung at 4:30am, Doug standing on our porch, coming to deliver the news we knew was inevitable. Quietly we dressed and drove to the house in silence, where the five of us stood on the far periphery of the living room, staring at the body. How bizarre, I remember thinking, how it goes from being a person to being a body. The following hours and days passed by in a blurry twilight zone of email notifications, phone calls, and tasks to be accomplished while grappling with the hard fact that Karen was indeed gone. I assumed wrongly that because we had watched Karen through the entire process from diagnosis to that moment it would be easier when she passed. I was wrong. It felt as gut-wrenching, as stabbing, as horrible as the day we found out her cancer was terminal. I spent much of the spring and summer feeling a kind of anger I didn’t know was possible: a horrible, dark, deep pit of something almost unnamable and indescribable (when I tried to explain this to a friend she suggested to me I call my anger Voldemort, and despite my best efforts, I did in fact have a laugh). An unexpected side effect of the grief process was that I lost my ability to write. It was as though my creative capacity had been emptied out, wiped clean, lost. I eked out the basic writing I needed to survive throughout those most difficult months, client work whittled down to the most simple of projects, Karen’s obituary, emails. My journal lay blank, my blog lay empty, my days difficult to put into words, to connect my feelings with letters and phrases and sentences. I wondered out loud to a few select people if my ability to communicate was permanently diminished, if I would need to hire someone to help with my writing, as the days and weeks passed and nothing came to my mind. I was as empty as the pages I needed to write.
Later on in August I received a text from my mom – please call me, urgent- and when I rang her from our vacation spot in Kelowna she informed me: your father has been fired, I don’t have any details, we have 30 minutes until it hits the press and I still need to get to your brother, I have to go, sorry, I will talk to you later. I put down the phone and stared and Jon. “Dad has been fired,” I said, the words hanging long and heavy in the air. “I have no more details.” We paused for a moment then whipped open our laptops. Less than a half hour later the story hit the press and we were off to the races: my phone and email went ballistic with family and friends texting, calling, emailing; asking, inquiring, hoping, wondering. Our vacation weekend was over. We sat glued to our computers and read everything that was released. Our low morale plummeted. Something else important happened in that moment.
Detonation in my brain. Words. Sentences. Paragraphs and phrases. They oozed out of the corners where previously they’d been sleeping, grieving, silent. The cacophony between my ears begging to be committed to paper, recognized, released. I jotted sticky notes and calendar sentences. I picked up written projects. I begged for forgiveness for those I’d ignored for most of 2015 while dealing with the craziness of family illness. (I still have many to ask for forgiveness for my absence from most aspects of normal life). I began to write again, small at the start. I was fuelled by a different kind of anger, frustration, sadness and irrational thought.
In 2013 I wrote a blog called, “What I’ve Learned from my 30 years in the CFL“, which had 24, 908 unique hits. From what I can discern from my backend analytics that’s about 24, 508 more hits than my usual blog posts receive. I’d shared and struck a cord somewhere, somehow. Provided a small glimpse into life as a professional sportsperson and it’s less glamorous, gritty, and difficult moments. More than anything, I wanted someone to experience the emotion I’d poured into those words and sentences as I worried for my Dad, my parents, my family.
This year has felt grotesquely unfair. I keep waiting to turn a page, to feel the sadness lift, to feel the happiness and lightness I once felt so accustomed to. I watch my parents wondering, pondering, unsure where their next place will be. I watch my other family find a new rhythm in life without Karen. We wait. We go through the days one at a time, doing the best we can each day.
My Dad continues to remind me about resiliency, he is the single strongest person I’ve ever met when it comes to positivity and ability to bounce back. He embodies a term I first read in The Alchemist many years ago: the secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and get up eight times.
On my birthday morning as I lay on the ground, working to find the courage to get up, I am reminded of my Dad. I’m reminded of Karen, too. I’m reminded of all the people fighting tough battles, facing tough times, working through tough spots. I lay there for a moment, not only finding the courage to get up and ride myself back through the single track home, but finding the courage to keep going this moment and today and tomorrow and the next, finding the courage to keep moving through the toughest time in my adult life, finding the courage to wipe away my tears with my glove, take a deep breath and get up.
After all. Get up eight times.