About my Valentine

About my Valentine

There are circumstances every once in a while that make us pause and think about our lives and more specifically our mortality; those times in which we remember what’s truly important and reevaluate why we put things off for the right time. Those circumstances can be instances of actual life or death on the line, and others are less serious reminders of how off the rails something could go. In either case we are left with the reminder that life is indeed short and can change in an instant. 

Not long after we got back from our trip to warm, sunny, southern California last week, Kurt came down with what we now know was the flu. Thankfully he had his flu shot (I have never gotten a flu shot and somehow didn’t get sick, but that’s a discussion for another day). I am glad he got the shot as the virus seemed to pass quickly and when I left for work Saturday morning he seemed to be much, much better.

Sunday morning we were in the ER. I honestly thought they were going to pump him with fluids and perhaps antibiotics and send him home. It was a little more serious. Whether from the flu or a cough, the rhythm of his heart was thrown off and ultimately they needed to shock it back. Various tests and then scheduling the procedure took sometime and he wound up spending two and half days in the hospital. He’s now home and everything is returning to normal. He was even told once all the flu symptoms cleared out – lingering cough and congestion – he could get back to running. All good. But the experience left us both in a state of contemplation.

“It’s easy to see how people wind up in the hospital and never leave,” he said at one point. We both knew from the experiences we each had caring for our parents as they aged how often one could arrive in the ER for one issue and be found to have other complications. And that was just it. While we recalled experiences in caring for our parents we were facing the reality that it was now one of us.

I was sensitive to the vulnerability he may have felt not being completely  in control and giving up some of that control to me. This was the first time as a couple we were faced with potential medical decisions. I felt his love deeply and the trust he placed in me, which served to strengthen those feeling I have for him. I also significantly missed not having him at home, something I perhaps had been taking for granted.

Spending two nights alone in the townhome we share was weird. Until last August this had been his place. I’ve had some difficulty feeling completely at home there. While I thoroughly enjoy being there, it has still felt like his place. I’ve left him in complete charge of maintaining the home and taking care of me. That wasn’t easy for me when we first started dating, but since I moved out here, I let the pendulum swing far in the other direction.

This week, whether he liked it or not, I got to take take of him. I felt good in this role. When he found me I was a bit broken. He did so much to put the pieces back together. He was supportive, patient and kind. In him I found someone I could trust with all my heart and he showed me I was capable of love again. I allowed him to take care of me when I was usually more comfortable in the care-giver roll. This past week, I felt a balance return. This time he needed me, and I was able to be there for him.

There is a vulnerability in getting older – and he’s extra sensitive to this because he is eight and a half years my senior – but for this I draw on memories of my parents as well. Sometimes she took care of him and sometimes it was him taking care of her. He was several years older as well. Regardless, they were always stronger together.

This was one of those circumstances that made me pause. While everything was fine, it reminded me that he is the love I waited for my entire life. Even while sick, all the little things that make him so special continued to shine through. Like how he has the incredible ability to remember everyone by name. How kind he is to everyone around him – from the cardiologist to the cleaning staff. He makes other people feel valued. He is the most generous person I know. He is always willing to share his time, resources and knowledge to make someone else’s experience easier. I truly believe he recruited a few new runner’s from the hospital staff!

There is never a right time to do anything. But I’ve learned that lesson over and over, and today is Valentine’s Day after all. I’m using this occasion to tell you about my Valentine. He is what I’ve been running towards all these years. I don’t know if I’m lucky, or fortunate, or deserving, but at the very least, I’m grateful to have Kurt in my life. I will never take that for granted. I don’t want to plan a single day in this short life that doesn’t include him. My Valentine is THAT special.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

New Jersey continues to be a piece of my puzzle

New Jersey continues to be a piece of my puzzle

Last week I was back in New Jersey. It marked my first time back in a little over a year. I know that January is perhaps not the best time to leave Chicago for New Jersey (the escape to someplace warm is coming later this week), but I have an annual check-in at Memorial Sloan Kettering that I use as an excuse to spend time re-connecting with friends…and the landscape.

In spite of not being on Facebook (or Messenger), I had absolutely no trouble communicating with the people I wanted to see. Armed with cell numbers, I texted friends to let them know I was in town and to make plans. First up was a run through the familiar park where I’d logged probably over 1000 miles. I connected with members of the running club I helped start in 2014. Some new faces, but lots of familiar ones.

De Novo Harriers. Saddle River County Park. Ridgewood, New Jersey. January 2020.

For some reason – and maybe partly because it had been over year – this trip triggered some unexpected emotions. While I enjoyed the comradely of the group run, I was glad to have a few extra miles on the schedule to take in the trail for a while on my own and reflect on who I was and who I’ve become as the miles unfolded on that very path over more than two decades.

On Saturday evening I attended mass in the gym at my elementary school. If you read my post “Lessons learned in a humble gymnasium” you know it had been over 37 years since I attended mass in that gym. When I walked in it was like walking into my childhood home and having everything appear as it had been. Emotion over took me at the sight of the faux stained glass that served as a backdrop to the alter now as it had decades ago. The last time I saw this scene I was 16…long before so many events, both happy and tragic. I had arrived early enough that I had time to exit briefly to compose myself, only to return to the sight of Sister Anne, my religious education teacher who prepared us for first communion – in that same gymnasium – during the 1972-73 school year. She was there as part of the reunion my friend coordinated. Between illnesses and weather (northern New Jersey saw about 4 inches of snow that evening) our group of 30 shrunk to 10, but it was so nice to reconnect.

On Sunday morning I did a solo run near my friend’s home in Lyndhurst. That’s when I realized that one of the things I miss about New Jersey the most is being high. No, not in a legal weed kind of way, but in a top of the mountain sort of way. I ran along Ridge Road, appropriately named as its at the top of a big hill (or maybe what my Illinois friends would call a mountain). My view to the west included the vast New Jersey landscape and more mountains. My view to the east was the Manhattan skyline. There are lots of high places in northern New Jersey like that. Northern Illinois, not so much.

Seen on my run. North Arlington-Kearny, New Jersey border. January 2020.

I love Chicago. I love running on the lakefront. I love exploring new neighborhoods. It’s a smaller, more manageable city. It’s calmer. The people don’t seem as busy and are a little more apt to give you their time. But if I’m going to live in the suburbs, I’d take New Jersey hands down. And maybe a lot of that is familiarity. And maybe some of it is the landscape. Or the distance I now feel from a city. Or the relationships.

This trip also allowed me to check in with my New Jersey-based coach with whom I’ve been training virtually. There is no substitute for actual FaceTime. I realized this too in getting together with some of my favorite “Ramsey Moms”. Between that and staying part of the week with my BFF, Martha, it sunk in that perhaps what I miss most is female friendships. I just haven’t made those connections here – yet. But when I was in New Jersey, I missed Kurt. And when my daughter is not with me, I miss her too. I guess it comes down to nothing’s perfect. We live our lives constantly in search of missing puzzle pieces hoping to find a completeness that will never truly exist. When new pieces are found, others are lost. And yet, we can still focus on what’s new and good about what we have built and move forward.

Ultimately what was perhaps best about this trip was another clear check-up at MSKCC. Good health is, after all, the one piece of the puzzle we can’t do without. Coming up…marathon #10.

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The holiday season is supposed to be joyful, but we all know the stress that can come along with finding the right gifts, hosting gatherings, managing blended families that include significant others, spouses, ex-spouses, in-laws and maybe even former in-laws that are, after all, grandparents, and trying to please everyone which is virtually impossible. Read more

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