Matt, I was having one of those days. The one where grief lay waiting for me to open my eyes before it slammed into my heart. The hit so powerful that I found myself breathless even before my feet hit the floor. Your loss has rocked my world like nothing I could ever have imagined. These days I find myself unsteady. Shaking from the inside of my soul. The ground beneath me is hard to navigate. My journey is one I never saw coming. I have lost my compass, my anchor.
On these days I’ve learned I must stay active. I must physically challenge my body. I must train my mind to stay away from the reality of my life. I must keep moving physically escaping the nagging thoughts that constantly take over my brain. I must outrun grief like it’s a rabid dog biting at my heals.
This day I ignored the excessive heat warnings. Loading my bike on it’s rack I could feel the weight of my grief getting ready to follow me on this journey of survival. It was ready to tag along like an unwanted friend as I struggled to find a few moments of peace.
Biking is my therapy. It has become a way to soothe my soul. Feeling the breeze on my face as the scenery changes. Pumping my legs, feeling that adrenaline rush helps push the grief out of my mind.
A bright blue sky with huge puffy clouds greeted me as I headed to my old college town. This town has trails holding memories from a time long ago. A time of innocence and expectation. College life so full of possibilities, hopes and dreams. Biking down these familiar paths brought memories of happy times before life took me to places I’d never thought I would travel.
I remember biking past Rita’s and thinking I should stop. Ignoring my thoughts I continued on my journey but I was unable to out run that urge to stop. Rita’s was considered a treat. I’d always order a mango Gelati savoring every bite. Being out of water and soaked with sweat made the decision to stop a no brainer. My thoughts turned to how great that Gelati would feel sliding down my parched throat.
I found a cool spot in the shade and let my mind wander. Remembering those happy times long ago when I was a carefree student. Wanting a do over. Dreaming of going back in time knowing what I know now. Wanting your story to have a different ending. Wanting not to be the grieving mother of a man who lost his battle with addiction. Wanting to leave my grief behind and rekindle the joy that now eluded my life.
I remember the feeling of being watched. I was so lost in my own thoughts I wasn’t aware of the couple who decided to join me in my shady paradise. We exchanged smiles and I surprisingly felt a connection. Trying to pretend we weren’t glancing in each others direction, the conversation began.
“Hey, I remember you” this man now moving closer tells me. “You were our nurse in the NICU”. His wife now standing by his side. “Yes, you took care of our daughter”. We shake hands like old friends meeting again. I remember the mother lowering her head and whispering “She was born addicted”. “We spent weeks in the NICU”. With tear filled eyes she shared her story of struggling everyday to get and stay clean. Sharing her embarrassment that her baby was born addicted. They told me how hard they have worked, both beaming with pride as they spoke of their beautiful, healthy daughter and their journey to recovery.
My eyes filled with tears. I also remembered. Seeing them again filled me with both joy and pain. My grief poured out as I told your story. Sharing your seven year struggle and your death. Your struggles so similar to theirs yet your ending so different. We hugged, both of them holding onto your broken mother. Tears mingling for a lost life. Sharing a bond beyond explanation.
We parted with a mixture of smiles and tears. Connected by love and loss. I began to walk toward my bike still wiping away my tears. I felt a hand on my shoulder. This father built so much like you wrapped me in his arms. I closed my eyes and for a brief moment felt you. I allowed myself to disappear into the comfort of his touch. I drank in the warmth of his big bear hug. So much like yours. Memories of how it felt to be wrapped up in your arms flooded my broken heart. I wanted to hold on forever. To trick my mind. Never letting you go.
Biking away I felt peaceful. Like you reached down from heaven and touched my soul. I began to think my stopping had nothing to do with enjoying a Gelati. My chance encounter with a couple who’s life I touched. Both struggling with addiction. A son of another mother. A mother who lost her son. A man who brought you back to me for an incredible moment. This man hiding behind your beautiful angel wings.