Wednesday, June 30, 2010

P.S. Regarding the Last Post

Just for anyone who doesn't know how to handle an anniversary, birthday, etc....I don't suggest you actually say "Happy Anniversary" or "Happy Valentine's Day," etc. That would probably make someone upset -- it is not really a happy day! I think a good way to approach it with someone who is struggling is simply to say, "I just want you to know I'm thinking of you today," or, "I imagine today must be hard. You are in my thoughts."

Also, I don't want my post to be interpreted as though anyone has done anything wrong. No one has. We are all learning together. I didn't know how I would want people to handle the anniversary. Our society isn't well versed in these things, and every person is different. The post below is just my take on my feelings, and I'm putting it in writing because it's the only way I know to share them.

My friends and family have been incredible and I'm blessed to have the support system I do. Thanks, everyone! You all keep me going when I don't know if I can put one foot in front of the other anymore and when I can't even see the path.

Happy Anniversary? Or....Unhappy Anniversary?

June 19 was our wedding anniversary. This year, it fell on a Saturday. Thank goodness I didn't have any friends or family members getting married that day (a rare thing for us to not have a wedding on a Saturday in June), as I would not have been able to take that.

I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to do for our anniversary. I wanted to be in Muscatine, with Brian, but logistically, it didn't make sense. I had just done the Bonnaroo trip, and unless I spent a solid 2 weeks away from Austin in one stretch, I couldn't do it. I thought about it a lot, but opted against extending my stay in Iowa for that day. I know myself, and I would have also tried to squeeze in family time, my friends' JuneFest party on Friday night, etc. and would have ended up physically and emotionally exhausted. Still, it was a difficult decision that pulled on different corners of my psyche.

In the end, Brian's parents, brother, and nieces visited Austin and I spent Saturday the 19th surrounded by Boka family members. Steve, Diane, Jeremy, Lily & Lauren arrived in Austin early on the morning of the 18th (Friday). We met up with family (including Grandma Ginny from Florida) for lunch, the in-laws saw my apartment, and the young 'ens (well, not the youngest ones) went out on 6th Street that night. Friday night, on 6th, it kind of hit me -- the impact of losing Brian, how hard the next day would be without him, how hard the rest of my life will be without him, the painful emptiness that resonates within as I come to terms of the permanency of the world's loss -- and I lost it and the tears started flowing. We were on a rooftop bar, so I took a few minutes to myself at the edge, looking down on the scene below. Tears streamed down my face nonstop, one after another. I texted a few of my best friends a note to the effect of this: "Tomorrow is our anniversary. It is going to be so hard. I miss him so much." I had some nice messages back, which helped a least enough that I didn't make too much of a scene. I escaped to the bathroom, shut the stall door, and started sobbing. A kind girl in the bathroom held me and hugged me. I knew it was time for me to leave -- I couldn't be out like that.

I wasn't ready to go home, to sleep in a bed without Brian. The group I was with sort of broke apart and eventually, I just didn't know where to go or what to do. That is the hardest thing when the emotions and pain are so severe -- there is NOTHING I can do to stem them -- no place I go and no thing I do can make it better. A close family friend, Shane (who happens to live a few blocks from me) walked me home and was incredibly supportive with his words and the act of being there with me. I don't think I properly thanked him, but I am so appreciative of his support. When I got to my front door (knowing he'd watch to make sure I was home safe), I went in the front door....and out the back. I got into my car, just to have a place I could be alone and not worry about anyone seeing me or hearing me. In my car, I screamed, yelled, cried, wailed, and carried on. I have no idea how long I did this, but it was a long time. I suddenly thought I was doing the wrong thing to be in Texas on our anniversary. I looked up flights to Iowa for the next morning and seriously considered a 24-hour trip to Muscatine, just to spend the day alone with Brian. God, I miss being alone with him, just hanging out and talking!

Somehow I came to my senses and realized it would be pretty awful to abandon the family that had driven 15 hours to be with me on our anniversary (the timing was intentional), not to mention that things like that would cause others to question my sanity and stability. But, boy, I was tempted to fly away!

My "fight-or-flight" instinct in high gear, I started driving. I drove around Austin for about an hour, I think. By now, it was somewhere between 3 and 4 in the morning. I had no destination in mind -- I just had to focus on something else and to satisfy the urge to escape reality by doing a bit of a physical escape from my location. So I drove, and drove, and drove. And cried and screamed some more. I thought about getting a hotel room so I could lock myself in, turn off my phone, and scream and cry into the pillows of a large, soft bed. Eventually, I realized the $150 I'd probably spend on a downtown hotel room was a waste of money, given that it was 4:00 am and we had family plans in the morning.

I finally opted to head back home, but I wasn't ready to go into the apartment yet. For one, I wasn't ready to face my roommate. I needed more alone time, and at this point, I was a little embarrassed at having to explain why I was rolling in at dawn. So I parked in my spot, crawled into the backseat, and slept there for about an hour. I woke up in the backseat a little after 5:00 a.m., and it was only then, with my pain and shame numbed by slumber, that I could face reality. I went upstairs and quietly crawled into bed with Erin for my last few hours of sleep.

The next day, while Erin was at the gym in the morning, I blogged about Bonnaroo and I posted a message on Facebook about it being our 6 year wedding anniversary. I wrote about how lucky I was -- as was the world -- to have known Brian, how happy I was that he loved me, how much he taught me, and how much I missed him, especially that day. I was physically not the same -- I felt the pain in my heart and my gut so strongly, and just had no life or energy. I got a lot of encouraging messages in response to that post, and it was a major help to me that day and beyond.

Around 11:30 (still on Saturday, June 19), Erin & I picked up Jeremy from Shane's apartment and headed to Burnet, TX, which is about an hour northwest of Austin. This is where Brian's paternal uncle & aunt have recently built a home on a few acres of land. The whole family was there -- Bruce & Kay (the aunt & uncle); their 3 daughters, 2 sons-in-law, 2 granddaughters, grandkitty, and dog; Steve & Diane; Brian's & my nieces (Jeremy's daughters); Grandma Ginny; Brian's cousin Brent and his wife and 2 daughters; and then some friends joined the group later in the day. I was surrounded by friends and family, but felt disconnected and alone too. Brian's mom asked how I was doing, and we both cried.

All day, people commented about how tired I looked, or how hungover. I might have been tired, and yes, I had been out the night before. But that wasn't it. I was just plain sad, and it showed. A mouth with corners facing down is not a good look. In addition, I hadn't done my hair or makeup -- I just didn't care. Of course I looked like shit -- thanks for noticing! I told Brent's wife, Heather, what was going on after she commented that I looked tired. Then I went and put my contacts in and put on makeup. I guess I have a hard time letting my outside reflect how I feel inside.

I tried to put on a happier persona, too, but don't know how successful that was. I didn't know if all the extended family was aware of the anniversary or not. No one really said anything. All day, I thought, "No one is saying anything. They don't know. They think I'm just being standoffish and rude, probably because I was out too late last night. If only they knew." I know now that everyone knew what June 19 meant to me, and just didn't know what to say. I wish I'd been brave enough to bring it up -- I wanted some acknowledgment of the date, and to explain my appearance and behavior, but at the same time, I don't like to make other people uncomfortable.

I guess by texting some of my close friends, and by posting a message on Facebook, I was soliciting love and support. I needed it, and wasn't afraid to let people least in those ways. What I really need to work on is verbalizing my need for support to the people who are right in front of me. I have been doing a good job getting my feelings out in written form, but don't always 'fess up to my feelings in face-to-face conversation. I need to remember that it's okay to cry in front of other people or to ask for a hug, or to say, "I want to talk about Brian."

At the end of the night, I went into the room where Erin & I were staying at Bruce & Kay's house, got out my laptop, and put in the DVD slideshow of pictures and songs we had put together for Brian's visitation and service. Brian's mom came in, then Erin, and we watched it together and all cried together. Pretty soon, Brian's aunt and cousins came in to give us hugs and to cry with us. That's when I found out they all knew it was our anniversary all day. I wish I'd just been brave enough to find out, or to watch the slideshow, earlier. I wanted to bring it up, to watch it, all day, but tried to spare everyone awkward feelings.

I can't imagine how people must feel around me -- is everyone walking on eggshells? I know so many people have said, "I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything." This is true for milestone events, day-to-day conversations about my well-being, and even acknowledging Brian's death. The hardest part of this is that I'm sure what each widow or each grieving person needs is different -- I can't speak for all who are mourning; I can only speak to what I need.

I need important dates to be acknowledged. I need people to say Brian's name. I need people to ask how I am doing, and to keep asking. I won't always want to talk about it, but when I do, I'm not likely to bring it up at dinner unprompted. I need people to understand that I might not call you back or e-mail you back, but I want the calls and e-mails to keep coming! I know this all sounds incredibly selfish.....I read it and I'm ashamed of what I'm asking of my friends and family members. Frankly, though, I'm in too much pain to be proud. At least when I'm in front of a keyboard.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Parting Thoughts....For Now

I'm off to Cabo San Lucas next week with friends. I'll be gone Monday through Friday. I will post again next weekend, or the following week. I'll probably post about getting through the first wedding anniversary -- June 19 -- without Brian. I usually let things sit and digest for a while before I write about them, so I'll probably be ready to do that in a week or so, then I'll be able to do another fun post about Cabo. And I'm still not sure I'm done with Bonnaroo thoughts, but some of those might need to marinade a little longer, or some might remain internal or might just come out in my private journal.

Here's wishing you a good week!

Brian At Bonnaroo, Part 2

Also, I forgot to mention that the Zac Brown band had a setlist that could have been handpicked by Brian. They played all his favorites of theirs -- "Toes," "Chicken Fried," and "Lonesome, I Know You Too Well." They also did "Devil Went Down to Georgia," which they play phenomenally. Every bit as good as, if not better, than The Charlie Daniels Band. In fact, the Zac Brown Band's version of that song was a YouTube favorite of Brian's.

They went beyond that, though -- they worked "Into the Mystic" by Van Morrison into the middle of their song "Free." That was a favorite of Brian's. They also did "Find the Cost of Freedom," a cover of a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song that Hart says was a favorite of Brian's (they saw CSNY live at Red Rocks in Colorado together a few years ago). Finally, they sang "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," which is a song by The Band and which is featured in The Band's last concert, which was recorded as an album and a movie called The Last Waltz. Brian was borderline obsessed with that DVD and album. It was amazing that we saw that song performed live.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Few Pics From 'Roo

Tennesee Trip

Here is the much-anticipated Bonnaroo post.....

I flew back to Des Moines on Monday, June 7. I had no cell phone, mine having been stolen the previous weekend. I still had Brian's old phone, a Droid, and actually traded that with our good friend Joy, who had a phone style I much preferred. I did not have my contacts backed up (I do now!), but at home I did find my old cell and Brian's old cell from December, so got most of everything from those. Huge shout-out to Trevor at Verizon Wireless for spending an hour and a half with us, transferring contacts, texts, and pictures.

While home, I squeezed in a haircut, a couple of appointments with window contractors, a car appointment, and an appointment with a handyman to repair my garbage disposal. Oh, and Wine Club was at my house. It was an insanely busy and stressful two days. The house didn't feel like home, and the cats took a long time to warm up. I was ready for the road trip!

On Wednesday, June 9, I picked up Mike Hart (Brian's best friend since 1st grade). We loaded the rental SUV with the tent, canopy, chairs, coolers, grill, and our luggage and headed east. We picked up Mike Wilson (another good friend of Brian's, who was also a groomsman in the wedding) in Iowa City and off we went!

For a little background -- Hart was the obsessive planner of this whole endeavor. He had prepared the four page packing list, and supplied much of the needed items himself. He had spend hours reading Bonnaroo blogs and message boards for tips and inside info. We definitely didn't lack anything! He even had made CDs for the road with all the Bonnaroo artists we wanted to see. he's a character! He's a little scatterbrained, I guess you'd say. For example, he doesn't like to plan outfits and pack them -- he just packs most of his clothes so he can choose later. The car was stuffed to the ceiling! In addition to having the biggest suitcase and toiletry bag, Wilson had random plastic bags full of odds and ends -- a mounted singing fish, a wig, a Bop It! toy, etc.....made for a full car but also a lot of fun. He brought some much-needed levity to the whole voyage.

On Wednesday, we drove to a hotel about an hour away from the Bonnaroo grounds, getting in around 12:30 a.m. Thursday morning, we were up and at 'em, hitting a gas station for ice by 10:30. Then the little wrenches began to show up.....(as an aside, my Taurus wasn't running so I had to rent an SUV -- you could call this a wrench, but I call it a blessing in disguise, as there was no way all our crap would have fit in a car, even though Wilson offered to drive his Aspire!). We hit MAJOR traffic at 11:00. According to Hart's research, 11:00 was a good time to get in line to get a good camping spot close to the stages. Not this year. There had been flooding and mud issues on the Bonnaroo grounds, and -- we later learned -- there was a traffic fatality en route -- so the line was all single file most of the way. Imagine 80,000 - 100,000 people trying to enter a campground in the same line. It was insane. Bonnaroo traffic was directed 13 miles past the site, turned around, and then 13 miles back. It took 9 hours from the time we got in line to the time we arrived at our camping spot. Nine hours!! Traffic was stopped in lines on the shoulders, people were getting out, playing music, putting lawn chairs on top of their campers, etc. We tried to make the most of it, remembering that this happened at Woodstock and hoping that would mean our experience would be similarly epic.

We got into the camping area Thursday around 8:00 p.m. Unfortunately, this means we missed some of the performers we wanted to see that afternoon and evening. We barely had time to get the tent and Bears canopy shade cover up before sunset. We found out were were about as far away from the stages as you could get -- about a half an hour walk. This, despite Hart's best efforts to snag a better spot. Oh, well, we reasoned -- this way, we'll see more of the grounds and people and really get the full impact and experience every day. After setting up camp, we walked down to Centeroo (the main grounds, where the stages, tents, and other attractions were) and caught a couple songs by The xx, and a great show by RhythMystik, a tribal percussion band. They were so intense and into the music. It was a surprisingly good show. (FYI, that show went from 12-1 am)

Friday, we watched Conan O'Brien's live comedy set, projected on a big screen on a stage. We were seated outside with tens of thousands of others. We weren't lucky enough (really, we weren't early enough) to be one of the approximately 200 who got to be in the air conditioned theater where he was performing live, or in the air conditioned movie theater where they were also showing his set. He was hilarious, and also obviously still very bitter about the whole Tonight Show fiasco with NBC. That was sort of the recurring theme of the act, which did include a cameo from Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Conan's show went from 1:00-2:30. Our Friday looked like this:

1:00 - 2:30 -- Conan O'Brien
[back to camp to nap outside -- the heat in the tent made sleeping in hard!]
6:30 - 8:00 -- Tenacious D
8:00 - 9:30 -- Michael Franti & Spearhead
9:30 - 11:30 -- Kings of Leon

Saturday was a huge day:

1:45 - 2:45 -- Brandi Carlile
2:45 - 4:00 -- Norah Jones
4:45 - 6:15 -- The Avett Brothers
7:00 - 8:30 -- Weezer
8:30 - 10:30 -- Stevie Wonder
11:30 - 1:30 -- Jay-Z
3:00 - 4:30 -- The Disco Biscuits (yes, this was AM! I didn't stay for the full set)

Sunday, I got up early and went to Centeroo on my own for a while. This was my day:

9:00 - 10:00 -- yoga
10:00 - 12:00 -- various activities, shopping, etc.
12:00 - 1:00 -- Ingrid Michaelson
1:30 - 2:15 -- Cross Canadian Ragweed
3:00 -- Hart & Wilson came to Centeroo -- we caught a couple Blues Traveler songs, but it was too hot to stand in the sun for that show
3:30 - 4:00 -- Martin Sexton (small stage show)
4:15 - 4:45 -- John Butler Trio (small stage show)
5:00 - 5:30 -- Cross Canadian Ragweed (small stage show)
6:30 - 8:00 -- Zac Brown Band
9:00 - 11:30 -- Dave Matthews Band

And that was Bonnaroo! We took off Monday morning at 11:00 (after waking, showering, taking down the tent and canopy, loading the car, etc.) and I got home (Waukee) at 1:00 Tuesday morning. I flew back to Austin Tuesday at 11:00 a.m., arriving back home to the Austin apartment around 7:00 p.m. Tuesday. What a trip!

Now for some of the details....the best show, hands down, was The Avett Brothers. It was a favorite band of Brian's, and I knew all the songs they played, most by heart. We had a pretty good spot for that, considering there were probably 25,000 people there. It was just a massive sea of people. I was surprised at the crowd they garnered, and by how many others were as passionate and knowledgeable about them as we were. I guess Brian was onto something with these guys...

The coolest moment was during the Weezer set. If you haven't watched the video link I posted, watch that now. Chills.

Maybe I should do an FAQ.....

Where there showers? Yes. They were about a 10-15 minute walk away, there was a long line, and they cost $7. However, Hart had purchased a 5 gallon hanging shower that we had at our campsite. We'd wear swimming gear and shower at the site. Yes, it was weird showering and shaving my armpits while wearing a bikini in front of our neighbors. But it beat the other available alternatives. Plus, Bonnaroo is a place where nothing is out of place, so no one was staring or anything. Actually, our neighbors were jealous of our shower set-up. Kudos, Hart!

You really slept in a tent for 4 nights? Could you sleep?
Yes. Not very well.

Did everyone camp? As far as I know, yes. I'm sure some people came in every day, but there were probably a good 75,000 campers.

Where was this thing? On a 700-acre property just outside Manchester, Tennessee, a town of about 2,300 people that sits about 75 miles southeast of Nashville.

What was the weather like? Sunday was miserably hot. We sought shade and water most of the day while the sun was up. One person, a 29-year-old man, collapsed and died and his death is believed to be heat-related. It was in the high 90s every day. It only rained once, and that was a light rain during The Avett Brothers show that was actually very refreshing. I like to think Brian helped us out with that.

What did you eat? There were stands selling all kinds of food -- pizza, corndogs, quesadillas, curried goat, fried candy bars, kettle corn, gyros, jerk chicken, wraps, etc. We also did hot dogs and burgers on the grill at the tent, but not as often as we would have if our campsite had been closer to the Centeroo grounds.

What was it like? Imagine the Iowa State Fair times 100. And 95% of the people are visibly hippies.

Was there any violence or crime? Did you feel safe leaving your things in the tent? Never saw any sort of argument or strife. Never worried about our things. This was the most peaceful gathering I could imagine. It was actually incredible when you think of how many people were there (we heard as many as 100,000), and the fact that this lasted 4 days.

Did you take pictures? Yes, of course. I took some digital and some on disposable cameras when my digital started going haywire (another minor kink that we took in stride). I will post a few in the next day or so.

What was the craziest thing that happened? Well, I would say how dirty we got, despite our best efforts to the contrary. There was a big fountain in the middle of Centeroo, under which people would run around in their swimsuits to cool off. I did that one afternoon, and later that day, Wilson said, "Oh gross -- look at the water coming out of the Psychadelic Fountain." It was clearly not...well, clear. They must have been recycling/refiltering that water, because it had this awful brown tinge. Later, I realized that much of what I thought was a rocking tan was actually a crust of dirt on my skin from the fountain water, and from dust getting kicked up onto my sweaty, sunscreen coated body! I could seriously see a dirt line! It was soooo gross! That same day, I picked a smash of matted grass and dirt off Wilson's elbow and he said, "What was that?" I told him, and he said, "Oh, yeah, that hurt. I thought I had a scab." Hahaha! We were so dirty we couldn't tell if we were tan or dirty, or whether we had scabs or patches of dirt and grass stuck to us!

Any other good stories? Yes, actually. Hart had a bandage on his thumb and at one concert, it fell off and onto Wilson's lap. I had the perfect vantage point -- I saw this happen, and I saw that Wilson didn't see it happen. He looked down to see what had fallen out of the sky and landed on him. You should have seen the horrified look on his face when he realized it was a dirty, bloody Band-Aid! His jaw dropped, and he said, "Please tell me that came from Hart." Instead of answering right away, I looked at Hart and then we just cracked up. It was priceless.

I could seriously write so much much happened during this six-day, five-state road trip. I will say, it is a testament to our friendship that we were able to be around one another pretty much round-the-clock for that amount of time and in such close quarters without going to blows. In fact, there were several times on the way home that something would be said or would happen that would just have us all rolling in laughter -- things that probably wouldn't be funny to anyone else, or wouldn't strike the same chord among any other three random people. We laughed together the same way my dad and his brothers laugh at holidays -- the way only best friends can. I felt blessed to have these friends in my life and to share this experience with them. We are lucky that Brian brought us together, and I know he was there with us the whole time.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Brian at Bonnaroo

I will write more about my trip and post pictures in the next 4-5 days, but for now, I'll just share the most profound moment I had at Bonnaroo. I went with Mike Hart & Mike Wilson, Brian's two best friends. We went because the musical lineup was comprised of so many of Brian's favorite musicians.

Check out this clip of Weezer performing, "My Name is Jonas." Instead of telling you what happened, you should watch and get goosebumps yourselves. Watch the video below, and watch it all the way through to the end.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Well, I'm going to be sort of off the radar for awhile. I'm heading out tomorrow with two of my very good friends (and Brian's two best friends) Mike Hart & Mike Wilson for Manchester, TN, to a four-day music, comedy, and art festival. It's called Bonnaroo and it is the biggest festival of the summer. There will be somewhere around 90,000 people there, with most tenting out the entire time. We will be tenting it!

I think this will be an amazing trip, and Brian will be with us in spirit.

I will post again after the trip is over and I'm back in Austin.

Friday, June 4, 2010

You and Me, and Cloris Makes Three!

Big update from Austin! My good friend Erin Disney moved here over Memorial Day weekend. She just landed a job working as a social media associate for a health care public relations firm in Austin. She was in Austin interviewing with this firm the weekend Brian passed away, and got the job offer right after I announced my plans to spend the summer here. Funny how that worked out.

Erin & her cat, the beautiful Cloris Leachman, moved in over the Memorial Day weekend. They will stay with me for a month or so, until Erin's fiance Chad is able to join her in Austin. When her arrives, they'll move in together somewhere else -- the studio apartment won't accommodate three adults and one cat!

It has been nice having a friend from Des Moines here, and I feel like an old pro showing her the ropes in Austin. We went out for a great dinner last night, to an Argentinian place within easy walking distance. Great empanadas, great entrees, great wine, and live tango music and dancing. The dessert menu looked amazing, but that will have to wait for another time!

Cloris is fitting in well too. It's nice to have a cat around, and interesting to see how her personality is so much different than Picaboo's or Ellie's. Cloris is a bengal and loooves to climb and explore! She is very happy with the cat tree Erin bought and spends a lot of time perched on it, looking out the window at trees and dogs. She isn't used to seeing those, as she has been in a high-rise (23rd floor) up to this point. Cloris likes to get in bed with us at night, sometimes to cuddle and sometimes to bring a toy to play fetch. Erin thought I would be annoyed by this, but I like it. It reminds me of Ellie. :)

Brian's Resting Place

Thought I would share a picture Brian's mom took of his grave on Memorial Day. Just to let everyone know, we have ordered a headstone and expect it to arrive this summer. It takes every bit of 6-8 weeks to arrive once ordered, and selecting a design and placing the order was something that took me a long time to face. Hence, the temporary marker.

I thought our friends & family who don't live near Muscatine might want to see this. It is difficult for me to even look at, honestly, but I was grateful for the photo so I could see the evidence of love and visitors -- all the flowers, statues, candy, cards, and a bottle of Templeton Rye left by some special friends who spent an evening together "telling B0ka stories" and watching the sun set. Thank you all -- I know he would be glad to hear from his friends and to keep playing host to get-togethers.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

More About Running

Today marks the second day in a row that I've gone out for a morning bike ride & run. Yesterday, I ran 4 miles. Today I just did a 5k, which is 3.1 miles. Both times it was still a challenge. I'm trying to figure out why -- is it the heat & humidity, the fact that I'm running alone (vs. with friends most of the time in Iowa), or that I'm biking to the trail first and challenging my legs by doing so? Regardless, I didn't walk or stop during my run either day. Yesterday was the first time since arriving in Texas that I've hit the 4 mile mark without any walking intervals or resting. Honestly, it was a challenge to do that, but I made it through with some help.

Though I was alone physically, I thought about some of the most important people in my running life. I thought about Lisa Peterson, who introduced me to running in 2003. I thought about Laura Dillavou and how cheerful she is on runs, saying "Hi there!" or "Good morning!" ot others on the trail to keep our energy levels up. I thought about the Lady Byrd Running Club in Des Moines -- Jenny Chung, Justin Frerichs, their dog Lady Byrd, Kristine Dineen, and Gabby Carlson. I thought of how each of these people adds something to a long run -- motivation, laughs, inspiration, toughness. I imagined them by my side and thought of how, when I've been tired, I've pulled through on other runs in order to not let the "team" down.

Then I thought about Brian....he's been at the finish line for almost all my races (I didn't make him do that for short runs, like 5Ks, or Living History Farms, which is usually brutally cold -- one year Kristine and I finished in the snow!). Three full marathons, a few halfs, and various other road races in the 7 years I've been running. One year, when bronchitis and the stomach flu wreaked havoc on my training, thinking of him at the finish line was the only thing that made want to keep running Dam to Dam.

But the most I've ever needed and appreciated Brian on a race day was last June when I ran the Marathon to Marathon, my most recent 26.2 miler. It started in Storm Lake, IA and ended in Marathon, IA. I trained and ran the race with my friends Kristine and Laura. The three of us started the race together and separated according to our personal paces around the halfway mark. The race was mostly country roads, highways flanked by cornfields and dairy cows. The small number of runners, combined with my relatively slow pace, made it easy for spectators to cheer on runners at many points along the course. For the last half of the race, Brian was there to cheer me on about every two miles! He'd cheer me on, then drive non-race gravel roads in a big square back to the highway a couple miles down my path. It was amazing. I knew I would be pushing it to beat my last marathon time, but I really wanted to get a new PR (personal record). He knew what my best time was and the pace I was running, and he was well aware of how tight my timeline was for hitting my time target. Around mile 20, I told him, "I don't know if I'll beat my's going to be close." He said, "I know. You'll do it." I could see the concern on his face, knowing how little wiggle room I had. We both knew that the last 6.2 miles are the last half of the race. Anyone who's done a marathon will tell you how difficult the last stretch is.

As I forged ahead that June morning, I knew Brian would be so proud if I got a new PR, but that he would still be proud of me if I didn't. I knew he'd feel bad for me, knowing I'd be disappointed, but he wouldn't be disappointed in me. About mile 22, a blister on my toe popped. I yelled out, staggered for a few steps, walked a couple steps (literally two or three!), then kept running. I kept a close eye on Garmin so I made sure not to let my pace slip. I beat my previous best time by less than two minutes. It was incredible, and the support from Brian and others who were relentless in cheering me on made all the difference.

As I neared the end of my 4 mile run yesterday and was starting to struggle, I imagined Brian at the finish line. I knew he'd be proud of me whether I kept up the running or I had to walk. But I wanted to hurry up and cross that finish line and get that hug from him the way I did last June. That's what kept me running. I felt him with me in the light breeze that began as soon as I asked him for help -- a breeze that took just enough bite out of the muggy air and scorching sun for me to keep running.

I also had another realization as I charged toward the 4 mile mark yesterday. When I run along Town Lake, I start (and, therefore end) my out-and-back run with a bridge. The bridge is slightly curved so you can't see the other side when you first approach it, so it is easy to imagine whatever you want on the other side. The parallel between that bridge and the metaphorical "bridge" that is used to refer to passing away (perhaps you've heard the expression "cross the rainbow bridge") struck me. It occurred to me that I was imagining Brian on the other side of the bridge on the trail, just like he's on the other side of the bridge in another place that we can only imagine now. It also hit me that the entire rest of my life, I'll be on a journey toward that bridge and toward him. Just like a training run in the heat, it will be a difficult journey and I will need the support of my friends to make it. Just like a run along Town Lake in the heat, it can be miserable but is still beautiful and offers many pleasures -- even when I'm struggling to keep running, there are beautiful trees, families enjoying picnics, sculptures, friendly dogs, rolling meadows, and turtles sunning on logs on the banks of the lake. Life may be difficult for me, but it is still full of good things. The wisdom of Kristine's words rang so true again in that moment -- "Life isn't easy, but it's good."

While I hope the rest of my journey in life isn't as hard as that four mile run, I know that even if it is, there will also be goodness and beauty all around me. I can appreciate that, even when I gasping for air and struggling to keep going.