Every race has its winner and a whole bunch of everyone else.  Whose story do we usually hear?  I participated in a 5K this weekend.  I didn’t finish in the middle.  And I didn’t come in 1st either.  I was dead last – but maybe there’s a story in that anyway.

First, the event was entitled “Live, Remember, Run”.  It was organized by the Blakey family of Spanish Fork, Utah who lost a loved one of their own; a brother, son, husband and father.  The event benefited Canary Garden, a Utah non-profit organization that provides grief support for families, especially children, who have lost a loved one.  One in seven children will lose a parent or sibling before the age of 21.  Why did I run (mosey)?  Because seven in seven of my own children have lost a sibling.  Josh died of cancer February 3, 2007 at the age of 15 and his brother Ben died from complications of cancer January 25, 2008 at the age of 12.  Canary Garden was there for us, our family figured we could be there for them.

I really do have a good excuse for coming in last.  Without boring you with my story, let’s say I’ve been gimpy most of my life.  I had written my donation check, but didn’t know if I would be up to the 5K.  I threw my walking sticks in the car anyway, along with the folding table and chairs for the Canary Garden memory table.  When I got there, seeing 270+ runners, volunteers and supporters gave “Live, Remember, Run” new meaning for me so tightening my shoe laces and heading to the starting line just seemed like the right thing to do – the only thing, really.

After the gun, I waited until the real competitors took off – including the mommies pushing strollers – and within a block the only runners nearby were those who started late.  A quarter mile later I was, like Eric Carmen’s song, all by myself.  I did seem to be closing in on someone, but it turned out to be a guy dressed like a Sonic Smoothie (one of our sponsors) who wasn’t a serious competitor.  Too bad, with his aerodynamic disadvantage I might have had a chance against him.

About a quarter the way through, the front runners were starting to pass me going the other way back to the finish line.  I did get to wave at some of my fellow bereaved parents and volunteers from Canary Garden.  Nearly the rest of the way I was left alone with my thoughts – which seemed oddly appropriate.

Grief is uniquely isolating.  All the well-wishers and those who give heartfelt service rarely penetrate the bubble of isolation.  Even family members who have lost the same person are alone in their experience as their losses – special parts of their relationship, sweet secrets shared, unspoken hopes and wishes – are theirs alone.   

People watching us run (ramble, in my case) past their homes or from their car windows have no way to know or measure what was lost.  Nor could we for each other.  And it’s far more than just the loss of a loved one:  Many survivors have lost their health, over 90% of parents who’ve lost a child will divorce, children who’ve lost a parent or sibling are at much higher risk for substance abuse, delinquency, trouble in school, depression, anxiety, suicide and about every other ill that plagues youth.  If a long-term illness or the loss of a breadwinner is involved, the financial burdens can last for decades.  Careers can be ground to dust.  [Note: the high divorce rate for parents who lose a child was based on a study nearly 30 years ago.  Fortunately, more recent studies show much, much figures.  The strain on a marriage is, however, tremendous. http://www.griefhealingblog.com/2012/08/does-child-loss-destroy-marriage.html]

Most the bereaved at one time or another will be chided by someone who tells us it’s time to “move on” or “get over it”.  What they don’t realize that it’s much more than dealing with the loss of a loved one – although that searing pain is never completely gone – it’s dealing with all of the other things that got broken along with the loss.  Those things are very much in the present and require a great deal of energy.  When is it time to “move on” when a son who lost a brother has turned to drugs or a daughter who lost a mother is fighting crippling depression?  Do you just “get over” depleting all of your financial resources?   Of course not.

That’s where organizations like Canary Garden come in.  Not therapy or counseling, but peer support.  A group of bereaved parents, or widows and widowers who have now joined the club can rescue and be rescued by others who are in the same club.  Do we make it all go away?  Heck no, but we learn that we’re not totally crazy and that what we’re feeling and thinking are a normal and expected part of grieving.  And we learn to recognize and understand what our children are experiencing and we get some new skills to help them.

The kids.  Oh, the kids.  How can they make any sense of this on their own?  In their groups they learn how to share their experiences in a healthy way in a very safe environment.  They learn vital coping skills to get through another day.

I could go on, but let me say that after our three years as “customers” of Canary Garden, my wife, Nancy, two of our children, a son-in-law and I have been trained and served as facilitators for various groups.  Nancy and I are now on the board, hoping to bring Canary Garden’s particular brand of healing to anyone who needs it.

Canary Garden is in its 10th year.  Its doors are open to everyone and it doesn’t charge a cent, relying on community support to cover its finances.  The need is such that Canary Garden could easily double its program – if the money were there.   

Back to the race.  So there I was, walking solo for the better part of an hour.  As I neared the home stretch, my wife was starting to worry that I was lying in a ditch somewhere so my son-in-law (who came in 3rd overall) ran back to meet me, bearing Gatorade.  Once back on the high school football field, my grandsons and one of my daughters walked the last lap with me.

So in reality, I didn’t cross the finish line alone, even though I was the last.  And in my own double marathon of grief, I won’t cross the finish line alone either: I’ll be arm-in-arm with family and friends, and with my associates and fellow grieving parents from Canary Garden.

“Live, Remember, Run” will help keep the doors open at Canary Garden for a few more months.  If you think you might like to support the cause, investigate the program at http://www.canarygarden.org and see how you might be able to help as a volunteer or as a donor.

 

Lance Boldt is Vice President and Co-Founder of AutoNetTV.  AutoNetTV’s digital signage products deliver entertaining and educational TV programming to the lobbies of automotive service and repair businesses as well as digital menu boards and automotive website video content.

Nancy and me with our daughters and grandsons