Updated: Jan 5, 2021
It’s the end of the Thanksgiving weekend of 2020 and it feels like there was not a lot for which to be thankful. None of my extended family came to visit in an effort to keep in accordance with the social distancing recommendations to fight this historic pandemic. 2020 has been the absolute worst year of many people’s lives, with hundreds of thousands of people dying and all group activities cancelled, including school, sports, music, restaurants, gyms, etc, leading to job loss and even business collapse, but my 2020 happened in 2007 when our 19 month-old walking, talking, laughing and loving daughter passed away for no apparent reason.
I will save the (4-day pain-fest) story for another time, but instead, tell you about a moment during that summer in 2007 when my friends literally held me together when everything around me was falling apart. The story reminds me that even in the darkest of times, we need to be ever thankful for the people in our lives that help us pick up the pieces and give us hope for better days to come.
In the early spring of 2007, I was invited to join a softball team by the owner of the local Curves, a business that offered circuit training for women, which I joined a few months earlier, in an effort to lose some of the weight I had gained while pregnant with my second child in 2005. I had been on a few softball teams prior to having children, so I jumped at the chance to join another team. Plus, it would be another way for me to get some exercise and have fun doing it!
I developed somewhat of a kinship with the owner of Curves, whose name was Abby, which happened to be the same name of my newest daughter. As it happens, I was on a pretty successful weight-loss path during that time as well. My new friend Abby was very inspirational. She pushed me to work hard and showed me how to fight for my goals. I got to know her, along with many of the members of the club, while we went around the circuit. I remember hearing a few heart-breaking stories, including Abby’s loss of her little brother in a terrible drowning accident and another one about a member whose son was killed in active duty. I watched them tell the stories so matter-of-factly and I was in awe of their strength and courage. Little did I know that I would soon be thrown into a similar hell of my own. (And here I am, 13 years later, telling the story like it’s just another part of my past. No big deal.)
Our first softball team meeting was scheduled the week after our daughter passed away unexpectedly, so obviously, I was pre-occupied with family and friends, but also completely immersed in the grieving process. My friend Abby came out to our house to give hugs and express her sympathy. She actually called her mother, whom also experienced the loss of a young child, in an effort to know what to say and do to possibly ease our suffering. Hearing her mother’s story and ways in which she coped was helpful in many aspects. If nothing else, it distracted me from the deep dark hole that kept pulling me back in.
Eventually, we got through that terrible week and the culminating funeral and started up our lives again. After a few weeks, I decided to stay committed to the softball team for a few reasons. First, I was looking forward to swinging that bat as hard as I could at the ball, to release some anger and frustration caused by most recent events. Second, I needed to stay busy because I had a lot of extra time on my hands now that my baby girl no longer needed me to feed, clothe and watch her every second of every day. Third, I needed to force myself to exercise since I no longer cared about losing weight and finally, I was drawn to my friend Abby because she and her family survived their tragedy and were moving forward with gusto. I wanted that more than anything.
Not only did Abby support my decision to stay on the team, every member encouraged me to play as a way to battle my grief. Right before we played in the McQuade Tournament, the world’s largest charity softball tournament held annually in Bismarck and Mandan on the last weekend of June, one of my teammates surprised me with special pink polka dotted ribbons that she had made for every player to tie on their gloves as a way to show support and remembrance for my little baby girl. I was blown away by their empathy. They knew that even though my body and most of my mind were focused on the game at hand, my thoughts were always a heart-beat away from my loss.
That fact became evident during our final game of the tournament. Our team made it to the second day of games, which is not an easy feat since over half of the teams are eliminated the first day. But throughout that Sunday morning game, our team was not doing well. It was the 7th and final inning and we had to score some runs or we would lose the game. We had one out and I was up to bat. It was a bright sunny day with very low wind, temps climbing quickly to the mid-80s and sticky humidity in the air. It was only the second month of my grief journey so I was utterly exhausted from my general state of emotions and now physically too, having played 6 innings and running to the outfield every time, along with getting on base fairly consistently.
The first pitch came at me and I let it go by, which is a common strategy I liked to use. The umpire called it a strike and I told myself, “ok, now you are ready.” The second pitch rolled off the players fingers and this time I dug in my back heal, took a deep breath and swung with all of my might, but I MISSED! With my courage all but wiped away and to give my body another minute to gain some strength back, I decided not to swing on the 3rd pitch. That was a really bad idea. As it flew over the plate, the ump said, “STRIKE THREE, PLAYER’S OUT!”
I scowled and hung my head as I marched back to the dugout. My teammates were kind and said things like, “you’ll get ‘em next time,” “nice try” and “ it’s no big deal” but I was shaking with anger. I sat down and another player stood in the batter’s box – ready for her chance at glory. It was not to be, though, and she was called out as well, inadvertently ending the game.
I am not exactly sure what happened during the last play, though, because I was in a sort-of trance. The anger from striking out without even swinging – the DUMBEST way to get out, by the way – had broken through the walls I had erected as a way to keep my emotions from taking over. Suddenly, my eyes started to well up, my heart started beating faster and my throat dropped into the pit of my stomach. I could hardly breathe. Since the game was over, my teammates were reaching for their water bottles and gloves but they noticed that I was not moving. My tears began to fall and they reiterated that my strike-out was no big deal. But in-between my shallow breaths, I burst out the words, “I just miss her so much!”
Suddenly, my façade of a big strong softball player was crumbling. I doubled over in pain and grief. The tears that I carefully held back unless I was in the privacy of my own home came pouring out like a dam had burst. At first, my teammates were shocked and didn’t know what to do, but in another second, I felt the arms of 8 more people wrapping around me like a cocoon. Not only did I have the ugly cry going, but most of them did as well. We were one big hot, sweaty and probably stinky group of girls that did not care what anyone thought. Only one thing mattered at that very moment and that was my broken heart!
Even after 13 years, I still cry like a baby when I remember that story. It’s like the moment in Steel Magnolias when Sally Fields suddenly loses it in front of her best friends at her daughter’s grave site and she goes into a tearful monologue where she often screams “I WANNA KNOW WHY!” If you remember that movie from 1989, you also recall that the tears turn to laughter when Sally says, “I just want to hit something” and her friend offers up the crabby friend of the group and says, “Here, hit this!” While that would be a great ending to my sob story, mine ended with a lot less fanfare. My friends and I slowly wiped our tears and started to pack up our gear, since our dugout would be needed by another team very soon. Even though we lost the game, in part to my silly strike-out, we left that diamond feeling stronger and more cohesive than when the game began.
Our team finished the season that year and never took our pink ribbons off of our gloves. In fact, I have stayed friends with a few of the players and they still have those ribbons. They are tattered and torn, and most have fallen off, but now they roll around in their bags. I got pregnant with my 3rd child by the end of that summer, so I did not play with them the following summer, but I tried to catch a game here and there. Over the years, each player has endured her own hardships and many are just as, or even more, inspirational than my own – including a mother of 3 girls that lost her mother, aunts, and grandmother to breast cancer so after finding out that she carried the same genes, she had a double mastectomy so her family would not have to endure the pain she felt when her family members died! I think each of us will have amazing stories of courage and resilience before we die, but I was blessed (if that is what you call it) with an early opportunity and it has lead to experiences I will never forget.
So after this lonely Thanksgiving weekend of 2020, I am thankful for the people in my life that may not be present in the flesh, but are a phone call or email away. Someday soon, this pandemic will come to an end and we will slowly get back together again with friends and family both near and far, but until then, I will cherish the memories that I have stored in the back of my mind. They keep reminding me that there is hope and human beings will find their way back to each other so when our worlds are falling apart, they can be there to pick up the pieces and even just hold us in place until our breath becomes even and we have enough strength to stand up once again.
Now onto some house-keeping things directly related to my weight-loss journey and current short-term goals. After 3 days of staying with-in my recommended calorie-count, I weighed-in on Thanksgiving morning and saw 206 on the scale for the first time! I was THRILLED! Now I only need to lose 6 pounds before January 1st in order to achieve my next goal of entering One-derland before 2021.
As planned, though, I ate what I wanted for Turkey Day and the Saturday following but I stayed close to my calorie goal on Friday and Sunday. I will not weigh-in again until Wednesday so I can give myself some time to burn off those extra calories, but I feel confident that I will. But then I will only have about 4 weeks to get those 6 pounds off. It’s very possible, but I cannot keep slipping up on weekends because taking 2 steps forward and 1 step back will not achieve my short-term goals. I am not afraid, though. I just might have to spend more time on exercise and less time on dessert, if you know what I mean!
As I end this journal entry, I want to say “thank you” to all of the friends and family in my life. I look forward to the day when I can see you AND hug you again! You inspire me to be a better person and support me to achieve my dreams. I hope I do the same for you. That is actually the reason I began this blog – not only to help me with my own aspirations, but also hoping that my story can give you courage and belief that you can do anything you put your mind to! Together, we can do anything, no matter how big or how daunting. WE got this!
For more blog entries with (hopefully) inspirational stories, go to www.rheasdream.com. Become a subscriber and you will be notified immediately when I post new entries. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment sections. #BELEIVE