Running Through it All: Change, Loss & Grief

As the last few days of 2018 come to a close, many will reminisce of memories made while pondering resolutions and goals for the year ahead. As 2018 comes to close for me, I reminisce with a heavy heart the journey I have been on the past seven years.

In February 2011, our little family unit decided to uproot from Los Angeles, trek across the country and call South Georgia/North Florida home. This trek meant leaving behind many relatives in a large Hispanic extended family on the maternal side and a smaller family on my paternal side– including my father, grandparents, and uncle. At that time, my girls were 2 years old and 5 months old. The decision to move was not made in haste and it would take us years to get our feet firmly planted on the East Coast. Late in 2011, my grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer and learned it had spread to one of his lungs. Up until his diagnosis he had played tennis, visited the gym regularly, and ate a healthy Mediterranean style diet. Once diagnosed, he had surgery to remove part of his lung and then began chemotherapy. The chemo and cancer took its toll and he passed in May 2012 (He was 81 years old).

Papa Tony Bendo

My grandmother, now a widow, began to show signs of advancing dementia. My father and uncle moved in with her and hired a nurse to help her during the day. Near the end of summer, she took a fall in the garage and broke her hip. After surgery, she had some setbacks with pneumonia and was slow to recover. Due to her slow recovery she was moved to convalescent facility. As the weeks went by, she began to decline slowly and passed away in her sleep in February 2013 (She was 79 years old).

Gam and Jen

I was able to travel home to see my grandparents before they passed. However, I was also working hard and trying to save and rebuild financially, care for two children under the age of five, and work full time. Just when it seemed our little family had found a groove and was settling into life on the East Coast, our little family experienced a speedbump in 2015… a speedbump that ended a career, set us back financially, and led me to seek therapy. As we moved into 2016, I focused on grieving and moving past anger while maintaining consistency and routine for my family. Hope and joy were not near to my heart and would not be for the next few years.

As 2016 was ending, my father’s health began to decline due to years of alcoholism. In early 2017, I flew out to Los Angeles every few weeks to visit him and to get him the help he needed. After several trips to the hospital and an extended stay, he came home and was approved for hip surgery. In late 2017, he proceeded with hip surgery. Surgery was a success and he was on the road to recovery. However, once home his progress slowed and when the prescription pain medication was exhausted, he began drinking again. He returned to work and slowly returned to his old habits, but his health did not begin to show signs of deterioration for months. He made a trip to Florida in early 2018 to watch his youngest granddaughter compete in gymnastics and continued to work through 2018 but physical signs became more apparent every day.

In October 2018, Hurricane Michael hit the panhandle of Florida and I ended up working the hurricane detail. During my daily drive to my assignment I would call my dad and talk about the Hurricane response. During these calls I learned he had recently stopped going to work as it had become too difficult to drive and get through meetings. It was during one of these drives that he told me he no longer wanted to talk on the phone as it had become too difficult for him to talk. My heart sank. On November 5th, no longer able to walk, he agreed to go to the hospital. After being admitted the hospital, he showed signs of improvement. As the days wore on signs of improvement slowed and he refused to eat or participate in physical therapy. On November 14th, he was upgraded to the ICU. After talking with the physician and ER nurses, I booked a ticket to fly out to Los Angeles the next morning… but, he passed away in his sleep a few hours after the phone call. (He was 61 years old.)

Dad and Jen

Thanksgiving passed, the memorial was held December 10th, and then Christmas came and went. I miss him dearly. I wake up each day feeling sad, numb, and feel as if I move through the days as if in a sleepy fog. My faith feels small, but I am grateful to not be dealing with anger.

As I reminisce over the past seven years, I think about the one thing I have been able to do in the midst of chaos, pain, and loss. That one thing has been the ability to lace up a pair of running shoes, put on a hat, grab my iPod and take to the pavement. I have run to remember… I have run out of anger… I have run so that I could stop feeling… I have run in search of feeling anything at all… I have run under the sun… I have run along the beach on the West Coast… I have run before the sun has risen… I have run after the sun has set… I have run short distances… I have run long distances that left me hobbling in pain… I have run through tears… I have run through the woods and through concrete jungle… I have run with friends… I have run solo… and so I run on…

I believe all these experiences have shaped me yet I feel as if I can’t see the forest through the trees. The last few months my running has been inconsistent and slow, but during those runs I have tried to concentrate on what happens next. As I think about 2019, I plan to set some running resolutions to support efforts to look forward. With the overall focus on getting some running consistency back, I hope to focus on healing, working through my grief, and to work hard to find joy and hope in my life again.

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6 Comments

  1. Summer M. says:

    I’m so sorry for your losses, Jennifer. I’ve been where you are, destabilized by loss. But when I was in your shoes, I allowed myself to become paralyzed. You’ve chosen to keep moving forward. I have so much admiration for your grit as well as the articulate professional that you are!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jennifer –
    It appears that you have already started on your road to recovery by writing this article. Further, it is a testament to your courage to bare your feelings in such a candid manner. From a person who knew and admired your father for many years, I can say with confidence, that this article makes him ( and me)proud. Your Dad and I were the closest when you were very young, from the ages of about 3 to 9 years old. I remember the pride he (we both) expressed on his first visit to see me and my family in WA. We were watching the countess videos he brought of your snowboarding races. I recall saying to myself, “Jennifer is all grown up now”… and I remember coming to the realization that my daughter wasn’t far behind you, she was about 13 at the time. I hoped that one day I would be sharing things that were happening in her life with your Dad with the same pride. Jerry always spoke of his children with a certain pride. It’s article like this that explain why.

    Albeit December 10th, 2018 was a very somber time in our lives, I will always remember feeling a sense of pride to witness the courage and strength that you and Jason demonstrated on what had to be one oft toughest day of your lives. To be perfectly honest, it was far more courage that I could muster, as I knew there was no way I could have held it together if I would have tried to share some of the wonderful times we had, on and off, the “job”. Frankly, I believe this was a missed opportunity and a regret that may haunt me for a long time coming.

    I heard lots of great things said about your Dad during the service and I am proud to have been a part of his life and I am forever grateful for the profound effect he’s had in mine. I was 19 years old when I met your Dad and there are mannerisms and “sayings” that I have used throughout my life and just about every day since the day we met (almost 40 years later), each of which come with a memory, but it was something that Jason said when I was saying my goodbyes that brought back that same sense of pride I spoke of earlier. It was when he told me your little girls are shooting the 410-gauge shot-gun that I gave him when he was about 12 or 13. When I began to ask him about it, he answered part-way through the question “the 410 is still in the “family”. I am proud, honored and humbled at the same time to know that there is something tangible that may bind me to the next generation and to b referred to as a part of the4 Bendewish family.

    Jennifer, I hope you run as many miles as it takes, allow yourself to cry as many tears as it takes to hopefully soon begin to smile, as I have no this would be your Dad’s wish. Please feel free to reach out to me if there is any way you think I can be of assistance.
    Take care and God Jennifer –
    It appears that you have already started on your road to recovery by writing this article. Further, it is a testament to your courage to bare your feelings in such a candid manner. From a person who knew and admired your father for many years, I can say with confidence, that this article makes him ( and me)proud. Your Dad and I were the closest when you were very young, from the ages of about 3 to 9 years old. I remember the pride he (we both) expressed on his first visit to see me and my family in WA. We were watching the countess videos he brought of your snowboarding races. I recall saying to myself, “Jennifer is all grown up now”… and I remember coming to the realization that my daughter wasn’t far behind you, she was about 13 at the time. I hoped that one day I would be sharing things that were happening in her life with your Dad with the same pride. Jerry always spoke of his children with a certain pride. It’s article like this that explain why.

    Albeit December 10th, 2018 was a very somber time in our lives, I will always remember feeling a sense of pride to witness the courage and strength that you and Jason demonstrated on what had to be one oft toughest day of your lives. To be perfectly honest, it was far more courage that I could muster, as I knew there was no way I could have held it together if I would have tried to share some of the wonderful times we had, on and off, the “job”. Frankly, I believe this was a missed opportunity and a regret that may haunt me for a long time coming.

    I heard lots of great things said about your Dad during the service and I am proud to have been a part of his life and I am forever grateful for the profound effect he’s had in mine. I was 19 years old when I met your Dad and there are mannerisms and “sayings” that I have used throughout my life and just about every day since the day we met (almost 40 years later), each of which come with a memory, but it was something that Jason said when I was saying my goodbyes that brought back that same sense of pride I spoke of earlier. It was when he told me your little girls are shooting the 410-gauge shot-gun that I gave him when he was about 12 or 13. When I began to ask him about it, he answered part-way through the question “the 410 is still in the “family”. I am proud, honored and humbled at the same time to know that there is something tangible that may bind me to the next generation and to b referred to as a part of the4 Bendewish family.

    Jennifer, I hope you run as many miles as it takes, allow yourself to cry as many tears as it takes to hopefully soon begin to smile, as I have no this would be your Dad’s wish. Please feel free to reach out to me if there is any way you
    Take care and
    Bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rose Hamilton says:

    Wow! I remember you as a bright, courageous, determined young woman. May you continue to be blessed with love, hope and faith. The world is for you my dear. Life is a mystery in many ways but if we just continue to put one foot in the front of the other we will ARRIVE! Your journey proves that. I expect the best from you. You were one of my best employees ! Rose

    Liked by 1 person

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