Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I Say It's Love

One week ago today, I spoke at my nephew's memorial service. It's been a whirlwind of activity since March 4th when he made his transition after taking his own life.Life interrupted for many friends and family of Charlie Alper. I'm back to being an empty nester and the house was so quiet today for the first time in over a week. In the quiet and solitude with the rain pouring down, I let my tears flow. I made sure I did my stretching and got on the recumbent bike for a 10 miler. I took time to just be. I searched and I listened. In the stillness, I heard the song "Love" by Sugarland play in my head. We saw them in a summer concert in New Hampshire set against the beautiful mountains.

What a cascade of events this past week in my world and in our world. Death, destruction, risk of a nuclear meltdown seem to permeate and rock our world. Do we allow these events to trigger fear, vulnerability, panic and despair or do we allow these events to remind us to focus on the love of the Divine? I am so grateful for the outpouring of love and support I received after my friends heard of the tragedy in our family. The prayers and kindness flooded my soul with love and comfort. I take that love and pray for our brothers and sisters across the globe whose world was also turned upside down. I am so grateful for the comfort and warmth of my home and family and pray that my brothers and sisters will find comfort and peace amidst their tragedy. I am reminded what Victor Frankl,MD, a holocaust survivor, said in "Man's Search for Meaning" and I am paraphrasing here: Pain is pain. You can't say one person's pain is worse or less than because of the external circumstances. When pain fills the soul, it fills the soul. But how we perceive those circumstances and how we ascribe meaning to them is what determines whether we survive or perish.

So how does one heal whether they live through the Holocaust, a tsunamai, or two suicides - I say it's love!

God bless, be well and live like you were dyin'
From my heart to yours with love and gratitude,

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Best Medicine

Daylight savings time, Tom training for Boston, fund raising, our daughter coming home, reconnecting with my son and meeting his girlfriend and a funeral for my nephew - what a week. When I went to pick up our race numbers yesterday we got lost twice. My nephew sent us an angel in the body of a nun who helped us finally get to our destination. When we arrived, I met a former VA colleague of mine who is now a member of the Central Mass Striders running club. Small world and he gave me easier directions to find our way back home than the circuitous route we took to get there. I could have driven to NYC and back for the time we spent in the car yesterday.

So when the alarm went off this morning at 7:30, not particularly early but with daylight savings time it felt early, my body did not want to move. The exhaustion was the accumulation of so much stress since last Saturday. But the sun was shining and I knew that I was going to be in the presence of so many wonderful friends that I slowly stretched, did my cervical spine exercises and prepared to run the inaugural Celtic 5K in Worcester.

The weather quickly changed as we drove out Route 9 to the race. It had been rather warm and sunny (fortunately I grabbed a jacket before we left) but by the time we arrived in Worcester it had turned rainy, cloudy and cold. I had on my sunglasses and hadn't bothered to bring a change of glasses. I did not have hat and gloves. Fortunately I was planning to return Doug's hat which I had since we ran the Operation Jack virtual 6.2 run in December so it kept me reasonably warm.

As soon as we saw our Daily Mile #NERTS friends Doug, Melody, and Sandy I felt myself warming up. Despite feeling like I just wanted to crawl into bed (a feeling I've had a lot this past week), the desire to be out on the road was much stronger. I knew that the crummy feelings would past and the best medicine for feeling lousy is a run with friends.

I got to meet Heather and Hollis twitter and Daily Mile friends and we all focused on keeping warm and the joy of being together. I felt the love and support embrace me. Although this was not going to be my PR day, I cheered and wooted for Doug who was going for his PR. The clouds began to break at the starting line and the sun shone through as we were halfway through the race.

I helped Izzy run her first race bandit. She is a fast runner and we had a wonderful sense of play out on the road as she would sprint out ahead of me and turn around to make sure I was close by. Many people lined the race course route as they waited for the St. Patrick's Day parade which was to follow. Lex, her friend Stephanie and I shared our stories. I felt the energy of three women who had overcome major life challenges to experience the joy of this moment. Stephanie, Lex and I achieved a PR that was not on the time clock this day but one that takes much grit and determination as Doug's PR. I feel that we captured the stroller division! At the finish line we took photos and felt the love of a day that despite the weather is a harbinger of Spring for all of us. The best medicine for whatever ails you is a good run with great friends!

In an email from Rev. Betty who was the officiating minister at my nephew's service, she told me to be gentle with myself and to allow the feelings to flow. We went to Castle Island after the run and I watched the ebb and flow of the water, I let the tears flow. I heard the call of the seagulls. We found three heart shaped stones on the beach. We knew that Charlie was resting in peace. Our hearts are healing with the love and support of so many wonderful people and of course our steadfast faith in the Divine.

God bless, be well and live like you were dying
From my heart to yours with gratitude and love,

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Running Through the Pain

Running through the pain of a broken heart is no easy feat. By being able to run and through the love and support of my running community I have made it through a marathon of a different kind this week. Last Saturday I received an email no one ever wants to receive. The subject: Terrible News. It read, "Charlie jumped off of his fishing boat and he is gone. Will call you later." Charlie was my nephew, my brother's first born son and 2nd oldest child. I screamed and cried when I read the email. My first anguishing thought was not grandfather and grandson. This cannot be possible. For those of you who may not know, when I was 17 and my brother 19, our father suicided. Paul and I talked and cried together. Of course I would be there. What did he need?

Rather than focusing on the events of this past week, I want to focus on how I got through something I never thought I would have to go through again in this lifetime. How does one get through losing two loved ones to suicide? On Saturday I returned to an old favorite coping mechanism. I cleaned. I changed linens, did laundry and took no prisoners. Dust bunnies ran for their lives. On Sunday, Tom and I were planning to go to the yoga for runners class at South Boston Yoga Studio. We set the alarm and when it went off I no more wanted to head to a yoga class than take a trip to the moon. I knew that it was crucial to take care of myself through this time. How wonderful to open and stretch although all I wanted to do was to curl up in a ball in bed until I awoke from this nightmare. As the reverend who officiated the memorial service said, "How dare we love that which death can take away?"

On Monday I did my upper body strength training focusing on opening my heart chakra as I spread my arms open wide with 3 pound weights on a pilates ball. I focused on health and wholeness and gave thanks for the healing in my life. I packed for our trip to Rhode Island on Tuesday and reached out to friends via email. The outpouring of love and support from the running community and the prayers and love which flowed from my dear friends kept me strong and fueled for the next leg of this grueling marathon.

Tuesday morning I felt so depleted. I had written my eulogy for Charlie but during morning meditation, I realized I needed to make some changes. I knew God was directing me to connect Charlie with his grandfather and then to heal the pain with a rainbow bridge of love and comfort. A dear friend of mine who is also a minister sent me a beautiful email which I knew I was meant to incorporate into the eulogy. A part of me could not wait to get to Rhode Island to be with my brother, his partner (and our friend from high school) and my nieces and nephews. A part of me wanted to say, 'No thank you. I'll sit this one out thank you very much.' The ambivalence, and the pain of grief was an energy drain to be sure. Regardless, I laced up my running shoes and went for a 3 miler. My friends on Daily Mile sent me motivation knowing that it was a pain filled run. I put on my iPod and let the words and rhythm of different songs wash over my soul. I showered, finished packing and off we went to Rhode Island.

My former sister in law is a water pilates instructor. She asked me if I would like to have a class before we got ready for Charlie's service. The hotel had a heated pool but I was hesitant to pack my bathing suit thinking I would never have time for a swim. I thought I would just use Wednesday as my day off from exercise this week. At the last minute I decided to pack my bathing suit and was so glad I did. The hour we spent together was healing on so many levels.

I made it through the service, the eulogy and the luncheon. I would call Wednesday the Heartbreak Hill of this week's marathon. The church had standing room only with an overflow in the ante room of the church. The outpouring of love spoke to who Charlie was and is at his essence. (A word that both my brother and I used during our eulogies). At the luncheon, my brother's partner asked if she could get a ride back to the hotel. She was exhausted and wanted to get changed and refuel. We told my brother we would meet everyone back at the hotel. We got into comfortable clothes and had time to to decompress in the lobby before everyone else returned. We exchanged current phone numbers, email addresses and friended each other on facebook. Having run this marathon together we now shared a special bond and wanted to make sure we kept in close contact with each other despite busy and disparate lives.

Today is a new starting line. The reverend talked about breathing and breathe we must and grieve we must despite having a stone on our chests. During this morning's meditation, I released the stone and am allowing the grief to wash through me. I will cross train at the gym today with my training, running and life partner Tom as we get ready to run the Celtic 5K on Sunday. Our daughter comes home tomorrow. She could not come in for the service because of her school and work commitments. She asked if she could run the Celtic 5K with us on Sunday. Team McManus will run the race together. There will be no PR planned. We will be out there with loving friends and we will be running through the pain but transforming the pain through love, joy and laughter as we begin anew.

Below is a photo of my nephew Charlie scallop fishing where he found his joy and bliss on the sea:

I am glad you were able to find your peace at last dear Charlie. May the hearts of my brother and his children find peace, comfort and healing.

God bless, be well and live like you were dyin
From my heart to yours with love and gratitude,

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Joy In The Journey

Looking back on this amazing health and fitness journey, I cannot believe how far I have come. The only exercise I used to do was a stationery bike and some walking. Strength training? Free weights? Cardiovascular conditioning? Pilates - weren't those the people who fly planes? These words had no place in my vocabulary or my life. I lived from the neck up immersed in intellectual exercises. I had a loving heart for others but did not know how to love myself. I despised my body which I felt had betrayed me. I did not have the tools to feel whole. With the diagnosis of post polio syndrome came the greatest blessing of my life.

I started out in outpatient rehab using a modified elliptical bike for 10 minutes. I remember feeling the joy of being able to just move. My physical therapist, Allison Lamarre Poole helped me to connect the dots and begin to feel myself in my body. Therabands, pilates, manual manipulation, cold therapy were all a part of those three times/week visits. I want to inject a thought here about the paradox of pain. When we are in pain, our instinct is to withdraw from physical exercise and often times that is a wise plan when you are injured or recovering from surgery BUT there is a pain associated with lack of exercise called the pain of disuse. It is counter intuitive to exercise when you are tired or in pain. When I look through the literature on post polio syndrome (PPS) it says that to date there is no known effective pharmacological treatment of PPS but offers a list of drugs that may be effective. It says that gentle non fatiguing exercise may help with some of the symptoms of fatigue. And that's where I had to start but as my regular readers know, one of my favorite songs is 'It's Not Where You Start It's Where You Finish.'

It's been a slow and steady journey with a slow and steady climb. Some times I had to rest on a rung before I could begin my climb up again. There have been earth angels at every rung to help me with my journey. The more I move, the better I feel.My drug of choice for the treatment of post polio syndrome is regular fatiguing exercise with variety as the spice of life. What are the keys to my success?

1. Perseverance - Stick with it. I write down in my calendar my plan for the week ahead. Sometimes I have to tweak it based on the weather or how I am feeling after trying something new (like yoga) but I am learning the difference between when I need to push myself through the pain or fatigue and when I need to take a day off. Invariably I feel so much better when I do not allow the pain or fatigue to prevent me from doing my plan for the day.

2. Patience - Sometimes you may not be able to 'see' your progress but trust and know it is happening. The phrase slow and steady wins the race is so true when it comes to recovery and healing.

3. Feel the joy in the journey - Focus on every minute detail of 'success'. For me when I was first able to get off of a low toilet seat, I felt a rush of success. In yoga, I feel a sense of joy when I take a risk to move my body in a new way and it feels so right. PR's are great and certainly a measurement of success but often times it's not the time on the clock but how I feel inside that fuels my feeling the joy in the journey.

4. Variety is the spice of life - Even if you are initially limited in how much you can do, be sure to build variety into your health and fitness regimen. I am still in awe that I can use different pieces of equipment at the gym, free weights, a pilates ball; I still use my therabands for upper body strength and incorporate my rehab pilates into my core training. I run, do yoga, do free weight training and who knows what else is waiting for me out there in the Universe. I am so blessed to feel the joy in the journey and have so many wonderful fellow travelers along for the ride.

God bless,be well and live like you were dyin'
From my heart to yours
With love,

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Expectant pregnant bellies' buds
bird song coaching birth
Sunshine rain unfolding leaves
as trees increase their girth
The magic of this time of year
Planned by the Master's hand
A feast for sight and sound and smell
on heart and soul they land.
Barren trees now bloom with life
erasing winter's pall
To live a life that's filled with joy
to listen for God's call
No matter what the weather
a life is always blessed
new life, rebirth each moment
God's love will do the rest!

From "Set Sail for a New World:Healing a Life Through the Gift of Poetry" with a foreword by Jordan Rich
20% of book proceeds donated to End Polio Now