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Running with Your Heart

Growing up, I wasn’t athletic – I was more of the bookworm-type. I did run cross country in junior high, but wasn’t very good at it. I came in last or close to last at the races. Every time I finished running, I felt like I was going to die; I guess that is what happens when you live in a household with smokers.

Fast forward, life happened: marriage and two daughters later, my life was happy and, I would dare say, complete. T was almost three when our youngest daughter, Lakin, was born. I had two healthy beautiful girls. There wasn’t time for exercise. I was happy when I was able to get a walk in or go to the park – that was my idea of working out.

September 10, 2008 will be forever etched in my mind. That was the day when my perfect happy life came crashing down with one phone call. I was at work when I received a phone call from my husband that our youngest daughter Lakin, who was almost eleven months old, stopped breathing at daycare. Of course, my brain wouldn’t go to the fact that I was going to lose her. I wasn’t ready to say good-bye, nor did I think I knew how. How could I say good-bye when I wasn’t ready? She was so young and healthy. How could she stop breathing? What was happening to my perfect happy life that I knew?

I kept thinking as I rode to the hospital. “Everything will be okay – they will bring her back like they do in the movies.” That was my hope. However, my hope was soon crushed. The doctor came into the room where my husband and I were praying with the chaplain when I heard the words that no parent should ever have to hear – “I’m sorry there is nothing else we can do, she is gone.”

My world as I knew it was going to drastically change. I had to somehow call my parents who are 100 miles away and tell them that their granddaughter was gone. We had to somehow tell our three-and-a-half year old daughter that her sister wasn’t coming home. I found the strength to get through those really tough moments of agreeing to donate her tissues, planning her funeral, the funeral itself and the days and months that passed. I was so thankful that we decided to donate her tissues as it was because of that we were able to get some closure. We found out that her death was not caused by S.I.D.S. like we had thought, it was actually Myocarditis, a viral infection of the heart. The only issue with this diagnosis is it can happen to anyone at any state of life. It wasn’t like someone hits a certain age and the risk goes down.

I continued to move through my grief and trying to learn how to live my new normal without my complete family. Around the one year anniversary of Lakin’a death, my family and I went to Faith’s Lodge, a place for families to honor and remember children who are terminally ill or for parents who have lost a child. While we were there, the executive director was training for the Twin Cities Marathon. A small spark was lit. After returning from our week at Faith’s Lodge, I was talking to my Stephen Minister (a Christian layperson helping provide care and comfort to me after Lakin’s  passing) about our trip.  I had mentioned to her about the small spark that was lit while at Faith’s Lodge and wanting to start to run. She had also been a runner and so was her husband.

The thought of running remained in the back of my mind for months until one day, I had someone come up to me and asked me when I was due. That pretty much was enough to tell me I needed to make some changes in my life. I had made it through the very first hard year of our loss. I also survived Lakin’s first birthday without her. In December of 2009, I decided to make the change and laced up my tennis shoes and started running. I didn’t wake up that morning and go for a 3 mile run. Nope, I woke up and started the Couch to 5K (C25K) program. I started by running 1 minute. Slowly, that running one minute changed into fifteen and soon I was running thirty minutes at a time. That time of running was time for me. Time for me to be in my own thoughts to be able to look in the sky and see the stars hoping, wondering if L akin was looking down on me and if she was happy. Running was great for my soul and my grief.

Naturally, the weight started to come off and I signed up for my first half marathon that fall. The half marathon was right around Lakin’s Angel Date (the anniversary of her death). I was running that race in honor of the two year anniversary of her death. The half marathon didn’t go as planned. I was hoping for beautiful weather as it was summer in North Dakota. Nope; it snowed the night before and was cold race day, but I wasn’t going to let the cold temps deter me. I crossed the finish line on that cold September morning, with my friends and family waiting for me.

Over the years since we lost Lakin, I have used running as a coping mechanism to get through those tough milestones in grief and life. I ran my first full marathon in honor of the fifth angel-versary of her death. That was the year that Lakin would have also started Kindergarten as well. Once again, my family and friends were waiting for me at the finish line. My husband and daughter have traveled with me to races and cheered me on. They are some of my biggest cheerleaders. Even when they can’t be there, I know they are back in North Dakota cheering me on.

Today I am getting ready to run another half marathon. I will be running the Bismarck Half Marathon in September – which is the very same race that was my first half and full marathon. I will be running this race in honor of living 10 years without our daughter and sister, L. I will not only be running in her honor, but in honor of my living daughter to show her that we can overcome big things in life with positivity. I will also be running in honor of all those moms out there who have suffered the loss of a child. It’s not easy to go through what we have gone through and come out the other side better and not bitter. When your legs can no longer carry you, run with your heart.