Historically speaking, fall has always been my favorite season. As a little girl, growing up in Ocean City, MD, fall was when we got the beach back to ourselves. All of the summer crowds had returned from whence they came, and it was just us and the ocean. I remember the walks that we’d take on the recently vacated boardwalk. And, I would breathe in the smells of the salt air and the mist of the ocean, all tangled up with the warm buttery sugary smell of Fisher’s Caramel Popcorn, and the malty vinegary smell of the french fries from Thrasher’s wafting up the beach. It was almost as if you could hear the phantom shrieks of kids still playing in the surf. The air still felt full of all those bodies, yet the horizon was clear. Just sand and sea.
Even after we left the beach, the autumn season in Annapolis held fondness as well. There were Halloween parties and Trick-or-Treat, band competitions held on chilly fall nights, October sailing, bonfire pep rallies, on the back-drop of the comfortable routine of back-to-school.
Throughout my college years, and through my 20s in New York, Autumn meant being at the theater, in preparation for the Fall Production. Ahhh rehearsal, togetherness, the spark of creating something new.
And, of course there’s the weather. Autumn in the North East makes the rest of the year bearable. The clear skies, the crisp mornings that bleed into warm afternoons, the magical perfection of jeans, a sweater, and a pair of boots.
Have I mentioned how much I love pumpkin? Well, I just did. I love it. Pumpkin pie, especially–the star of my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. As a kid from a splintered home, Christmas was a weeklong shlep between at least 5 different family gatherings, with different sets of expectations for how to behave at each. What I have always loved about Thanksgiving is the simplicity of the whole thing–one house, a delicious meal, followed by pumpkin pie, a game of touch football, and playing music with the family. No gifts, and very little drama.
You get the picture…fall, for me, has always been where it’s at.
So, in 2004, when my first child was born (the day after Halloween), it felt like the culmination of my love affair with fall. I had a new marker of my favorite season, the birthday of my favorite boy in the world.
Two years later, after celebrating his 2nd birthday, along with the closing of the last play I have done to date, my mother started coughing. It was a nagging little cough, that was soon joined by a low-grade fever. At this point, she had already survived three bouts of breast cancer and subsequent treatment. We were more than a little concerned. She called the doctor, but somehow due to a poorly timed vacation, his office would not end up seeing her until the first week of January. By then the cough had deepened, the fever had persisted, and we were given the news that we had been dreading. The cancer was back, had metastasized to her bones, and spots were showing on her liver. It was not good.
She plowed through another round of aggressive chemo which ended in the early summer. In July she joined us at the beach, with her bald head and radiant smile aglow. We were hopeful. But as the summer wore on, and the fall approached, it was clear that we didn’t have much time left.
During this time, I had joined a women’s bootcamp and taken up running, for the first time, in my adult life. I have never been a natural runner, but it was a challenge to take on a new form of fitness that was so efficient and empowering, especially as a mother of a young child, with limited time to exercise. Upon my mother’s decline, my therapist suggested that I do my best to get physically stronger as my mother became weaker–that I would need a strong body to weather the blow of this loss. So, I ran and I ran.
Whenever the panic would set in, and the bottom would fall out, I would tie up my running shoes and go. With my headphones on, and my body moving forward through space, I was able to run away from my fears, from my pain, from my responsibilities, in little spurts at a time. Often, my eyes would stream with the release of the hard held tears, on these runs, and my body would sweat out some of that heaviness that was always pulling at my heart.
Three weeks following my son’s 3rd birthday, one week after my favorite holiday, on November 29, 2007, my mother Debbie, lost her 18 year battle with breast cancer.
I was undone. But, I had a child to care for, and a life to lead, so I got up out of bed every day, and as often as I could, I ran. It was an active way for me to purge the darkness, a way to file all the emotions into places where they could fit, a time that I could check out on my day and reconnect with my mom, or I could just put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes that was all I could manage.
Another year passed, and I had the great fortune of bringing another child into the world, this time a daughter. Her birth marked a solid turning point in my grieving process, she put me right. 8 weeks after her birth fall descended, and I started running again.
My running practice would continue through the years that followed, through a move to the burbs, and the establishment of new fall traditions (like week-long power outages and super storms). But, after an early morning run, last January, on a new course, on a frigid day, I would end up in the doctor’s office with severe shin splints and hip pain. The hip pain, I had been managing with chiropractic, for years. But something shifted that day.
Since then I have been in and out of physical therapy. In May, I committed to stop running for 8 weeks to see if the inflammation in the hip socket would resolve. After that 8 weeks, excitedly, I lit out on my first mile. To my dismay, the symptoms returned. I grappled with the idea of surgery to repair the tear, but in the end, it seems that I must let go of my running practice.
It’s a daily struggle right now. It’s my season. The season that now holds all of those warm rich memories from my youth, the joyful remembrance of my son’s birth, and the painful life changing loss of my dear Mommy. Everything is all mixed up in Fall–all that goodness and all that pain. I see all of those beautiful leaves, I feel the adding up of all of those moments, all of those Autumns. I want to run, I want to burn it out on the trail, I want to feel the wind on my face and hear the sound of my feet beating the pavement in their own rhythm. But, I must choose to fall back, to honor what my body is telling me–to have gratitude for what running was able to give me, and to be able to let it go. And that’s really stupid hard.
Thanks for taking the time to read.
With love and peace,