200 pieces of my heart

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My mom, nephew and I found this heart earlier this month during their Balloon Fiesta visit. We thought of my dad the whole time.

There is a trail by my house that is perfectly challenging and beautiful, and when I take advantage of it, I not only come home with a great view of the city and the occasional cactus bloom or sunflower in my head, but often a better outlook on my life.

Let’s face it. It’s been a rough year.

I recently started running on this trail more often thanks to a challenge from a friend to run a 10K. I wanted to compete in a long race for my dad this year but never mustered up the energy to even sign up for something longer than a 5K until this friend said she was running a half marathon and invited me to do it, too. At that point in the year, I didn’t have enough time to train for 13.1 miles, but figured I could train for 6.2. I made the official commitment on Sept. 1 and signed up for the Duke City race on Oct. 18. 

Six weeks was not a lot of time. Things got crazy and I didn’t get to train as much as I wanted, but long-story-short, I unexpectedly ended up running the whole race and finished around my average time. This was some sort of miracle, I promise you, but there were a few other miracles and mind-opening moments while training for that race I want to share.

I told you it’s been a rough year and I know this isn’t a surprise to you if you’re a close friend, family member, or anyone who has been reading this blog since December. For me, it’s really hard to run when my heart feels heavy and overwhelmed. Some days I’d go out on that trail and come home very frustrated because my mind kept me from doing my best. It was filled with the things that make me sad and it’s really hard to keep my legs moving when all I want to do is go home, crawl under my covers and be mad at the world.

There were a few good runs in there though, and one of them in particular has stayed with me. I don’t remember how fast I went that day, or how many times I had to stop mid-hill, but I do remember knowing in that moment that my heart is healing.

The first time I wrote on this blog after my dad passed away, I said, “Sometimes your heart breaks into 1,000 pieces.” It’s true. Sometimes life is just that way. For me, it happened Dec. 16  on my way to meet a friend for coffee. The moment was so unsuspecting. Sometimes life is just that way, too. All of the sudden you’re making U-turns, but you don’t really know where you’re supposed to go because your heart just fell to the ground and you realize the world has no refuge for you. If your heart can shatter right after missing a left turn on a road you’ve driven a million times, it can shatter anywhere.

It wasn’t long before I was sobbing on the floor of my living room. And it wasn’t long after that when I found myself in bed on the phone trying to sort out pieces that wouldn’t be known for hours. It seems I was on the phone all night. At the table. On the floor in front of my bed. In the dining room while pacing and making plans.

On that first day when you’re heart breaks into 1,000 pieces, nothing seems quite real. You almost wonder if you’ll wake up from it. On the second day, everyone is forced to start making really big decisions. Within seven days, you’ve most likely survived the viewing, the funeral, and the burial. For us, nine days later we celebrated our first major holiday without my dad – Christmas. Those firsts sometimes hit like a ton of bricks. Eleven days later, I was back at work editing and posting stories about an accidental shooting. More bricks.

From there on out, life sometimes feels like a corn maze. Sometimes you’re on the right path, and sometimes you’re not. Sometimes you’re going in circles and seeing the same things twice. Oops. It’s haunted sometimes; there’s the regrets and if onlys, and it feels like someone (maybe it’s yourself) is trying to chase you out of this horrible place and you’re screaming while running for the exit you can’t find.

Not all days are bad. There are really good days and there are actually a lot of normal days. You learn that no one and nothing will ever let you grieve for as long as you want to, so you learn to go on and pretend in most situations that everything is OK.

There are possibly more moments when you remember not to take things for granted. You see everything differently – from the clouds, rainbows, and sunsets, to the lightning, wind and starry skies. You notice more deeply when you’re on an adventure your loved one would have enjoyed having too, and you hope he’s with you somehow. For me, one of those moments was riding on a working choo-choo train from Durango to Silverton this summer where Travis, his dad and I all ended up with soot on our faces, wind-blown hair and memories to last a lifetime. The afternoon Travis and I took a boat under the Golden Gate Bridge was another moment my dad would have loved. Of course I thought about him when Travis and I were hundreds of feet above ground in a hot air balloon this August, and on the morning my mom and brother’s family was in town to see hundreds of hot air balloons launch all around us. I also know he would have loved to finish a race with me, so I don’t doubt that he actually did in spirit on Oct. 18.

Remember how I said my heart is healing? It’s a slow process, but I know that it is. During that training run on the trail by my house, I started thinking about how I was really close to reaching my 200th heart post on Instgram since May. I thought about the places they’ve been found and the people who have sent them to me. They’ve been discovered in the sky, as potato chips, in canyons and pumpkin patches. Friends visiting Scotland, England, Ireland and Japan and photographed them on sidewalks, sewer covers, statues and flower fields. Hearts have appeared as watermelons, water spots, bubbles, bricks and bark. They are everywhere, and they often come with a happy story or adventure attached.

I’ve known how incredible this is, but it struck me again during that run. I realized even though my soul broke into 1,000 pieces 10 months ago, every time I find a heart, or every time someone sends a picture, it’s like one of the shattered pieces is being put back together.

Sometimes your heart breaks into 1,000 pieces. It’s true. Sometimes life is just that way.

On that first day when you’re heart breaks into 1,000 pieces, nothing seems quite real.

I’ve lived 313 days since then and I can tell you it’s all real now – the pain, the loss, the grieving. But I can also tell you the healing is real, too, and you’re helping me with that. Thanks so much for sending me your hearts – your miracles – because they’ve become my miracles, too. I always say this, but we’re really all in this together. Thanks for taking me in, for thinking of my family, for sending your love and for helping at least 200 pieces of my heart feel like they’re on their way to being whole again.

As my husband reminded me yesterday when he gave me a heart necklace, every piece of my shattered heart has the ability to love everyone else, too. And one day, we’ll live in a space where there is no suffering, loss, or danger. Until then, I can work on making that place inside my own living, beating, healing heart.

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