noun An anchored float serving as a navigation mark
verb Keep (someone or something) afloat
I could not remember the last time I had swum a mile. Time has stopped, and seized, and stretched and raced since last November. I have found little sense in the fits and starts, the urgencies and the stalls. My tactic has just been to march on, show up where I am supposed to, handle what is in front of me, metaphorically “just keep swimming.” But literally, swimming is not something I have done in over a year.
So there I was putting on a wetsuit, watching the sunrise reflect on the Pacific, listening to the anthem, and filing down the stairs to swim in the cove. The Challenge Athletes foundation triathlon is something I show up for. Every October I know it will be there to recharge my belief in the power of the human spirit. I count on it. I look forward to it. And this year, I needed it.
The water was cool and clear. I watched garibaldi swim below me and just focused on making it to the next buoy, then the next, then the next ... until I lapped up on the beach with the pitching surf and felt that sense of recently illusive peace.
Since mom died I’ve found ways to hide from the grief. Ducking and weaving around the painful emotions, I have dodged behind a lame excuse, “I don’t have time to grieve, not yet.” But I have been fooling myself. What I have actually been doing is perpetually grieving, chronically missing my best friend, and wanting something in this world to right my pitching ship. With Mom, and all that she did to support me gone, I’ve been frantically searching the cloudy horizon for buoys, markers to tell me which way to go .... and until that day in October, I hadn’t been able to see what was right in front of me.
The Challenged Athletes Foundation Triathlon is important to me as an annual milestone, as a commitment I made to a dear patient, and as a promise I made to myself to always stay involved with this fantastic organization. It is a navigation mark to me, a reminder that I am on the path I always intended to travel. It is one of my buoys in both senses of the word.
Since that day in October, I have spent some time reflecting on what exactly has been keeping me afloat since June when my mom died. I have been buoyed by quiet moments at the ocean, sitting by a fire, watching a beautiful sunset. I have been buoyed by laughter, and a good meal. But mostly, I have been buoyed by the love and support of my friends and family. Snuggling with my dog Beau, just right texts from my brother Tucker, hugs and patience from a special guy, phone calls and notes from my friends near and far, these things have buoyed my spirits and helped me to continue seeing the beauty and joy that is all around.
Another buoy is very close on the horizon. The annual pediatric surgery trip to Haiti is fast approaching. We get to work in a new clinic this year, with some new team members. We get to tackle the challenges, and celebrate the joy and privilege of doing work we love. Jacmel is my November buoy and I am swimming for it with new appreciation.
Now, I metaphorically swim with a more determined and true heart. These buoys have come out of the fog to guide me through this hard one year mark since mom’s diagnosis. There they are, the things that matter most, the people who matter most, showing up and forcing me to face my grief with courage, not denial. There they are, helping me to stay afloat and to navigate this new reality. I am forever thankful for the guidance and the support.
And Mom, I carry you with me always. I love you forever.
*(artwork by Mom - Debby Yoder)