Thursday, February 18, 2016

Between Two "G's"

Grief and Gratitude are part of the human experience. Some G’s are big; some G’s are small. But the size of the G and it’s impact on our life is very personal and will be experienced within the context of our current life circumstances.

Two sets of Big G’s are currently impacting me: epilepsy whose birthdate was August 27, 2013 and the death of my brother from alcoholism February15, 2016. Despite their first blush of disconnection, both events are helping me move in a more complete way from grief to gratitude.

Epilepsy gave me pause to consider how far from home I could safely ride my bike alone and what kind of tracking device I would need in case I had a seizure on the road. Since 80% of the time since being diagnosed I have been unable to drive, I have been dependent on Kirk or other riders to drive me to the start of remote rides. Not being able to drive has been a deciding factor of where I can fly for big rides; renting a car at the other end is no longer an option. A riding buddy must be at my destination to provide ground transportation. These were but lifestyle changes that felt much more like adjustments in daily living and never really created a blip on my griefometer.

Since the beginning of living with epilepsy the needle on my gratitudometer has registered “fully charged” every day:

  • We live in Tucson, no longer Chicago, so I can ride 365 days a year and I can bike commute everywhere.
  • There are countless routes that are bike friendly where I can train, mountains to climb, cycling clubs to ride with, or I can ride solo in meditation and centering. So many options.
  • Since I am retired, there is no pressure to excel professionally, commute exhausting distances daily, help our children grow, mature, and blossom all while managing epilepsy.
  • I had achieved four of my big bucket cycling goals in the years before being diagnosed:
  • Riding two transcontinentals with PAC Tour in 30 days or less
  • Riding a minimum of 10,000 miles with PAC Tour
  • Riding in all 50 states
  • Successfully riding multiple 500-1000 mile self-contained tours, no camping, though
The remaining bucket list of my cycling goals are able to be (or have been) accomplished locally and do not have to be be diminished by epilepsy.

So where’s the big grief G?

I have ridden 12,000+ miles a year for the last 10-12 years so I'm not just tootling around the block. March 27, 2015 I lost consciousness for just a few seconds and fell off my beloved Bacchetta Ti Aero. Falling off my bike unexpectedly because of a seizure in the world of motorized vehicles is a terrifying thought. I always knew that at some point I would need to transition to a trike (a gift of years kind of thing), but I was not expecting the transition to come quite so soon. Two months later I had sold my Ti Aero and an amazing ICE Sprint X was tethered in our garage. My new ride.

Hielo (ice in Spanish) was unquestionably a big G gratitude. But soon I learned its weight and  three wheels contributed to a huge (by my standards and expectations) decrement in my performance. I would never be able to ride or climb as fast or be anywhere near able to perform at a level that would allow me to ride effectively with the folks I had ridden with while riding the other bike.

I tried and tried to stay in the gratitude, but would repeatedly find myself sinking into self-deprecating funk spirals, stuck in the ” yeah buts”, "if onlies” and resentment that epilepsy had interfered with my former joy of performance. Friends and family would remind me that at age 70 I don't have to compete with those who are 20, 30, or 40 years younger, but I refused to hear it. I couldn't fully accept my new reality.

February 6, 2016 Margaret O’Kelley and I drove to Scottsdale to ride the Arizona Brevet Club’s 300k which was 192 miles when the 5+ miles of riding to the start were included. A little subgroup of 4 of us rode the the route together. We were 4 of 8 who were in the back of the much larger pack due to my much slower pace riding Hielo. Somewhere in the middle of the desert’s dark of night my phone rang. My brother’s ex-wife was calling to say my brother had been admitted to hospice and would be receiving last rites the next day. He lived only about a week before dying a most unnecessary death to end stage alcoholism. He was never willing to accept the reality of his disease, never willing to ask for help, never willing to receive help. He died a pauper both economically and relationally.

I stewed for a couple of days in my self-righteous anger toward him which then morphed into sadness that such a gifted person chose to stay stuck in his disease rather than embrace the possibility of recovery and gratitude.

As it is said in AA, whenever an alcoholic dies drunk, he/she has bought the hope and possibility of recovery for someone who is still suffering.

While his brain disease and mine are totally different, his impending death, tolled by the bell of my phone in the dark and solitary desert, bought me the gift of Big G gratitude.

I am now looking fully forward to discovering how I will use that gift of Gratitude in the lives of others who find themselves stuck between two G’s--grief and gratitude.