Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Charlie Brown Factor

Let me start off by sharing a strange realization I sat down to write this post, I noticed I wrote a post exactly 5 years ago.....with similar themes. Strange that the feelings I wrote 5 years ago still exist today....both hopefully a good read and insight to how grieving can effect holiday celebrations.


These days I am feeling a bit like Charlie Brown ~

"I think there must be something wrong with me. Christmas is coming but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel."

Every day this year since the holidays began being blasted in my face, I have had a daily "bah humbug" moment. 

I have been trying to ignore it but I just cannot.

It is everywhere - the Christmas lights on my neighbors homes streaming through my windows, holiday tunes playing in every store, bells jingling as I walk into any store - even when I am doing routine errands.

Don't get me wrong. I am not anti-Christmas. I love the lights. I love the decorations. I love the music. I love the cheesy movies. I love the preparation. I love the baking.

Just not this year.

The past two years I have become a bit of a hermit. I have stopped running, only occasionally cycling, and pretty much have discontinued social activities.

I think it has always been there.....this incredibly social personality of mine struggling to hide....the expectations of society for social interaction. I get it. Being social and active does a person good. There is no doubt in my mind - which is why I have always been social and active.

But with that comes a tipping point.....and I hit mine a few years ago.

Becoming a bit of a hermit actually is a bit of a relief at times. Although it comes with its share of loneliness, the exhaustion that comes with being "up" and pretending all is wonderful, is overwhelming when you are just not feeling it.

And honestly, I am still grieving.

Grieving? Really Barb?


The grieving NEVER goes away. It subsides but it is always there...waiting...the ache of missing the life you planned....the heartbreak of losing the love of your life....the doing everything alone....the celebrating your childrens accomplishments alone. It isn't easy to move forward. It isn't easy to live life alone without the one you promised to love until death do you part. Unfortunately, that promise doesn't take into account the other half of the equation left behind. Is it terrible that sometimes I think I got the short end of the stick....that the grieving and loneliness is far more difficult? 

What's my point with all of this?

It is not to gain pity from anyone - absolutely the opposite! Pity only makes it worse.

It is to make friends, family and complete strangers aware that the joy of the holidays can be very joyless to many. That putting up a tree, wrapping presents, baking cookies, shopping, etc. takes an emotional toll on many - because putting on a "show" for the holidays is exhausting - even when you aren't struggling with the loneliness of it all.

December 26 is always a very welcome date to me.

I decided to write this blog today because I find the act of sharing these feelings to be personally cathartic, an elephant off my shoulders.....and hopefully, open others eyes to think differently about how others act during the holidays. Some of us just don't enjoy it nearly as much and you really cannot escape the Christmas spirit - it is everywhere! The holidays can feel like a chore instead of the celebration it should be.

My tree is up. Cookies are baking, Wreath on the front door. Shopping complete. Christmas dinner menu in the works.

Check, check, check, check.....all with a heavy heart and no joy.

 I have tried very hard to not allow my holiday blues effect my childrens' holiday experiences. I am sure I have not always been successful and for that, and all the other difficulties they have had to encounter because of the unfortunate life circumstances they were dealt, I worry and carry a lot of mom guilt.

My ask of all of you?

Take a moment to extend a simple smile, a kind word or another simple random act of kindness to those around you - yes even those that appear to be in great spirits.

Nothing extravagant....just spread a little more kindness this never know how much it may be appreciated.

May you all have some level of love, laughter and happiness surrounding you today, tomorrow and everyday.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

I RAGBRAI with Team LIVESTRONG because.....

"There are no strangers here.  Only friends you have not yet met." ~ William Butler Yeats

It has been one week since I returned home from a week of isolation from the real world. 

Camping each evening, rising before 6 am each morning, breaking down camp, and pedaling away eastward by 7:30 am in search of breakfast.

With 12,000 - 15,000 other cyclists.  Most of them strangers. With the exception of my fellow teammates that made up 2016 RAGBRAI Team LIVESTRONG.

Five years ago I arrived at the team camp having signed up for RAGBRAI after being on the losing end of a bet....this runner had no business being on a bike, let alone for a week long ride across an entire state. 

Five years ago I arrived at the team camp surrounded by strangers, with the exception of a few LIVESTRONG staffers - who also knew I had no business being on a bike.

Seven days later I left with an extended add to the other LIVESTRONG families I have created over the years through other events and volunteer roles for the foundation.

Every year since that first year, there have been a few more strangers showing up at camp on day one.....and by day two, they are strangers no more.

One of our traditions every night is to have a team meeting to review logistics for the next day, reflect on the day's ride and adventures, and share personal stories about our own cancer journey.  This year a teammate suggested we all share "I RAGBRAI with Team LIVESTRONG because...."

Not surprisingly there was a similar theme among the responses.

We all started our involvement for similar reasons - some were cancer survivors, others to pay tribute to a loved one that was impacted by cancer - currently in the fight, a survivor or stolen from us.  We all were involved because we believed in LIVESTRONG and the services it provides to our communities.

As we went around the campsite, there was another common theme in all our responses as to why we continue RAGBRAI'

LIVESTRONG has always been a family to me from that very first marathon I participated in 2009.  The family has continued to grow with every event.

The TEAM LIVESTRONG RAGBRAI family is somewhat different.  8 days of complete isolation from reality......24 hours a day for a full week of highs and lows, of laughter and tears, of support and teasing on another.
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. ~ Henri Nouwen
My reality is not easy.  It is not easy for my children.  But it is what it is and somehow we muddle through every day.  I'm not sure how different it would be if cancer had not stolen Brian from us.  It may not have been any easier but it would have been different.

Riding my bike across Iowa is hard - but not reality hard.  Illinois is flat.  Iowa is not.  Life is crazy and I don't always get enough training in.  So why would I keep going?

I do not go to RAGBRAI for the cycling.  I go to RAGBRAI for my family reunion.  For my escape from reality.  This is my summer camp.  These folks let me escape.  These people recognize that the other 51 weeks of the year, I'm pretty much on a tilt-a-whirl.  These people don't care.  These people love me.  These people support me.  These people make me laugh so hard my belly aches for 7 days.  These people lift me up when I am down.

This year's RAGBRAI was the most difficult for me - under trained, overweight and a different mental frame of mind.

I had a particular tough ride on the first day - to the point I was on the verge of tears along the route, I wanted to give up.  But this family.....this group of people.....they embraced me - on route and off route.  They pulled over if they saw me on the side stopped, they encouraged me to take my time - to keep pushing on. 

When I was the absolute last of the team to show up at our daily meet-up spot along the route - well beyond the time they all arrived - I was expecting it to be a solo stop.  But there they were,  In the perfect spot in the shade.  A highlight of that miserable hot, difficult, emotional ride - hearing my name over the dim of the riders enjoying a well earned beverage along the route.

As soon as I got to the group, the tears began spilling out of me.  The heat, the reality that this was harder than I was ready for and the feeling of defeat had overcome me. 

This group.  This team.  This family.  They understood.  They embraced me.  They let me feel  down.  They made me laugh.  They waited.  They got me back on my bike.  They inspired me.  They propped me back up.  They got me through the week.

This is why I RAGBRAI.  This is why I LIVESTRONG. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Push Barb Across Iowa!!

My summer vacation this year doesn't involve a trip to Europe, sightseeing through museums in a major city,  lounging poolside, cruising an exotic locale or planting myself on a sandy beach while dipping my toes in the ocean.

For the fifth year in a row, my week vacation involves camping in rural Iowa, sleeping on the ground in stifling, windless, humid July nights, and cycling each day 50 - 90 miles a day to get myself from western Iowa to the Mississippi.

I can imagine what is going through your head....."she's crazy," "has she lost her flipping mind?," and "what is she thinking?"

You are all correct in thinking those sentiments.

The reason I keep spending my summer vacation in this fashion is because I can't imagine NOT spending a week in this fashion.

A week surrounded by like-minded cancer hating friends (whom where all strangers when I started this).  No, not friends......FAMILY.

I ride for Team LIVESTRONG.

I ride for those than cannot.

I ride to educate and advocate for an organization that has identified gaps in the resources needed by the cancer community.....and fills these gaps.

I'll do the riding.  I'll pitch my tent.  I'll sleep on the ground.  I'll shower in high school gyms.  I'll get up each morning and do it over again, and again, and again.

But in order to do this, I need to raise at least $1,000.  In years past, I have been over $7,000.  This year I'm only at $183!!


I am riding 468 miles across Iowa in July to support LIVESTRONG and raise funds needed to continue providing these FREE services.  

FREE navigation services that provide assistance to survivors, caregivers and health professionals.  Services that go beyond a diagnosis.

LIVESTRONG Navigation Services saw a 40% increase in usage this past year, which means even more people were provided tools to assist in their cancer battle.  These services are free due to donations.

Sadly, the number of people that get cancer each year continues to rise (1 out of every 2 humans will get cancer - look around you......someone in the room with you WILL get cancer).  In 2015, it was estimated there would be an estimated 1,658,370 new cancer cases diagnosed and 589,430 cancer deaths in the US.

These cancer survivors, their caregivers, their families and their health care providers need the services provided by LIVESTRONG.

But again, I can only ride and support the foundation if I raise the funds.  So how can you help?

Well, simply....make a donation.

It's that easy.  Click the link below and donate whatever you can afford.....$10, $20, $50, $100, $500.  It all helps!


Please leave a comment below for anyone I can ride in their honor or memory.  Knowing I am helping others makes it that much easier to get up the hills, to keep pedaling each day.  And knowing I am honoring your loved ones makes it all that more special for helps push me!