Below, I’ve included a post I wrote on April 27, 2011, almost a year ago. I kept it private because it is very personal, and I didn’t want George to read it.
April 23, 2012—The Backstory
George’s health began to decline steadily in about December of 2010. It was easy for me to see his deterioration, because I went to the gym with him frequently and could see that he was steadily getting weaker. One by one, he gave up exercises that he could no longer do because of increasing pain in his arthritic hip, increasing lack of flexibility, and his heart’s inability to supply enough blood to his muscles.
In February 2011 he caught a bad cold/flu that he couldn’t seem to shake. This weakened him further. He also developed severe edema in his legs and feet. He refused to get medical help, despite my constant entreaties. Instead, he went to a naturopathic doctor who gave him treatments that were totally ineffectual considering the gravity of his medical condition. It wasn’t until April 2011 that the naturopath finally admitted she couldn’t help him and that he needed to go to the hospital.
About a year ago, he was admitted to Eagle Ridge hospital, where they immediately addressed his edema. Through the use of diuretics, he lost about 20 pounds of excess weight in a few days. After a week in hospital, he returned with prescriptions the doctors hoped would help stabilize his heart condition.
The post you’ll read below was written almost a year ago, when George was in the hospital. I wrote it out of the sheer need to express the pain and all the other tangled and contradictory emotions I was feeling.
It shows that I have been grieving for a long time.
April 27, 2011
It’s been painful to be around you these past two months.
I felt oppressed by awful sounds. The first sounds I heard every morning were your coughs and the thud of your heavy cane as you made your way slowly, painfully to the bathroom, hampered by your painfully arthritic hip.
You caught a bad flu, and the sounds got worse. Your cough woke me up intermittantly throughout the night. Sometimes I couldn’t get back to sleep because I was so worried about you. Now your breathing became heavy with the effort of walking even a few steps.
I was annoyed by the loud volume of the TV that was almost always on. You couldn’t tell it was loud because of your increasing deafness. How could I complain when you had only TV and your computer to pass the hours? I knew your heart was getting weaker and your hip was making it almost impossible for you to move, but you wouldn’t see a doctor.
Your demands were different each day as you tried every remedy for arthritis and edema that the snake oil salesmen promoted on the Internet. I was your cook and the person who found your dirty mugs and dishes scattered by your chair in the living room and all over your bedroom. I washed your clothes and put on your socks since you couldn’t bend your legs enough to do it yourself.
You stopped going anywhere except to a naturopathic doctor who made you tea and gave you soothing footbaths while gentle music played in the background. For months, she accepted your money for countless futile remedies. Our dining room table became a naturopathic pharmacy, with scarcely any space left for food plates.
One day the naturopath phoned me to come and pick you up because she didn’t think you were capable of driving yourself home. It took you 20 minutes to make the trip from the car to the house and up the steps to the main floor of our house.
Still, you wouldn’t go to a regular doctor. I drove you to your appointments with the naturopath.
One day, perhaps fearing a malpractice suit, she told you she couldn’t cure you, and said you had better go to the hospital. Though it’s weeks later than it should have been, you will finally get the help you need; for that I’m thankful.
Last night I realized I was alone in the house. I’ve never lived alone. My husband is not home. We both know our marriage is over. I always had a man in the house anyway because you were there. My cats lie on my bed with me, seeking and giving comfort. They don’t like to be alone either.
Today the house is quiet. I enjoy the peacefulness. I get a lot of cleaning and laundry done. There is no TV to bother me and I don’t have to cringe at the constant background coughs and groans that I’ve become used to.
But I think about all the ways I’d miss you if you didn’t come back.
I’d miss your 1930s music playing on the computer.
I’d miss watching Casablanca another time with you.
I’d miss the way you eat all my meals with simple gusto.
I’d miss your black-and-white comments about socialists and Muslims.
I’d miss looking at all your running videos and photos. Your choice of musical accompaniments for your videos was absurd, but you gave them your stamp. You taught yourself everything you know about computers—amazing for an old guy!—and it shows.
I was a little surprised that more friends didn’t come to see you when you were sick.
Maybe that’s because they never knew the superbly talented, strong, obsessed runner I knew, the man who encouraged me to start running when I was in high school and he was a gym teacher who was also one of the fastest over-40 sprinters on the planet.
Yes, it was quite a long time ago that I lost the vigorous and passionate athlete you used to be, you who lived for running.
For you, nothing was better than running 400s so hard that you’d be bent over, “eating grass” by the side of the track after each one. Sweat would pour on those hot summer days at the track. A couple of hours later, we would eat on the porch in the relative cool of evening. The exercise hormones coursing through our bodies added to our pleasant fatigue to give us one of the best highs there is. Normally a man of few words, a couple of beers would loosen your tongue and your laughter. We reviewed the exploits of the day’s workout; who had run exceptionally well? Who had “died” after running the first 400m too fast? Who had been a wimp and not completed the workout? How fast were people going to run at the next meet? What had the superstars done in the last Golden League meet?
You were sixty-five when knee arthritis forced you to stop running.
After that, I don’t think you were ever completely happy.
But you were a good friend to me and a second father to my son. You were a constant reassuring presence in my life. You always cared about my running. Even when I didn’t need a coach to tell me what to do anymore, I still needed to know that you were always cheering for me. You coached my son in the hurdles and toughened him up in the gym. You made videos of him racing. You were always proud of him as you had been proud of me. You drove him everywhere. You were always on time. You were always dependable.
Yes, I think of everything I’ll lose the day you don’t come back.
April 22, 2012
Yes, I’ve been grieving for a long time but now I know a grief that is sharper.
I walk into your suite at the Astoria Seniors’ Residence and burst into choking tears—because you aren’t there. You’ll never be there. And I can’t visit you at the hospital. You weren’t with Joseph and me at the gym this morning either. It seemed completely wrong that you weren’t giving Joseph a workout to follow. Did you see that he spotted me on the bench press since you weren’t there? Yeah, I did 90 lbs. but 95 was out of the question in my sleep-deprived state.
You’re gone and it’s real now.
April 23, 2012
I’m feeling a bit better today. I’m comforted by the many heartwarming messages and phone calls from friends. So many, many people write about how George changed their lives. If you haven’t already read my blog post “Leadership in running: coaching winning individuals and teams,” please look at it to find out more about George and see some great photos of him and some of his athletes. I welcome any comments here or on Facebook. Many messages are already posted and I look forward to sharing them with George’s friends at a memorial service where we will celebrate his life. Details to follow!