Someone once told me I was doing it wrong. DOING IT WRONG. It doesn’t matter what “IT” was. I saw a quote that says “Just because someone is on a different path than you does not mean they are lost.” That person who told me I was doing it wrong….she was wrong. She was very wrong. I have made a million mistakes, some bad decisions, said some words I regretted, hurt some people I shouldn’t have, and all of it has me right here, right now. And there’s no place else Im supposed to be.
When I was 15 I had my first “boyfriend”. Then I had a boyfriend every year for the rest of my life. Before I met Patrick I spent some months alone. Going out with friends and to parties as a single girl. But other than those months there has been very little time since I was 15 that I did not have a boyfriend.
There was a girl who never left the sidewalk. There was a girl who never colored outside of the lines. There was a girl who stood on the sidelines while others jumped. And judged them. I could’ve fallen off the curb, gotten a bad grade for the bad coloring, gotten hurt because I didn’t know what was over the cliff if I jumped. She was cautious and timid and nervous and anxious and sad. I don’t miss her.
So there’s a few things adults were wrong about. Things they told me when I was young or things I heard. Quite a few things actually but I can’t name them all. A few stick out. And I tell you these things now. That may be wrong. Whatever….as we all know I long ago surrendered my “parent of the year” award. First of all…YOU WILL NEVER EVER USE ALGEBRA. Unless you become some sort of mathematician, teacher, or some career Im too dumb to know the title of…you. will. never. use. it. And trust me….if by some crazy, rare situation occurs that I cannot foresee right now in which you DO need Algebra…..you can google it.
I cannot believe you would be 63 today. That’s old. You’d think it was old. I guess I didn’t realize how young you really were. Im 43 years old now. FOURTY THREE. You died at the age of 53. Damn that is so young. So. Young. Not sure I can even picture you being 63. Less hair, more sentimental, more emotional, more nostalgic, still riding that Harley and RETIRED. Its sucks shit you didn’t get to enjoy retirement. I mean really. Thats just not cool. You’d have gone on a lot of rides with Dennis Im sure. You’d have taken Mom on more trips. You’d have gotten that damn pool because Mom would’ve won that argument and your grandkids would’ve loved it. I wonder if I would have left Texas.
As all great conversations are held over beer in a lawn chair on a driveway…..we’d have had an hour or so one today. We would have had red velvet cake and beer and turned the garage radio on and sat in the lawn chairs on the drive and solved the world’s problems. Dad there is a great possibility that the presidential race next year will have 2 women. Yes Im serious. I think its badass. I don’t care what your politics are its about time! Its funny I used to care more about politics. I don’t really give a shit anymore. Life’s too short and meant to be lived outside, away from the tv. I just don’t care about that anymore. We often disagreed on political issues but it was so fun arguing/talking to you about them. I have a feeling your granddaughter is going to change the world.
You would’ve been sad about Patrick. More than any of us I think. You were very much the most emotional one in the family. Well, except Kelly…you know that. Poor thing cries if you look at her funny. She got that from you. I’ve cried a LOT in the past 9 years Dad. Brain rot sucks. It so totally sucks. And motorcycle accidents suck. And cancer sucks. I don’t cry as much anymore. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss you. I do. Every single day. The pain of loss gets less INTENSE over time but it never ever goes away. And the funny thing is the longer you are gone the more I miss you. You would’ve offered advice on the driveway about saving enough money for me and the kids to be ok without Patrick. You’d have said “you’ll always have a place here”. I would have felt that security. I don’t have that now but Im ok. I promise. I often wonder if I’d have left Texas if you had lived. I don’t know the answer. I really don’t. But I do know I am right where I am supposed to be now. I found a strength in me I NEVER knew was there. You’d be proud of that. You would.
When UPS trucks drive by I think of you. When CCR comes on the radio I think of you. When Harley’s drive by I think of you. When Coors is around I think of you. When I open the spare room closet and your 3,000 Harley t-shirts are hanging there I think of you. When I start a conversation with “well lemme ask you this….” I hear you. Its funny. When I find myself standing on my couch with a clenched fist screaming at those damn Dallas Cowboys and everyone is looking at me like Im crazy…yep…I came by that genetically. By the way- you don’t even want to know how its going this season. I like all those little reminders.
Colorado is as beautiful and amazing and awesome as you always said. I wish you’d gotten to live here. Last year I went to where you had your accident. What a beautiful last sight you got to see. I see why you loved it here so much. Im going to climb every damn mountain, walk every trail, stare at every beautiful sight for ya. For Patrick. Because I can. Dad- I climbed Pikes Peak. Pretty sure you knew that. Leaving Texas was hard. Not as hard as it would’ve been to live the rest of my life and wonder. I hope you get that. I hope you know. Im sure you do.
Dad music is still shitty. The classics are still better. I choose Bob Segar and Fleetwood Mac and Zeppelin over current pop everyday. You’d be glad. Somethings just cannot be done better. I still choose beer over fru-fru drinks. I still don’t wear white below the waist after Labor Day. I still let the other cars leave the line first when the light turns green. I still check my oil consistently. I never leave home without money. And my friends laugh but I take toilet paper on every hike. I learned the importance of that from you and your sock story!
Maddie & Andy are amazing. You’d love watching them play soccer and watching Maddie cheer. I can hear you saying a thousand times how much you “loved watching me cheer” and this is “deja vu” and “time flies so enjoy every minute”. I am. I am.
I know you’d also say work less and play more. Im working on that. I get it now. I hope there’s a long winding beautiful road where you are and access to a low rider today. I hope you get to have a Coors too. I will. Happy Birthday old man. Until next year.
I am seldom at a loss for words. Last Friday night at a football game I was left that way. My daughter’s cheer coach secretly organized a surprise for my family. In all my life I’ve never, we’ve never received so much love and support. It is beyond over whelming.
The shit that comes with brain rot or any chronic, degenerative disease is enough but when you add the medical bills it only adds to the stress. To be honest I don’t think about the bills anymore. We try to concentrate on LIVING. And laughing and loving and traveling and appreciating the moments. Because when I think about the asshole at the Insurance company who decided Ataxia didn’t really require MRI’s or CAT scans or blood tests or a spinal tap or any of the other plethora of barbaric tests Patrick had….that this asshole gets to decide they wont pay for this stuff because its just not really necessary and they have no fucking clue what Ataxia is…I’d like to punch him or her in the face and ask how they can live with themselves. I cannot go there. I just can’t. No room or time for that and it does not promote a peaceful heart.
I instead focus on the fact that we have an amazing, caring doctor and time. TIME. More precious than I ever imagined it could be.
As I age I have let forgiveness come easier. I let “thank you’s” roll off my tongue without pride now, I let the little things go, I choose to concentrate on the good. But receiving is a new one to me really. To us. The amount of money that was raised for Patrick’s trike in such a short time is beyond description. And for both of us it is uncomfortable and weird and strange and joyous and crazy. It can seem a tad uncomfortable when people are GIVING to you. We are slowly learning to gracefully receive.
And we cannot express how grateful and appreciative we are. This trike is a physical way to have freedom for Patrick as well as a mental one and we’ll never EVER be able to express how kind , thoughtful, loving and appreciated this trike is. THANK YOU!
I may sell workout DVDs and Shakes and help people get fit but I know my job is much more than just a “coach”. That lives change and confidence grows and clients battle and win against depression when their physical body is healthy. That woman with major food issues come to ME for help in overcoming that. That fitting into your “skinny jeans” is much more than just “wow Im skinny now”. Its why I do what I do. Because it changes people much more on the inside than it ever does on the outside.
And a little cheer squad in the middle of Colorado might go unnoticed in most circumstances. We are not much different than the million other cheer squads in small town America. Friday nights, football, pom-pons, hair up in ponytails, tumbling, parents watching in the bleachers. But to me this little cheer squad is much more. Im betting most of them are. They are family and amazing and gracious and self-less and a major support system for my daughter. And together, in just over 24 hours, they raised over $7,000 for a trike. So one guy could taste some freedom again.
Inside most people is much more than you’ll ever see on the surface. Thank you to our community, family, friends, and to Jessica & the Palmer Ridge Varsity Cheer Squad and their parents! Ride On, Patrick! 🙂
When someone dies instantly and tragically and unexpectedly it is so damn hard to come to peace with it. A lot of times things are left unsaid. You may feel guilty about the last conversation you had. Or the fact that you never got to say goodbye or tell them how you felt about them. Or you are left to wonder forever what their last moments were like. It’s such a gut ripping, heart piercing, mind numbing thing to go through. To have someone you love die suddenly. Unexpectedly. There on Earth, walking talking, laughing and being in one moment….then in the blink of an eye- gone. Gone physically. Gone from the Earth. Just gone. In the snap of a finger. Thats how my Dad went. Thats how a lot of people go. In accidents. In tragedies.
And then there’s those that go slower. That die slowly. That have an illness that we know will take them eventually. And we watch them suffer. In pain and tears and become someone we do not recognize. Having experienced both I can honestly tell you there is no better way. There is no way that hurts less. There is no “closure” to be found. Thats a dumb fucking word anyway.
When my Grandad had Parkinsons disease it was a gradual process. But we knew for 8 years what would take him. Eventually. And the man standing on the deck over the lake and throwing me into the water and teaching me to fish and driving us around in the boat and carrying us on his shoulders just wasn’t. He became frail. He became weak. He became lost in a body that his mind no longer functioned in. The Grandad I knew and loved was gone long before his body quit working. It sucked. Cancer does that to people. Cancer is a bitch.
Brain rot is doing that to my husband. I don’t think people talk about this subject. I don’t think people talk about a lot of subjects that I talk about. I guess they are supposed to be “taboo” or too sensitive or not appropriate or may hurt someone’s feelings. I did not get the memo on that. I don’t know how to pretend it doesn’t happen. I don’t know how to hide how I feel. And I damn sure know if theres someone out there going through this that I want them to know they are not alone. That all of the shitty ass terrible things you think are perfectly normal. Perfectly human.
I never knew anyone as athletic as Patrick. He is very lean. Pure muscle. No fat EVER on this guy. He was muscly and in great shape when I met him. Still is. He used to do Bi-athalons and Du-athalons and mountain bike racing and running and weight lifting and could hike me and anyone else under the table. He’s never smoked or done half of the stupid shit I did. He has always been extremely healthy. Until his brain started shrinking.
Im pretty sure I don’t exactly look like the 23 year old girl he fell in love with. I mean Ive held on pretty well for a 43 year old I guess but things have fallen and changed and aged if you know what I mean. The usual things that happen with aging have happened to me. I fight it everyday by staying fit and eating well. But its just getting older. I wouldn’t trade this 43 year old body & mind for that idiot 23 year old one I had for anything in the world. So there’s the normal aging that comes in a relationship of 20 years. And then there’s Brain Rot. And it does some shit-tastic things to your body. I remember when we got the diagnosis a few years ago my first question was “How will this affect his cognitive abilities, his memory? Will he still know me?”. I was 39 when I first asked that question. Too young to be asking questions like that about your husband. Too fucking young. The doctors have all assured us that Patrick’s cognitive abilities and personality will not be affected by Ataxia. That he will always remember me…it was such a huge relief. I remember thinking…”Well, I don’t care what physical condition he is in as long as he knows us and is the same person”. How damn naive.
So it turns out when your walking gets shitty and your balance goes and you can no longer do athletic activities and you cannot write and your speech is extremely slurred and you cannot move fast and riding a bike and throwing a ball are long ago history that it does just slightly affect your personality. Dumbass. How could I think it wouldn’t. And Lord I am so eternally grateful he is still HIM. He still leaves his damn underwear on the floor and is sarcastic and rude to dumb people and smart as shit and puts up with me. But I think the thing we are supposed to avoid talking about is that he is NOT the person I married. I know- people are judging and thinking “what an asshole” she is. And I guess I am. OK. But because when I started blogging I promised an un-edited version of this life, this journey, this crazy-ness, I will keep that vow. Because someone out there is going through it too. And speaking the truth is all I can do.
He is not that athletic, superman, studly weight lifting boy I married. He’s still incredibly handsome though. I’ve told him if the looks go he’s out…so he’s still got that! He wobbles. He slurs his speech. He’s very slow which frustrates the shit out of me. He cannot write so every check or note or paperwork or ANY thing has to be filled out and done by me. I literally told him to hurry up the other day. Literally. I know. Asshole.
When you are a physical person, an athletic person…it IS you. I know, I know, its whats on the INSIDE that counts and all that bullshit. Im eternally grateful he will always remember my name and that he’s smarter than me….whatever. But your legs, your speech, your ability to communicate, your ability to run and dance (he could never dance well so no loss there)….its all a part of you. And to watch someone’s physical-ness go, to watch it die, is sad. And there is a mourning for a person who is no longer with me. That boy I married is gone. But so is that dependent 24 year old girl who couldn’t do much on her own. I have looked around often at the women I surround myself with. They are BEASTS. They raise children alone and work and never rely on men. They are strong and confident and don’t bitch and complain about shit. Those women rock. Brain Rot has made me who I am too.
When you die suddenly you die in this form of a body that everyone knew. My Dad was strong and very healthy and could run and dance and do all of that. I can’t imagine him any other way. Patrick’s the smartest person I’ve ever known. Even with half a brain he’s smarter than most. He is still him in there- so crazy grateful for that. But to ignore the fact that he grieves the body he once had. To act like Im not sad about that boy being gone. To tell him “at least you have your cognitive abilities” is to minimize the loss. We grieve the physical body he once had. And that is perfectly ok to do. Saying goodbye to someone who is standing in front of you is a horrific thing to do. But its part of grieving. And Im long past giving a shit what other people think anyway. He’s a pretty kick ass guy who recently scaled a rock mountain that most able-bodied people wouldn’t attempt. Maybe when your physical body starts to go your Strength of Spirit takes over and gets stronger.
I’ll take strength of Spirit any day!
What do you get when you climb Pikes Peak? I think that was my question before. My goal. My destination. My whole purpose (so I thought) was to climb that beast and get some answers. Whether it comes across or not I do believe in God. I am not religious- never will be. And I don’t do “the God thing” like most. I used to care what others thought about that. Some people certainly let me know I wasn’t “doing it right” in their opinion. And I certainly do not care any longer. So maybe I thought God was going to magically fling down some answers at me. “Speak” to me through the mountain. Let me know WHY. WHY I had so many miscarriages. WHY my Dad was killed so young. WHY my daughter has a chronic condition. WHY my husband got brain rot. WHY my second Mom, Lynda has cancer. WHY. I needed answers. And I thought the mountain would shout them to me.
Let me talk for a minute about the climb. I am in decent shape. My Beachbody workouts, eating well, drinking Shakeology and hiking often got me in pretty darn good shape. Better than in my 20’s. But there is nothing. NOTHING. That can prepare you for climbing Pikes Peak. I live at 7,400 foot elevation. So the trail begins at around 7,500 feet and the summit is 14,110 feet. That’s a HUGE elevation gain and would prove to be the biggest obstacle for me. I pulled my groin muscle around mile 3 and at mile 4 the cracked vertebrae in my neck were screaming. It was horribly painful. Every damn step it hurt. A LOT! I teared up a few times from pain. And let me tell you- a mile on the ground is one step compared to a mile climbing up the side of a mountain. I have never, ever, done something so physically difficult in my life. The last 3 miles above the tree line were the hardest. Treacherous man. Scary and hard and very little oxygen and slippery rocks and it looks like the top of the mountain is forever away and you are just out there. You are a speck on the side of an enormous structure. You feel like nothing. And I realized something at one point when my partner asked me to just “stop”. “Just stop Jennifer and look back at what we’ve done, how far we’ve come….YOU DID ALL THAT”. It makes me cry even typing it. I was so focused on the pain, and the miles and miles of height and rock above me I had not looked back at all. That view. I cannot – I wont even try to find words for it. But all of the symbolism on the many miles of path behind me is not lost. Magnificent views 360 degrees around me. Water and rocks and green trees and desolation and a height you cannot believe surrounded me. I could see snow while I was sweating. I felt exhilarated and motivated while completely physically exhausted. I never had a doubt I’d summit. But I had no idea how hard it would be. And looking back is sometimes necessary because you focus so much on GETTING there, reaching the top, finding a solution, finishing, how much MORE you have to go……that you forget to celebrate all the way you’ve come.
So thank you Susie for reminding me to stop and look back. And be proud. And know how far I’ve come.
So we cranked on. We could not talk much those last 3 miles as we were gasping for thin air and it was hard to breathe let alone talk. So as the summit neared I felt excited. That the top, the answers, the ending, the finality of it all was so close. Just around the corner. And I cried a bit. Just a bit. I walked into a sea of tourists who were taking pictures and eating Pikes Peak donuts and mingling with their families and complaining about their “altitude headaches.” They had driven up here. They barely noticed me. I was one in a crowd. They had no idea I had just WALKED up the mountain they’d driven up. I hugged Susie and I stood there quietly. Waiting for the trumpets and the balloon release and the fireworks and the SHOUT of accomplishment from above. I’ve never been so physically exhausted in my life. My body was just about to give up. It had been pure will power, adrenaline and mercy that got me through that last mile. But there was no shouting. No balloons. No fireworks. And instantly I gained a lifetime’s worth of knowledge. I grew up in that moment. It hit me. Two things really. As Glenda the good witch in The Wizard of Oz said “it was in YOU the whole time”…there were never answers ON the mountain. They were in me all along. And damn it- it was never about what you GET from the mountain. The things you find out or the things you gain…..It was always about what you LEAVE on the mountain. Sometimes….sometimes the things you let go of are vastly more important than the things you grab on to. And you can let a LOT go at 14,110 feet on top of America’s Mountain. A. LOT. And I let a lot go. A lot of things I needed to let go of. And dammit it feels so good. So light.
My body aches today. The day after. I feel every bit of 42 years young. In so many ways. Do you know that sometimes there just aren’t answers to every question. There’s just not. And you have to let go. Let go and be ok that you may never know. And as cheesy as it sounds I TRULY now know its all about the climb. Don’t get me wrong- that SUMMIT IS AMAZING. Nothing like the feeling of that last step. Nothing. A pure raw joy Ive never felt before. One of the greatest physical accomplishments I’ll ever make in my life for sure. And my friend, Erika’s words to me rang in my ear “Girl you fight way bigger battles on the ground- that mountain is NOTHING”. It was never about the summit. It was ALWAYS…ALWAYS about the climb.
I can do hard things. I CAN. I have more tears today than I had yesterday. I think it just took a day to hit me what I’ve done. I cannot thank Susie enough. I cannot thank Patrick enough. I cannot thank those angels I met on the mountain along the way that encouraged me enough. I cannot thank you all enough for your support and encouragement. I gained and lost more than I ever dreamed I would up there! Dream BIG!
I did it, Dad.
“I went up to the Mountain…Because You asked me to. Up over the clouds, to where the sky was blue. I could see all around me. Everywhere. I could see all around me. Everywhere”. ~ Patty Griffin, ‘Up To The Mountain’