Sunday, November 15, 2009

There's Only So Much We Can Run From

My father is not old (68). My father is not well. What my father is, is dying. There, I said it. And while it's not a huge surprise that it has come to this, it still hurts like hell.

Things have never been easy between us, and the time to "make things right" (in a meaningful way) might have passed. So, with news of my father's rapidly declining health, I went to Florida this weekend to spend some time with him, rather than waiting on the dreaded "call", only to learn that it's too late.

My father has been in the hospital four times in the past 16 months for pneumonia and related complications. He has been diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), an incurable, degenerative lung condition, of which smoking is the leading cause. He also has rheumatoid arthritis, congestive heart failure and other medical issues which are beyond the grasp of my liberal arts brain. He is on oxygen 24/7, and could keep a pharmacy chain in business all by himself as a result of his medication regimen. In a nutshell, COPD slowly asphyxiates its victims. My father will become more and more uncomfortable as less and less oxygen makes its way into his bloodstream. There's no way to know how long and - ultimately - excruciating the process will be. It could be weeks, months or even years, but it won't be pretty.

The current situation seems to have magnified some of my father's less desirable personality traits. Feeling inclined to be charitable, I could call him "eccentric" or "quirky", but I'm going to spare him, myself and my dear followers the details of why he and I have had such a troubled history. It's complicated, boring, and - at this point - irrelevant.

What I do want to share is how I think my father's life has influenced my own.

Like any dedicated runner, I run for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I have a family history of heart disease. My maternal grandfather had triple-bypass surgery in 1977. He lived another nine years before dying of heart failure the summer I graduated from high school. My paternal grandfather had died 5 weeks earlier, also likely from a heart attack while he was sleeping.

Not to be outdone, my father had quadruple-bypass surgery in 1988, at the ripe old age of 47. Yes, he smoked. Yes, he was overweight, highly-stressed and sedentary. So, putting aside the influence of my father's choices on his current health, the fact that the longevity deck is stacked against me plays a significant role if my running/exercise obsession. Truth is, however, that I don't run to extend my time on earth; I run to get more enjoyment - and meaning - from it. Should I live longer thanks to doing something I've grown to love, well, that's simply a beautiful bonus.

Being several years into the "running lifestyle", I realize that there's a duality in running, whereby it propels us towards some things (such as performance goals, health, clarity, etc.) while also moving us away from others (such as stress, obesity, monotony, etc.). Yes, running allows us to shatter a great many of our preconceived limitations and achieve what may have seemed impossible, but there are some things from which we simply cannot run.

As painful as it is to admit, I've dedicated much of my adult life to the conscious pursuit of not repeating many of my father's mistakes, be it in terms of marriage, parenting and/or professional achievement. I will admit to mixed success, but I hope I've gotten more things right than wrong.

This is a tough time for people in my age bracket, sandwiched between the needs of aging parents and growing children, being pulled in different directions when it comes to deciding on what career path I wish to follow at this stage in my life. I am certainly more blessed than many, yet the burdens of life still feel quite heavy. Thanks in part to running, I know I can handle whatever comes my way, even if it doesn't always feel that way.

While we all have that strength, runners (and other extreme athletes, adventurers, soldiers, disaster-survivors and other envelope-pushers) have developed the ability to tap into it. That skill is about to come in handy for me.

-ESG

P.S. On the running front, I'm still somewhat tired after the long run 2 weeks ago. I managed a over 40 miles last week, including 13+ along the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday, in what was for me very hot conditions. I finished with 1.5 miles barefoot on the actual beach, but was glad that run was done. I'm slightly achy in both knees (and my right calf is a little sore), so I'll keep running easy until that passes. I do wish to get some fast-paced running in before a Thanksgiving Day 4-miler. I'm going to go into that race with no real plan and see what happens. I'm hoping to surprise myself . . . in a good way for a change. ;-)

4 comments:

Girl In Motion said...

This is a beautiful, yet such a sad post. I'm so sorry you're having to see your dad go this way and with all the history you've had between you, it's just a rotten story all around. Take care of yourself and I'm wishing only the most comfortable last few weeks for your father if that's at all possible. Hugs.

Stephen said...

there's a duality in running, whereby it propels us towards some things (such as performance goals, health, clarity, etc.) while also moving us away from others (such as stress, obesity, monotony, etc.). Yes, running allows us to shatter a great many of our preconceived limitations and achieve what may have seemed impossible, but there are some things from which we simply cannot run.

You have a gift for capturing the essence of things.

Cheers, Rovatti

Stevi N. Honaker said...

Great honest reflection, and I am glad you were able to take the time to see him (no matter how difficult it was).

L.A. Runner said...

I've been reading all along, just not commenting. Thank you for the honesty of this post. Also, I'll keep you and your family in my prayers. I am sure your father is very, very proud of everything you have accomplished, including your healthy lifestyle.