When I woke up at 6 a.m. on Saturday for my scheduled 18-miler, I was surprised to find my husband Mike awake as well. Sadly, he had gotten the call, the call we knew would come someday. It was time for Mike to head to the hospital to say goodbye to his father. Howard had been in a coma for nearly five years after suffering a stroke. We were all sad to lose him, and yet comforted knowing that he would now be at peace, and thankful that Mike could be at his side when he passed.
Howard was a kind, generous man who always saw the best in other people. He was a good father to Mike and a loving grandfather to my girls. For a few months before his stroke, we had the privilege of living with him before we found a house in California, and he absolutely delighted in getting to see his grandkids all the time.
After a final goodbye and a long day at the hospital for Mike, we crashed into bed at 11 p.m. Even then, Mike encouraged me to get up in the morning to go for that 18-miler. So, bright and not-so-early the next morning, I paused at the trailhead to think of Howard and dedicate that run to him.
It turned out to be a magical run. At one point past the halfway mark, I saw about 20 beautiful white pelicans flying overhead. (Fact of the day: a group of pelicans is called a pod). On the ground below I saw a group of humans (let’s call them a crowd) staring at the Santa Ana River. Then I saw this:
That’s just a fraction of the 100+ American White Pelicans that swam in two pods on the river. All the people who had stopped along the trail were grinning with excitement. We kept looking at each other as if to say, “Can you believe it? How lucky are we?!”
I tore myself away and restarted my Garmin and my book on CD. For the 3-hour run I listened to the first three discs of Shockaholic, read by the author Carrie Fisher (yes, Princess Leia herself). Due to the crass nature of her storytelling, I can’t exactly recommend the book, but I can share with you something amazing she read toward the end of disc three, as she talked about holding vigil at the bedside of a dying loved one:
One stays until the other can’t anymore, and the one who won’t be able to stick around is much more important than the one who can. And I find relief in the understanding and acceptance of the unspoken urgency in this arrangement…. You love them until they can’t feel loved anymore, then you keep on loving them, as if they were still there, as if there’s been a reprieve at the last moment, and fate has reversed itself. It all turned out to be a bad dream that you both had and now get to wake from…. After death takes someone from you, it gives you something back…. It’s as though you’re living for two now. Their memory lives inside you and you feed it. You live for them now that they can’t anymore.
Rest in peace, Howard.