Another good bye

Snoopy was one of the earlier bunnies rescued by Long Island Rabbit Rescue Group (LIRRG) as it was starting up so many years ago.  I clearly remember the day Steve and I first saw Snoopy.  He was a baby, resting on the side of a grassy hill at Cedar Creek Park in Seaford.  Steve used to conduct bike/run workouts for his triathlon team every Tuesday night.  We would bike the 1 mile loop and we would see Snoopy and a bunch of other domestic rabbits wandering around in the park weekly in the fall of 2006.  Steve and I instinctively knew these bunnies were not meant to be outdoors as they stuck out like sore thumbs with their white fur and would make for easy prey.  We thought for sure there must be a rescue organization for rabbits that could help these bunnies.  So, off to the Internet I went and did a google search.  I found LIRRG and connected with Angela DaSilva and Greta Guarton.  I was told the same thing I repeated to so many finders over the years as an LIRRG volunteer; there is no shelter, but if one can foster or adopt, LIRRG would provide supplies and education.  So, Steve put out the word to the 300+ athletes on the triathlon team asking if anyone could foster or adopt.  Two people said yes and we gave LIRRG the go ahead to rescue.  Steve and I had fallen in love with Snoopy with his unique heli-lop look, but LIRRG said there was no guarantee they could capture him specifically (there were probably about 8-10 domestic rabbits loose in the park).  I guess Steve and I were meant to have Snoopy because he took the banana bait.  The two people who said they would foster fell through and Steve and I looked at each other and said, I guess we are bunny owners now.  Steve loved both Budgie and Snoopy, but he always said he liked Snoopy best.

The youtube link below was made by Steve.  It was Snoopy’s bedtime ritual, something we did every night including the night before he passed.

https://youtu.be/8rSjav0531M

Over the past few weeks, I thought to myself that Snoopy would not be with me for much longer.  There was no one sign; he was eating and pooping well and still loving his treats and was as cantankerous as ever.  Occasionally, I would see him staring at the floor almost as if he was in a trance.  On Wednesday night, it seemed as if he might be having a bout of stasis coming on and I did my usual; gave him simethicone, massaged his belly and made him walk around.  He was his usually cranky self and did not like it when I made him walk.   I felt he needed some extra TLC and held him in my lap for an hour that night.  Snoopy enjoyed his treat ritual although he had not eaten his dinner pellets (sometimes he would like to munch on them late at night) so I was not concerned.  Thursday morning I woke up and his pellets were still there and Snoopy was listless, laying under his hidey box.   That is when I first posted his status to the LIRRG Facebook page and took him immediately to the vet.  The vet consulted with Dr. Saver and they did all they could to save him.  He deteriorated rapidly.  When I called for an update at 5pm on Thursday, the vet said he may not make it through the night.  Snoopy’s white blood cell count was way off and he was anemic.  The vet said he had a massive infection and since antibiotics were not helping, it was probably viral in nature.  Older rabbits tend not to do so well with these types of viruses.  I immediately left to go to the vet to say goodbye to Snoopy.   When they brought him in to me, he looked so sad and defeated and I cuddled and kissed him.   It was so hard to leave him there, knowing I may not see him again.  Five minutes after I got home, the vet called and said Snoopy had passed.  I was so thankful I had a chance to say good bye to him and that I did not have to make the decision to euthanize.

Just as Steve did, Snoopy Slipped Away.  My heart was broken once again and memories of Steve, Snoopy and I washed over me.   RIP Snoopy Bunny, may you have crossed the rainbow bridge into Steve’s arms.

 

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May 27, 2018 was more than just the date of EventPower’s Mighty North Fork Triathlon for me.  It represented a highly emotional convergence of my past, present and future life.  I was a participant in this race for the first time on a relay team (Bib# 438), walking the 3.5 mile run course.   Although my destination was the finish line, it was the journey that has inspired me to write.

I thought I was done with triathlons; my past

My late life partner, Steve Tarpinian, created EventPower.  Steve’s vision helped to lay the groundwork for the sport of triathlon on Long Island. In 1999, he created the Mighty Nork Fork Triathlon in Southold, on the North Fork of Long Island.  For many years, I was by his side, behind the scenes, helping him in whatever way I could while he created his triathlon team (TTT) and his coaching and event company.  This would include everything from directing traffic on the race courses, designing and ordering team clothing or helping him handle and organize general back office functions for his growing company.    Although I had my own career, I was still immersed in Steve’s world for many years.

Michael, a student athlete Steve had once coached, participated in the event this year for the first time in many years.  Michael contributed Chapter 3 to Slipped Away, Steve’s memoir.  Mike, Michael’s father, passed away in February this year.  Mike was a great friend and support for me when Steve passed away in 2015.  We graduated high school in 1971 but went our separate ways after that.  Mike and I reconnected our friendship through Steve at a triathlon back in the 1990s. Mike and his family lived around the block from Steve and me.

A new-found passion; my present

After Steve passed, I felt the need to inspire conversation about mental health issues and suicide in an effort to reduce the stigmas.  I was drawn to help veterans’ organizations that provide unique outlets for veterans suffering from PTSD and depression.  Project9line uses the arts and Airborne Tri Team (ATT) uses endurance sports.  Both organizations are the beneficiaries of all the proceeds for the two books I have published, Slipped Away and A Mouse in the House, a children’s book written by Steve in 2012.

Several of the ATT members were participating in the Mighty North Fork Triathlon this year and were sporting their team’s racing gear that I helped to design.  On the back of their shirts, they have included Steve’s TTT logo as Steve was an inspiration to Ron, the founder of ATT.

Where I am headed; my future

Both of my relay partners live in my new community, Peconic Landing in Greenport.  Neither had ever participated in a triathlon or knew much about them.  Louisa, the swimmer and Robert, the biker were great team members and I was so inspired by their willingness and excitement to participate in the event.  Our team name was PL-220 which represents our combined ages.  I am sixty-four, so you can do the math to figure out the approximate ages of my team mates.

Race day; the convergence

Having a sleepless night before the race, getting out of bed at 4:30am and Michael getting ready for the event that morning in his TTT gear (Michael, his Mom and Michael’s girlfriend stayed at my house on the weekend) brought me back to when I used to accompany Steve to the events.  Hearing the howling wind and seeing the dark skies that morning did not set a good tone for me, but I persevered just as Steve and I had always done on race morning, even when the elements were not cooperating.

Arriving at the race site and seeing all the familiar faces of the loyal staff members that worked for Steve for many years brought me to tears and I was flooded with so many fond memories of times I worked at this event over the years as a staff person.

The weather conditions were really deteriorating.  The skies were ominous, ready to open up with a flooding rain and the strong wind was churning up white caps on the swim course.  The fact that the air temperature was only in the 60’s did not help.  Fearless Louisa entered the water with the rest of the athletes and she pushed through the 500-meter swim admirably and handed over the racing chip to Robert in the transition area.  Robert headed out on to course with his bike to complete the seven miles.  While waiting for Robert to return, I was able to cheer the Airborne Tri Team members as they headed out on the course and returned to cross the finish line.  Luckily, the rain pretty much held off while Robert was biking.

When Robert returned, the rain had started with a vengeance.  He passed the chip to me and I headed out on the course.  The first part of the run course was on the sand. As I slogged through it, I felt like icy pellets of rain were hitting my face.  I was miserable and had another tearful meltdown.  But, I kept telling myself I have survived cancer, lost two people very close to me to suicide and have a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease.  I’ve been through far worse than walking in this cold rain; I’ve got this!

After an hour of loneliness in dismal weather walking on the course, I finally finished.  Along the way I saw some of the inspirational quote signs Steve had created (the new owners of EventPower have done much to preserve Steve’s legacy and what he created).  Another crying meltdown, but it warmed my heart to see these signs.  As I entered the transition area and headed to cross the finish line, several of the EventPower staff and friends and staff from Peconic Landing were there, cheering me on to finish.

I was the last finisher of the race, but, I was able to experience firsthand something I had always done when I was a staff person.  Steve instituted a tradition for all his events that called for staff members to cheer in the final finisher.  He felt that every participant mattered, whether it was the first or last athlete to finish the event.  For the first time, I was able to be on the recipient end of this wonderful tradition Steve created and it felt great. Once again, I was reduced to tears, but they were tears of thanks and happiness.

I am in a good place now in my life and I am optimistic about my future.  The day after the race, I saw Robert proudly wearing his Mighty North Fork T-shirt and finisher medal. I am thrilled I was able to introduce someone from my future life to something from my past life and it resulted in having a positive impact on them! I think Steve would be pleased.

www.SlippedAway.org

Acceptance, Gratitude and Attitude

serenity-prayer2When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” —Willie Nelson

My good friend Mike ‘s prayer card had a quote that has truly resonated with me. I believe it marks the beginning of an important turning point in my life.

Since I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease(PD) seven months after the suicide of my soulmate Steve, in 2015, I have been in denial and refusing to accept that I have this disease.  Part of that denial was refusing to take any prescription medications.   These medications can only potentially relieve or mask the PD symptoms.  The drugs can be very expensive and do not help everyone and as it is with most medications, they can have very bad side effects.  Over time, as the disease progresses, the drugs start losing their efficacy and dosages need to be increased at the risk of incurring more and/or stronger side effects.   PD is incurable and no medication is known to stop the progression of the disease. My holistic alternatives to achieve some symptom relief and possibly slow the disease progression consist of weight workouts, boxing, walking, eliminating sugar, gluten, dairy and meat in my diet, practicing yoga and meditation; all done in an effort to combat whatever neurological issues I was having.

Since many (doctors and other people with PD) have indicated to me that the drugs can be life changing and can greatly improve the quality of life, I finally succumbed and started taking PD medications a few months ago.  The ideal is to find the right ‘cocktail’ of drugs at a dosage where the symptoms are relieved with no or minimal side effects; a time consuming and frustrating process with no guarantees of success. The hope is that there will soon be a cure, therefore eliminating the need to continue to take these medications.   While I am skeptical that there will be a cure for PD in my lifetime, all I have is today and I want to live a quality life in the present moment.

I do believe I am now starting to see some improvement in my symptoms; my mood is more uplifted, I don’t experience ‘internal tremors’ (weakness and shakiness) all the time and my fatigue is not as bad.  I still suffer from bradykinesia (slowness of movement) and my fine motor skills (writing, typing, etc.) have not improved.  The progress I have made thus far could be from my boxing classes, my diet, the medications or a combination of all of these.  Or perhaps maybe it is because I have finally accepted that I will never be the same again, that I will never be the dancer or athlete I once was.  I am no longer in denial.  Whatever is affecting me neurologically is now my new reality.  I accept this.

Attitude adjustment and expressions of gratitude are also part of my healing process.  In the not too distant past, whenever I would see someone in the more advanced stages of PD, I would think to myself; “That is my future.”  Now, I am starting to reframe my thoughts.  If I see someone whose PD symptoms are worse than mine, I will remind myself to be thankful for what I have.  I can still live independently, I can still drive and I still have my cognitive skills (although sometimes I wonder about that LOL).  Since I am retired, my time is now used to doing activities that will help heal me.

I accept and understand that some of my symptoms may never be banished.  My hope is that the medications will allow me to continue to do my exercise program at a higher intensity and that in the long run, I will be able to achieve even more symptom relief and/or halt or slow the disease progression and possibly wean myself off the medications.  It will not happen overnight and it will be a long, slow process with many bumps in the road.    I understand and accept that I will have ‘off’ days, but, I do believe there will also be ‘on’ days too.

Just as I have finally accepted that Steve took his own life, I now acknowledge that I have PD.

Accepting the reality of my disease will not make it go away.  I believe acceptance will free me up to use the energy that I do have to fight the progression and symptoms of PD.

Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”  — William James

 

 

Rock Steady — on fire

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“She’s living in a world, and it’s on fire
Feeling the catastrophe, but she knows she can fly away
Oh, she got both feet on the ground
And she’s burning it down
Oh, she got her head in the clouds
And she’s not backing down” — Alicia Keys

 

 

About two weeks ago, Michael, one of the volunteers in my Rock Steady boxing class told me I was “on fire” in class.  I knew exactly what he was talking about because there were moments (more than a few) where I felt strong and powerful while performing some of the drills. My energy level felt good and although I was still feeling tired, somehow, I was able to dig deep and really hammer parts of my workout.

Before I wrote about this experience, I felt the need to be sure it wasn’t just a one-shot deal and I wanted to get in a few more classes to make sure this was not an anomaly.  With Parkinson’s Disease (PD), there are good days (don’t have too many of those) and bad days and I wanted to see if I could produce the flames again in spite of my PD.  I am happy to say, for the next few classes, I re-discovered the ability to train hard, even if only for 5 or 10 minutes at a time.

As an unexpected bonus, in my last class, I found some of my lost rhythm as Coach Michelle had us dancing up to the heavy bag for our punching drills.  The energy levels were off the charts and my fellow boxers and I were having a blast, dancing with abandon!

That day, I had dedicated my class to my good friend Mike, who took his own life a few days prior. Mike was such a great supportive friend, especially during my times of great need after Steve died by suicide in 2015.   During the class, while the theme song from Rocky was playing and we were doing heavy bag drills, I had an emotional meltdown. I thought for sure, I would have a huge setback and my PD symptoms would rear their ugly heads with a vengeance.  Stress and emotional trauma can wreak havoc on those with PD.  However, my fellow boxers, Coach Michelle and the volunteers showed me such great kindness and support, I was able to persevere and finish the class.  Through their compassion, drawing on my newly found physical strength and thinking about the great courage Mike had fighting his battles and the great strength and bravery of his family kept my fire going.

After over four months of Rock Steady boxing classes, two times per week, I am starting to see a consistent difference in my physical abilities and my confidence is growing. I hold no illusions that I am “cured” and I understand that there will still be some bad days, but, I truly believe Rock Steady boxing will make a positive difference in my quality of life.

This girl is “on fire”.

 

Just when I thought my heart couldn’t break anymore.

 

“When a close friend unexpectedly leaves us, a piece of our heart is forever broken.” –Chis Lumpkin

It has been almost three years since I lost my life partner Steve to suicide. On February 2, 2018, my heart was broken once again when a very good friend of mine, Mike, took his own life.

Mike and I graduated Seaford High School in 1971 but lost touch over the years only to reconnect our friendship through Steve at a triathlon in the 1990s. Mike, like Steve, loved the challenge of this multi discipline sport and was one of the earlier triathlon participants on Long Island.  Mike’s son, Michael Jr., was also an early participant in the sport, however, it was from his stroller, as he watched his Dad from the sidelines with his Mom, Ramona, while Mike competed.  For many years, both Mike and Michael Jr. were members of Team Total Training; Steve’s triathlon team.  Steve also coached Michael Jr. in both sport and life.

Mike was a great family man and it was so very apparent to me how much he loved his wife and two sons (Michael Jr. and Matthew).   He shared with me on more than one occasion, all the wonderful times he had with his family when they would go out to Southold, Long Island when Mike participated in the Mighty North Fork Triathlon.  As Michael Jr. got older, he joined his father and they would both do the race together while Ramona and Matthew cheered them on.   Mike told me how much he and his family loved staying at the Drossos Motel near the race site, a place I drive by 3-4 times per week now since I am living on the North Fork.  Every time I see that motel now, it will bring me back to simpler and happier times for both myself and Mike’s family.

Mike was one of my closest, supportive friends after Steve passed. He and his family lived around the block from me (less than a mile from our high school) and he was always there for me, whether it was shoveling snow from my driveway, doing some heavy lifting for me or helping me move to my new home on the North Fork. Mike helped me realize I was not alone and I will be forever thankful to him for all he had done for me in my time of need.  Mike was the type of friend that would drop everything he was doing if one said they needed his help and I consider myself blessed to have been his friend.

Even though he no longer participated in triathlons, Mike was there for me as I walked across the finish line in memory of Steve at the Steve Tarpinian Memorial Mighty Hamptons triathlon in 2015.  In October of 2017, Mike, Michael Jr. and Matthew participated in the MightyMan Montauk Triathlon and they all sported some of the original Team Total Training gear in memory of Steve.

Mike also took me to the Aquatic Center every December after Steve passed and he would complete Steve’s birthday tradition of swimming laps with Steve’s former triathlon team.  Sadly, the last time I saw Mike was at Steve’s birthday laps celebration in December 2017.

All these random acts of kindness Mike did for me will always be remembered and cherished.  To me, they personify Mike’s goodness and his kind and thoughtful nature.

Too many are being lost to suicide; it is so much more prevalent than people realize. Because of its stigma, no one wants to talk about it. Ignorance about suicide and mental health issues abound.  Comments like “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” and “suicide is a selfish act” have no place in our society and only further contribute to the stigma.   Anyone who says comments like these has no idea of the mental anguish one who takes their own life may be suffering; that it is so painful, they fear living more than they fear dying.

The Stewart family is so brave for being open about the cause of Mike’s death and they have inspired me to continue my journey of inspiring conversation about suicide and mental health issues. It took me months to overcome perpetuating the suicide stigma with my silence over the cause of Steve’s passing.  I am sure this was not an easy decision for the Stewarts.

My heart aches so much for Mike’s family. No one should have to suffer the pain and mental anguish that our loved ones went through nor should the suicide loss survivors have to suffer such devastation. These are shoes I would never wish anyone to walk even five feet in, let alone a mile.

I have no answers or solutions, but I do believe the more freely we talk about these topics, perhaps someday, it will help remove the stigma and shame associated with them.

 

“If we share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive”.  – Brene Brown

Rock Steady – Dream On

 

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I really like it when a bad dream doesn’t scare you…it inspires you instead.” — Fwah Storm

It has been almost three years since my soulmate Steve was lost to suicide in 2015.  After his passing, I blogged about what I thought were “signs” from him.  Since then, I haven’t been aware of any other “signs” until this week.

“In one sense there is no death. The life of a soul on earth lasts beyond departure. You will always feel that life touching yours, that voice speaking to you.” — Author Unknown

On Friday, I broke wood in my Rock Steady Boxing class.  It wasn’t so much a show of strength, but a boost of confidence building and overcoming fear.

Steve was in the room with me that day.

Earlier in the class that day, a song came on that brought back a fun memory of Steve.  We would always ask each other to name the artist when a song came on the radio.  When Steve didn’t know the answer, he would always say The Grass Roots, especially every time the song “All Right Now” (actually performed by Free) played.   In class, this song came on and without thinking, I asked Michael (one of the volunteers) if it was The Grass Roots singing.

A little later, Michael made a comment about ‘wax on, wax off’ whenever Sensei Michelle gave an instruction.  Another “Steveism”; this is something Steve would always say to his coached athletes whenever they might question his reason for a drill.

Even more profound of a sign from Steve to me was the dream (nightmare) I had that night.  At one point in my life, when I travelled a lot in my career, I had a fairly consistent dream.   In the nightmare, I would be laying in bed and I could feel a malevolent, foreboding presence hovering over me.  That in itself was frightening enough, however, the worst part of the dream was that I couldn’t scream.  I would open my mouth and nothing would come out.   Although these types of dreams are fairly common and may be referred to as sleep paralysis, I called it my ‘hotel man’ dream. After I stopped business travel, this dream would come back to me periodically and Steve would wake up hearing my pathetic attempts at screaming and would rouse me because he saw how distraught I was.   My voice always failed me every time I had this dream.  Since Steve has passed I have not had a re-occurrence of this dream until this week.

What was different about the dream this time was that I was actually able to scream at the top of my lungs and my screams woke me up.  My bunnies in the other room, sensing my distress, were thumping up a storm.   Was the ‘hotel man’ back to haunt me again?  Was the dream a side effect of my medication?  Why can I scream now?

“A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read.” — The Talmud

I choose to believe the ‘hotel man’ dream I had that night was a sign from Steve that I am building my own voice again to overcome my fears and to help me continue to move through life without him.

I think breaking wood that day in Rock Steady was the catalyst and a big first step in helping me to find and rely on my own inner strength.

Rock Steady – Fear of Failure

rock steady breaking woodrappel1984 st+jm scuba divers bonaire

 

 “The greatest obstacle to success is the fear of failure.”

― Debasish Mridha

Two weeks ago, Sensei Michelle offered Rock Steady participants the opportunity to “break wood” with our hand.  Stan and Kelly volunteered and both were successful in crushing the wood.  I wanted to try, but something was holding me back.

I thought long and hard as to what was stopping me and I believe it was because I was afraid of failing.  Why should I feel that way, since I was surrounded by kind, compassionate people who wouldn’t feel any different about me if I couldn’t break the wood?  I reached out to Sensei Michelle asking her if she thought I could do it.  Her response; “How could you be fearful of something you have not tried yet? If you tried it and broke your hand then you will be fearful”.  I then asked her if I could attempt to break the wood at the next class.

Sensei Michelle brought out the wood for me in class later that week and I succeeded in breaking it on the first try.  You would think I crushed a 200-lb. boulder in half, I was so excited!

Most of my adult life I have had fear of failure, but I pushed myself to do things out of my comfort zone, like rappelling, cycling in the mountains of Spain, scuba diving and roller skating.  In the past, Steve (my soulmate lost to suicide in 2015) was always there to encourage and support me and I pushed through my fear of failure knowing he was always there for me.  Now that Steve is no longer here, I must rely on myself and learn to lean on others for support when I need it.

What has “breaking wood” in Rock Steady class done for me?   It is helping to re-build my self-confidence (something I lost when Steve passed away and was further eroded by my Parkinson’s diagnosis).  My fellow boxers, the volunteers and Sensei Michelle are all there for me now and I am learning to rely on my own inner strength to help me overcome my fear of failure.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear” — Nelson Mandela