If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward. Martin Luther King Jr.
In the days and weeks after Jimmy died, I could barely manage to leave the house. My husband, Dan, and I spent long hours walking our dog, Buster, on the horse trails near our house, often not saying a word, just walking until we felt tired enough to head home. A trip to the market or to one of our daughter’s high school softball games felt like ripping the band-aid off a wound. I didn’t want to talk to anyone who wasn’t a close friend, and I couldn’t even say Jimmy’s name without crying.
I’ve been a runner and weight lifter for most of my life. Exercise helped me cope with the pain of Jimmy’s cancer diagnosis, the intense treatments he received, the upsetting news about his recurrences and ultimately, his certain death. Yet, for the first time in my life, I couldn’t get myself to exercise.
When all of my plans, goals and good intentions didn’t result in my working out in our home gym, I decided to try something new and bought a Groupon for an exercise group called Kaia FIT. Kaia FIT is a fitness and nutrition program designed for women that focuses on results, commitment and camaraderie. The workouts are always different (think CrossFit without the big, heavy weights). You sign up for a specific class time which allows you to connect with the same group of ladies. The biggest appeal for me was that I knew no one, and other than the owner, Natalie Terry, no one knew about Jimmy.
For weeks, I would cry all the way to class, work out with my Kaia sisters and cry all the way home. The beauty of having a specific class time and the opportunity to connect with a group of women 4-5 days a week meant that when I didn’t go, I was missed. The texts and emails asking where I was and when I would be back kept me going regularly despite my tears. The workouts were hard, especially after having been sedentary for so long, but I’d leave class feeling just a little better, just a little more able to cope with my grief.
One day, about a month after I came to Kaia, Natalie’s mother pulled me aside after class to share that she had heard about Jimmy and wanted to say how sorry she was. She told me about losing both of her brothers at a young age and said, “It was so hard for me, but I can’t even imagine how hard it was for my parents.” Then Natalie shared her story of desperately wanting to have children but being unable to conceive after years of trying. Soon after, another Kaia buddy shared that her husband had died six years earlier on a business trip, leaving her a single mom with two young children. Suddenly, I had a community .. a group of women who shared their stories of grief and loss and wanted to hear mine. Women who made me want to show up to class every day, regardless of how full of despair I felt.
Nine months after I started Kaia, my husband, daughter and I escaped to New Orleans, not wanting to be home on the one year anniversary of Jimmy’s death. We spent the day wearing our JimmySTRONG shirts and doing our best to have fun. That evening, I logged into Facebook and found photos of my Kaia sisters, dressed in yellow, wearing the JimmySTRONG shirts they’d made … honoring and celebrating a young man they had never met, simply because they loved and cared about his mom.