The decent shape I’d worked into beginning in 2010 carried me through the stress and duress of Ken’s illness–all the way up until my LOA last summer when my eating (and drinking) habits took a nose dive. Since I lack the self-discipline to manage this situation on my own, I decided to rejoin the personal training gym I’d belonged to before. I avoided this solution for a long time. I’m guessing because it was hard. And I’m lazy. But also maybe a little fearful of returning to a routine that is so closely associated with Ken during a time in my life I’ll forever regard with equal measures of hatred and longing.
But I had to suck it up. I couldn’t deny how good I felt when I hit my stride there. I weighed 30 lbs. more than I do now when I decided to take matters in my own hands in October of 2010. That year Ken had made a nothing-short-of-miraculous recovery from his surgery earlier that year, and had been progressing heroically in using his new prosthetic leg when we learned his cancer had returned in September. He was in a lot of pain from the tumor in his glute, and I knew the road ahead was going to be choppy–at best.
Taking care of myself was paramount to taking care of him. In doing so, I hoped working out regularly would help me manage the vice grip of pressure I felt. I tried to go early in the morning to get it over with and to reap the benefits of feeling good about doing something good for myself all day long. I remember being incredibly crabby before heading there for a 45-minute session with a trainer. If Ken was awake, he learned only one of us was excited about my appointment–in the beginning at least. Once I was used to the rigor of my routine my mood improved. And I tried shared my excitement with him. I felt guilty in a way because I knew he’d give anything to be able to work out vigorously like he had in years past. But he was excited for me. And proud of me.
When I returned to the gym after a year and half absence I cursed myself for quitting in the first place. Though I have no doubt I was in the best physical shape of my adult life, and it served me well in coping with such a difficult loss, I know why I quit. I’d lived in a necessarily regimented world as I cared for Ken. There weren’t enough hours in the day. With timed medication dispenses, coordinating hospice worker schedules, dealing with insurance forms and payments, and of course, spending time with Ken. After he died, I didn’t want to have to do anything I didn’t have to do. I wanted freedom from structure–even if it was good for me. Just because I could.
This time around though it felt a little self-indulgent. Empty, perhaps. After all, I was only doing it just for myself. Last time I felt the slightest sense of nobleness for doing it partly for Ken. It was bigger than me which made it easier in some ways. When I finished my first session and collapsed in the car, panting like Kallie on a hot summer day, I was acutely aware that my mood was as elevated as my pulse. And I thought of Ken and how after a work out I’d go home, make us some coffee and I’d tell him what exercises I did that day. I never knew the names or muscles they were working out. He did, of course.
I find gratitude in moments like this, when I can think of him and our past, but remain in the present. It’s happened a lot lately during routine activities and new experiences alike. It feels in a way like my past is reassuring my future. I hear his confident, cheerleading voice day in and day out.
And it propels me forward.