Last fall my nephew asked me if I would like to run a 1/2 marathon with him this summer. I was elated he had asked. He would be graduating college (he did) and had several weddings, a cross country trip with his fellow grads and lots to do before starting a new job in August. I was honored he would want to spend some of his precious free time with his recently widowed aunt. I know that was part of the reason he asked; he knew I was struggling and he thought having to train for a run would help get me out of my funk.

So we looked at options for the two week period we were both available and found a race in Maine (crucial placement for the sweltering summer months) and we signed up!

Last week was our event. Portland, Maine was fantastic. Cooler and less humid. Lots of great restaurants and shops. Beautiful scenery. And even better company. We had a fantastic time. It was so nice to connect and catch up before life would take us both in different directions. Time is such a precious commodity and for someone to give it so freely is a gift like no other.

While I was running (and walking) the race there was a young gentleman who was clearly overweight and being coached along the way by an extremely fit guy on a bike. The trainer was riding alongside the runner and every once in a while would utter some encouragement or tips on what to do. The not-so-lean runner was struggling. Barely running, more of a slow shuffle. But he was moving forward and he was pushing himself to keep going. He was sweating profusely. He was stopping to drink water and then quickly moving towards the finish line again. I was impressed.
Since I still had about five more miles to muddle through, I had time to contemplate what I witnessed. I thought about Jim and I thought how nice it was for that person to have someone there to encourage him and push him so he didn’t give up. To keep him on course and focused on the goal at hand.

I realized it would be so nice for caregivers to have the same support as they live each day trying to obtain the same: keep moving forward and no matter what shape or condition you are in, still working as best you can while doing the best you can. Sometimes it helps to hear you are doing a good job. Sometimes it takes all the strength you can muster just to get out of bed, or take a shower (if you are lucky) let alone contemplate how you are doing.

Being a caregiver is a tough, thankless task that comes with many silent rewards. Rewards you can’t replace with trophies, ribbons or medals. Smiles, hugs, touches of comfort. Memories. Yes, the rewards are not something to place on a shelf to collect dust. They are tangible, emotional gifts that will become more precious as the days turn to weeks, months and years.

In the midst of the mundane, monotonous tasks and decisions caregivers face each day, it can be difficult to see what gifts we are given. There are times to cherish and times to let go. There are ways to cope and ways to slide into a darkness that may swallow all sunshine.

With a support system, life can have a brightness, an openness with hope and community that can make or break a person. We all need a team behind us. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. And the 1/2 marathon I was able to participate in reminded me to keep moving forward, no matter the pace.

And as for the guy who had his own personal coach? The one three times my size? He finished ahead of me. To see us, you would assume I was the one in great shape and would have beat him by quite a large amount of time. But as we all know, never assume or judge. He kept his pace, didn’t give up and finished strong. Never quitting. Never stopping. Never complaining. Just heading ahead without looking back. Good for him.

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