Brimley family treadmill in basement in Washington DC house
Missing Shawn

The Treadmill

People really hate having treadmills in their houses.

I’ve heard this before, but I truly realized it a few months ago when I posted this to my community listserve:

I’m looking for a free/cheap treadmill. If you have one you’d like to sell or give away, please email me.

I got three responses in the first 20 minutes it was up.

I wanted a treadmill because it’s been really hard to figure out how to fit in a workout without Shawn around.  Of course, my dad is almost always home during the school year, but in the mornings (when I liked to work out) the kids really just want me.  If I’m at the gym, there’s extra pressure on my dad.  He says he doesn’t mind, but it’s still a pain.  Now that it’s the summer, the treadmill has proven essential to getting any exercise at all.

In any case, I sent out a text for help from some friends and went over to get one of these treadmills a couple of months ago.  My friend Becky and her husband Josh came and got me and we went to pick it up.  Within a few minutes of arriving at the house where the treadmill resided, it was obvious that we needed a lot more help.  The thing weighed like 500 pounds.  So we went back to my house and started knocking on doors and recruited a few more people.  Amazingly, we got it back to my house and then Josh and my father-in-law spent a fun few hours putting the damn thing together.  Thank God for friends and family.

I run on the treadmill at least three times a week.  I run on it more often if I’m missing Shawn or feeling extra sad.  That means there are weeks when I’m running every single day.  I like to run in the early morning, before anyone is awake and I can clear my head.  There’s nothing like running at 5 am in a florescent-lit, concrete basement garage – it’s austerity at its finest.

The treadmill sits on the mat that Shawn put down for his CrossFit workouts at home.  I’ve moved his weights, though I can’t bring myself to get rid of them.  It was such an integral part of his life and I feel his presence, in a way, when I see them around the treadmill.  On the wall by the treadmill is an American flag.  Like many immigrants to this country, he loved that flag, and he loved everything that it symbolized.  He loved working out with the US flag as a backdrop.  Now, so do I.

Anyway, the other day, my kids got up in the middle of my run and came down to find me.  Tommy was first and he started immediately whining.  He wanted cereal, dammit (he did not say dammit, mind you.  But that’s only because he doesn’t know how to use profanity correctly.  Trust me when I say that his emotions were conveying “cereal, dammit” quite intensely.)  He wanted me to get off the treadmill and he wanted me to do it “RIGHT NOW!”  When I didn’t, he started crying.

Austin came down next.  He sat down on the massive pack of paper towels that I bought at Costco, using it like a mini armchair.  Then he proceeded to watch me run while sucking his thumb, never saying a word.

Finally, Claire arrived.  She is not a morning person, but heard the bump of the treadmill and came down to see what was going on.  “Mom,” she asked, “can I run after you’re done?”  I told her sure, and she went up to get her shoes.  I finished soon thereafter and moved it to a slower rate as I coached her about how to best use a treadmill.  I had to stay right next to her to make sure she didn’t fall off, and we were both proud of her when she finished.

Then we all went and ate cereal and eggs.

I thought about that scene by the treadmill all morning.  Almost seven months since Shawn’s death, my grief continues to run just like this treadmill.  (Bear with me as I overuse the treadmill metaphor for the next few paragraphs.)  The pain just keeps going and going and going, not stopping even if I try and get off.  Sometimes, I try and avoid my grief, but the sadness is always in the background, spinning out of control whether I’m interacting with it or not.

Sometimes, I react like Tommy.  I scream and cry at the grief.  I’m sad, because I’m sad about Shawn, and then I’m sad that I’m sad.  I just want it to stop.  I want to feel better and I want to be in a space where I can still miss Shawn but not feel the pain that rests like a boulder on my chest.

Other moments, I am like Austin.  I can, at times, manage to get a bit of space from my grief, observing it from arms length.  When this happens, I can move through the day without constantly thinking about what I am going to do with my sadness.  I can operate like a “normal” person, even though I know the sadness is still right there.

And sometimes – sometimes – I tackle my grief like Claire.  It’s not every day, but there are certainly times when I decide to spend the afternoon writing about some aspect of Shawn’s hospital stay or the terrible loneliness I feel at night.  Sometimes I go out with my friends and I cry while I’m also having a beer and laughing about the antics of my children.  Sometimes, I take on the grief while also taking on my life.  Like Claire on the treadmill, I often deal with my grief better when I have someone around to help steady me as I process it.

I’m pretty sure my grief isn’t going away.  I think even if I find myself further from it, I’ll still miss Shawn in a deep and intense way.  I’ll never be far away from the hurt of losing him.

I think this means that I need to figure out how to do more (metaphorical) running with my grief, rather than screaming about it going away. I need to keep thinking about ways to live with my grief, just like my kids are going to have to live with this treadmill.