Tomorrow it will be one year since Mr JK died. It doesn't seem possible that I have existed a whole 365 days without him. When I said this to someone, they replied, 'You haven't existed, you've lived. Just look at everything you've done,' and I suppose they're right. Although some days I really do feel like I am simply existing, not wanting to socialise and shutting myself away at home with my thoughts. But yes, I have lived. I've made myself go out and do things and I've had some huge achievements.
On Sunday, I took part in the Yorkshire 10 mile race. The previous year, Mr JK had run the marathon in York and a few days after he died, an email came through for him with a link to his race photos and videos. As I looked through them, a crazy idea came into my head that I wanted to run in York the following year. So that became my focus. From not even owning a pair of trainers, I got myself kitted out with some proper running shoes, bought a sports bra, joined the gym and downloaded the Couch to 5K programme. But my attempts were soon thwarted by joint pain and an x-ray revealed an arthritic knee. I had some physiotherapy and when I told the physio that I was planning to run a race in my husband's memory, her reply of 'I think that this is your body's way of telling you that you need to find another way to remember your husband,' left me in tears. But I continued at the gym, working with my PT who never stopped encouraging me and believing in me, and gradually my leg became stronger and my knee joint more stable. I went for my first run outside in April this year, but ran secretly, away from home, because I didn't want people to know what I was doing. Running was something my husband had done while I sat and knitted - I hated exercise! I felt like I didn't really have the right to be doing it and was worried that people would find my efforts funny. It was too important to me to be laughed at, so I just plugged away on my own. Running made me feel connected to Mr JK but at the same time I often got hugely emotional afterwards, standing in the shower with tears pouring down my face because the one person I wanted to share my latest achievement with, I couldn't. Last month I had to 'fess up because I wanted to fund raise for the British Heart Foundation when I ran the Great North Run, and I was overwhelmed by people's response. Family and friends and people who usually live in my computer - from Blogland, Instagram and Twitter - were just so generous, and I have been truly humbled by it.
The Yorkshire 10 mile race was something very personal for me as I was running in Mr JK's footsteps. The route followed the route of the marathon, splitting off at 5 miles and rejoining the marathon route for the last 4.5 miles. I had arranged to meet up with some running friends from Twitter and it was so good to see them. They have been amazingly supportive over the last twelve months, encouraging me from my earliest days as a complete newbie runner to achieving my first half marathon. We went out for dinner the night before the race for some carb loading!
The organisers at RunYorkshire were just amazing. I'd been in touch with them because I was dithering about the race and they very kindly gave me a VIP pass for myself and any friends who were coming with me to make my day easier. I certainly did feel special while I waited in the VIP lounge with a mug of tea and a Danish pastry before the race.
I was feeling quite anxious because I hadn't run at all for the last month as my knee was sore after the GNR and was keen to get started to prove to myself that I hadn't forgotten how to run! There was another meet up with more Twitter friends just before we headed to our respective zones at the start...
It was a lovely day, not too hot and the support from the crowds was amazing. I lost count of the number of times people shouted out,'Come on Helen! You can do it!' and other equally encouraging words. It was just what I needed to hear and as I ran, I also thought of Mr JK and the fact that I was running just where he had a year earlier. Rounding the final bend towards the last half mile, I spotted three familiar faces in the crowd - Charlie, Sarah and Jules - who had all come up from Norfolk to cheer me on. It was just the boost I needed to get me to the finish line! The closing stretch was just incredible - crowds of people clapping, cheering and shouting my name! I managed to cross the line with a smile on my face but when the announcer then called my name and said that I was 'running for Rowley', the tears began. It's a day that I will never forget and I feel like I've gone full circle now, running in Mr JK's footsteps. I think he'd be proud of me.
So what have I learnt over the past year? I've learnt that I'm a lot tougher than I thought I was. I've kept going through some very dark days. Of course I'm not 'over it' - I don't think that you ever get over the death of a loved one. But that huge sense of loss is countered by your world gradually expanding so that you are eventually able to think about other things too. I miss Mr JK immensely and think about him every single day. Often without tears, but the tears still come and that's ok. I've also learnt that death makes some people very uncomfortable and many never refer to Mr JK at all, even though I want to talk about him and remember him. You really do find out who your friends are as people make promises to keep in touch and phone you, but you never hear from them. 'You know where I am if you need anything,' is another phrase that gets thrown out regularly, but it's really hard to admit to people that you're struggling. It is for me anyway. I have some good friends who have stuck by me and I wouldn't have got through this year without them. And I have also made some new friends which I'm really happy about. I know there will be plenty of challenges in the years ahead but I'm taking little steps to meet them. Thank you to you too for all your kind messages and comments over the past year. Just knowing that there are people out there who care really does help. xxx