September 29, 2018

The incessant throbbing wasn't something I could ignore anymore. It underscored most of my waking hours, and it wasn't getting any better on its own. I finally visited a podiatrist and received the diagnosis: stress fracture. This differs from a standard bone fracture in that it is not caused suddenly. Instead, a stress fracture is the result of repeated stress on the bone(s).

This made sense to me.  I had been trying for months to get back in shape for a September half marathon after the Great Plantar Fasciitis Drama of 2017. So recent over-training combined with naturally bad feet appeared to be the culprit. I dropped out of the half marathon and I'll be wearing the boot for three weeks.

I'm told rest will heal it.

This current state has got me pretty blue. While I'd never call myself a Runner, I would say that running has proved to be the very best way for me to feel healthy both physically and mentally. There is no other form of exercise that seems to give me the same full-body healing than running.

Wearing the boot isn't all bad. They say black is slimming, and I'm saving on sock-laundering since I only wear one now. But today I realized something else: this boot has made me slow down enough to think. It's made me deal with something I'd been trying hard to ignore.

This summer, my sons' father died. He was 50 years old.

Some say what killed him was a sudden illness - a rapid decline over a few short weeks before the end. But I know - and his sons know - that what killed him took several years. The organ failure was the physical cause, but the actual illness had been slowly swallowing him for what feels like forever.

Though we had been divorced for nearly 17 years by the time he died, his death still rocked me. He had been my parenting partner, and before that, he had been my friend. He had been the man I married in 1991, fully expecting to be partners for life. But, things change and people change, and our marriage only lasted 10 years. Hindsight allows me now to understand more fully what happened all those years ago. But, in any case, he and I were good co-parents for the majority of our sons' childhoods. We were so amicable in the early years apart that it was several summers of swim meets before the other swim team parents knew we were, in fact, divorced. It was the talk of the snack shack when the news finally broke. All those summers ago, standing beside each other at the end of the pool, we were lock-step, rooting for our little boys with complete, unified devotion. I always thought we'd be that way.

While those swim meet-tandem moments became less frequent as our lives gradually diverged, I never, not for one moment, doubted his love for our sons. Ultimately, for reasons I am only now able to truly see, we became estranged. The recurring theme of our conflicts was always connected to the subject of his drinking. This hadn't been what ended our marriage. It was what ended our co-parenting partnership.

Repeated stress.

Today, I look down at this boot and can identify the root cause of my current condition - this stress fracture. It wasn't over-training. That was just the symptom, inspired by my yearning to run more, push myself harder and focus on something else, anything else besides the fact that my sons were losing their father and there was nothing I could do about it - the reality that despite our years of trying to get him help, this illness was finally going to kill him.

Repeated stress.

At the end, he didn't have people in his life to help with the details. His family lives across the country and he'd distanced himself from all of his friends. He'd had trouble holding down jobs, so there weren't colleagues either. That left his two sons...and me.

There is nothing that can prepare you for the details surrounding the death of a loved one. And despite everything, despite our estrangement, despite my disgust at his countless rejections for help, despite it all, he was still the father of our sons. So, as his final days approached, our boys, just 26 and 21, the "next of kin," were tasked with all the details of the death of their father. After all this time, after all that they'd been through, that was not something I was going to stand by and watch them have to do alone, so I stepped in. And beyond the mere fact that their dad was dying of an illness we believed could have been prevented, there had been further complications that only surfaced when he became hospitalized and terminally diagnosed. A pending foreclosure, mounds of debt, and unpaid life insurance premiums just added to the emotional torrent.

Repeated stress.

The funeral is now over. And thanks to the incredible generosity of his college friends, our sons and I were able to travel to his childhood home for the service. They got to see their dad's relatives and reunite with cousins they'd seen mostly in photographs. And the night before the funeral, our boys got to meet their dads' college family and were overwhelmed with the stories they heard, stories about a man they hardly even knew. A man who had gradually disappeared sometime during their youth.

The boys are working hard to move forward, each in their own way. I am incredibly proud of them for what they've been through and for their steadfast love for their dad despite everything. They have seen firsthand the fracturing of a man because of addiction. But now that it's over, and I think they are healing.

As for me, sitting here with this boot on, I'm finally getting some rest. And I think I feel myself starting to heal, too.


  1. I'm glad you're healing. And that you've written about your healing, which will help others heal. You are a writer and a leader and an inspiration.

  2. Seriously love you Annie, and proud that you can so openly share your heart with others so they can find healing too. Proud to call you my friend, as well as my client.