A week ago, I was running on our high school track in the morning. The air was still cool, but humid. The sun was rising in the east. I had the place to myself to think and prepare for the day. The athletes on our girls cross country team would be arriving soon, and our morning practice would take place. The beginning of a new season was upon us.
As I rounded the last curve on the east end of the track, I was suddenly hit with that feeling – the one I have fought so often, but so unsuccessfully (don’t we always lose the battles we’re not prepared for?). Waves of grief, sobs, uncontrollable for just a few moments – not even a minute I would guess – hit me from seemingly nowhere. The feeling passed but haunted me for the remainder of the run. That was until one of my runners showed up early and jogged/walked alongside me while I finished my run.
August 20, 2004 was the evening our daughter and sister, Kelsey was involved in a three-car accident. When the month of August begins each year, I begin that mental and emotional preparation knowing that day is coming. Even though Kelsey wasn’t pronounced brain dead until the following morning, it is the 20th I dread. That’s when our world unraveled. That’s when the nightmare began. That’s when I began to lose track of time – hours and days would go by and I couldn’t remember if I had eaten or slept. I hate August 20th.
So why, on a beautiful morning with the excitement of a new cross country season did this wave of grief and pain hit me? I told my wife about it. We just wrote it off as “one of those times” we can’t explain or understand.
The next day the email came from our athletic secretary that order forms for team pictures were available to pick up in the office. That’s when I began to connect the dots.
Kelsey was our cross country manager at the time of her death. About two weeks before the accident we had our team picture day. That year I finally talked Kelsey into doing a “buddy” picture with me. Even though she said it was stupid and embarrassing, she relented. The photographer had me kneel and had Kelsey stand behind me with her hand on my shoulder. Teammates were teasing her, and we both laughed as the photo was shot.
We took the photo on the hill just outside of the last curve on the east end of the track.
After 15 years I am still learning how to not just manage, but find some sense of contentment around the anniversary of Kelsey’s death. I know her donation of organs saved four lives, and the tissue she donated helped up to 70 others. I know the foundation we have created in her memory has helped over 30 NorthWood students pay for their college education with $88,000. Nearly 1000 people gather each Thanksgiving to run and walk in her memory to fund those scholarships and to thank God for their families and blessings.
I guess this year I didn’t anticipate passing the spot where our last picture together was taken and getting hit with the reality of my grief, my pain, my empty spot. Even though I look like I have it together much of the time, those feelings can still hit from what looks like nowhere but are really deep in my heart and soul.
This August 20, I will celebrate the life of Kelsey Mikel as I do each year. There will be tears and there will be laughter.
And there will be a cross country meet…
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