Emotions Running RAW

March is a month full of birthdays for me. My mom, grandma, brother, father-in-law, cousins, close friends, and my husband, Rasheed, are all born during this month. The only problem is Rasheed is no longer with us physically, but how do you tell that to your heart?

This year marks Rasheed’s third up above, and our third without him. These big days don’t seem to get any easier without him, but I am learning how to navigate this winding road through Grieftown.

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on when someone says your name for the last time.” -Banksy

The answer to surviving the first birthday without him seemed simple: I threw Rasheed a party nearly a year after he had passed away. It would have been his 40th. That man never wanted me to make a big fuss over him, but a few days after his 39th birthday (and a few weeks before he was killed) he agreed to allow me to throw him a big 40th celebration where he could see all of his frat brothers, high school, college and business school classmates, and colleagues from throughout the years. He never made it to his big bash, but our friends and family did. Their presence lifted my spirits and strengthened my soul.

The second birthday without him I set up a booth and sold faith tees to fund my organization, Still His, which sends {LOVE} boxes (or gift boxes) to the widodwed. My husband loved entrepreneurship, so it made my heart happy.

Third One Without Him.

But the third birthday without him? I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to tire our incredible friends and family with more of my antics, but my heart still wanted to share a bit of our love with the world — continuing to keep a piece of him alive and (selfishly) keeping my heart pumping, as well.

A good friend recommended organizing a charity 5k because she figured I had started running again. Let me explain…

A conversation with my girl about two years after losing Rasheed made me realize how much I’d physically changed. I had posted something random on social media, and she asked if I was eating. I thought she meant at that moment because she was about to tell me something gross. She meant in general.

To be honest, I’m no skin and bones, and I’m happy with that fact. I’m a grown-up who has curves, and I’m proud of them. However, after my text exchange, I hopped on the scale and was surprised by the number staring back at me.

You see, after college, my metabolism and I started having problems. It didn’t want to allow me to eat whatever I wanted. (gasp) so I gained weight, lost weight and started the dance we all know too well.

But after I lost Rasheed in 2016, my body didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t eat for weeks after his death, so I lost a great deal of weight very quickly.

Then I ate everything.

Time to Hit the Treadmill.

I didn’t want to exercise. That was the thing we loved to do together.

Rasheed thrived on physical activity. He was a Black Belt in karate, an amateur boxer who won both of his matches, and even had a partial fencing scholarship to our alma mater, Duke University. The last few years before he died were filled with weekend runs for us & our dog, Lola. He’d mainly sprint past us and back to ensure he adequately checked off his cardio for the day, but he always made sure to spend several legs of the day’s run chatting with me and playing with Lola. I don’t know how he did it, but he knew how to always make you feel heard, loved, and as if you were the center of his world – even when he had two million things going on around him and in his head.

And since we lived in Orlando before he died, that same crazy friend who suggested I organize a 5k also suggested years ago that a group of us girls should run the Disney Princess Half Marathon. I need to start remembering this pattern!

Mind you, I’ve never considered myself a runner. My dad and sister got those genes. I’ve always been a slow and steady runn- errrr… jogg.. errr… wogger. But Rasheed helped me train and couldn’t wait to cheer us on both times we dressed up as princesses and ran.

That meant after losing him, working out was not only not something I remotely did not want to do, but it was a trigger. Every time I laced up my sneakers, I saw his face smiling back at me like that one time when I beat him running up the stairs of the building we had sprinted to – even though I’m certain he let me win.

It took a while for me to start working out after he was killed. It took me even longer to be able to run without crying, but something about running in his name (and wearing his fraternity number & mine) made me smile.

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You see, I’m starting to feel like me again. However, it’s weird because I’m no longer the me I was when that beautiful man was physically on my arm. However, at 38, I’m also more me now than I’ve ever been.

God had to break me to make me this strong, but in order to fulfill the destiny that lies in front of me, I must ensure the vessel I’m living in is up to the task.

I’ve slowly started eating better and moving more. It’s nowhere near the level of activity and discipline I had during spurts of fitness enthusiasm when Rasheed was with me, but it’s progress.

It’s taken mental strength to put on my sneakers and start running solo. I know I will now have a new cheering section sitting high above us all with an extra seat next to my grandfathers filled with someone special.

I’m starting to cook real food again. The thing most people don’t realize is cooking can be a big grief trigger. Rasheed became excited over just about anything I’d make – even if it wasn’t good, which means the idea of cooking now just makes me sad. However, my heart needs veggies and protein – even if the other side of it initially felt sad because it remembered his laugh when he gobbled those items for dinner.

And don’t think it doesn’t mean I don’t have setbacks. Heck, I had cupcakes and chardonnay for dinner too many days before this year’s 5k, and I honestly don’t feel bad about it.

This new journey is full of ups and downs. I’ve learned to be gentle with myself. I’ve learned to love myself enough for both of us. I’m also learning how to take care of myself in order to experience the joy that still exists in life.

It’s taken mental strength to put on my sneakers and start running solo. I know I will now have a new cheering section sitting high above us all with an extra seat next to my grandfathers filled with someone special.

I’ve also found healing in the one thing I wasn’t sure I could do without Rasheed. I’m proud to say (eeeeek) I organized the inaugural “RAW Run 5k” that was held during what would have been his 42nd birthday.

I knew the proceeds should go to one of his two prizes/scholarships established in his name. Since April 2019 will mark Rasheed’s 20th reunion from college, I thought Duke would be the perfect location.

At times, it felt like I was planning our wedding again. Looking for vendors, nailing down the venue, figuring out the events – there were so many times I thought this wasn’t going to work. There were so many moments when my anxiety or grief attacks made it too difficult to think and I figured, “Oh well. Friends will understand why I have to cancel.” However, that still, small voice (and my good friends) kept me going.

On Saturday, March 23rd, more than 60 friends, family, fraternity brothers, sorority sisters, colleagues, classmates, and strangers showed up. Many wearing their Duke blue; even our UNC friends played along! 🙂 The day couldn’t have been prettier. The lawn on East Campus could not have been full of more love. It was absolutely perfect.

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About 50+ more people ran at home by participating in the virtual run!

Friends drove from all over the country! Some even decided not to register, opting to simply show up and surprise me! It still makes me tear up when I think of all the sacrifices folks made & the journeys they took to support Rasheed and me. I’m honored and humbled, and I promise I feel the real emotions and not the clichéd hashtag version.

It was simply incredible.

And as the dj played Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday,” I felt a soft, cool breeze wrap around me that seemed to say “thanks, babe.” And then something blew my balloon right into the nearby tree – creating a comical end to what could have been a too-serious moment. Sounds like someone I know.

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Proceeds from the charity run benefit the Rasheed A. Wiggins Entrepreneurial Prize, which is awarded during the Duke Startup Challenge. I’m still waiting on the final numbers from Duke, but family, it looks like we raised more than $1500 for his prize! I am beyond grateful and blown away by the weekend.

A few friends have expressed interest in contributing even after this weekend. I ask that you donate to St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark. I have some serious work to do to finish endowing that scholarship, so any extra help is appreciated. Perhaps we have an idea for next year’s RAW Run 5k…

I admittedly held it together until I flew back to Maryland and reached my car at BWI. Let’s just say the drive home was ugly. I spent the day after the run (Rasheed’s actual birthday) crawled up in my bed with my dog, but I couldn’t have felt luckier. Lucky to have been loved so deeply, and lucky to be loved still by all of our framily.

Learning to live after loss takes work and patience. Sometimes you can’t see how far you’ve come until a friend forces you on the scale and your progress stares back at you. The numbers themselves are virtually meaningless, but the loss shows you how much you’ve grown.

If you’re walking the same journey or trying to figure out how to keep going after a devastating blow, just know it takes time. You will have good days and bad (I certainly do), but this marathon called life is all built upon those tiny baby steps.

* * * * * * * *

A round of applause for Doug Burt who took the majority of the amazing photos above; you can download them for free!! 

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Another special thanks to everyone who participated in person in North Carolina or virtually, and especially to the following for so many reasons:

Subject 2 Change Tees

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Our Amazing DJ

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April Mills

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CJ Broderick

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Chris Jackson

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Heidi Everett

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Blayne Alexander Bailey

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Jeff Edwards

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WRAL’s Candace Sweat

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Rontina DeGraffenreid

Snapper Freeman

The Iota Xi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

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The Lambda Omega Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

 

#LoveLives

 

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