The Journey Begins

Growing Through Grief is an intensive in-school grief support program provided to elementary, middle and high school students who have experienced the death of a family member or friend. Grief services are provided to the student free of charge and include peer support groups and one-to-one counseling on a regular basis throughout the school year. Collaborative crisis management support for death related incidences, such as when a staff member or student dies, are also provided to the school community.  The program is run by the Park Nicollet Foundation and is paid for through grants and philanthropy.

Throughout the bike ride, we will have updates about the Growing Through Grief program from counselors, student participants, teachers and family members of students receiving grief counseling.

The program is free to students. However, it costs $500,000 a year to support the program including the counselors, the printed materials for students, and numerous other expenses.  Philanthropy is the source for funding – and the Park Nicollet Foundation staff must raise that amount every year to keep the program going.

My goal is to raise at least $65,000, the cost of the program for a year at one school.  To make a donation, please click on the link below.  All donations go directly to the program. 

Please follow along with me as I ride bike across America.  The adventure begins on April 28th!

This video is an overview of the program – interesting to watch!


Sponsors:

  • Freewheel Bike
  • Borton Volvo
  • Mark Cheeley, Synergy Wealth Management, Ameriprise
  • Jim Greenwood, Greenwood Health Solutions
  • Many Individuals who care


A Letter

April 24th, 4 days to ride start

The chapel on the campus of St Catherine University overflowed with mourners and many had to stand on the stairs outside to hear about Madonna’s life.  She was loved by many – in addition to her spouse, family and friends were her students, school colleagues, former classmates and neighbors.  As the priest described an authentic, charismatic, empathic, wise, patient, funny and beautiful woman, I thought of my own interactions with her.  We had been introduced a few years before by her husband, a fellow resident in Internal Medicine at HCMC.  The brutal fact was that this special person had died five days after giving birth to the couples’ second daughter.  The pain and grief among the mourners seemed insurmountable and I still remember the scene and my own emotions during that funeral – more than two decades later.

The priest encouraged everyone to write a letter to her children describing Madonna and their interactions with her since the girls would not know her.  I followed his advice – thankful to be offered a method to honor her memory and sent the letter to the girls.  

My copy of that letter recently surfaced as I was cleaning my office. As I read the letter, my memories of Madonna returned as if she had died only last month.  I felt the same emotions as when I was in her presence and the same horror and pain I experienced at her funeral.  I was pleased that I had followed the priest’s advice and written the letter to her daughters – to help them know their Mother a little better.  But, I was surprised to learn how important that letter is to me now.  That letter brings back treasured memories I had not thought of for years.  And for me, my memories of Madonna are a blessing.

So, if the unthinkable happens to a child and they lose a parent or other loved one, write them a letter.  Tell them about the deceased individual and your relationship with them.  Help the child learn about their loved one – and you will help yourself as well.  

Postscript:  All those treasured letters are still held by Madonna’s husband and they will serve again when Madonna’s daughters have children of their own. 

Americana

From a bike trip in 2016

In Winslow, AZ. To commemorate the song by the Eagles. With the image of a flatbed Ford in the window on the first floor and one of the couple on the second floor on your right.
Hope, AZ. No word on the sign maker.

Memories and a Dedication

April 14th Two weeks to ride start

My Uncle Steven, was 37 years old and dying of metastatic testicular cancer when our mother took my brothers and me to see him.  She prepped us by saying that he was near death and on oxygen.  At 17 years old, I was lost.  “What should I talk to him about?”, I asked my mother.  “Just tell him what you’re doing”, She said.  We were ushered into his room. He lay in bed propped up with pillows behind his back with oxygen tubing in his nose.  Emaciated, all his effort was given to inhaling as deep as he could through his nose, twenty times a minute.  He looked up at us with exhausted eyes.  I was overwhelmed by emotion as we watched him labor to breathe.  I don’t remember what we said to him.  Too tired and short of breath, he could not engage with us in conversation.  We said our goodbyes and left.  In the hospital hallway, I felt relief, guilt, loss, emptiness, overwhelming sadness, and other emotions I could not define.

A few days later, on a cold December day, he passed away leaving behind his 33-year-old wife and three young children, 6, 4, and 2 years old.  The oldest child, now a 52 year old physician, spoke with me recently about his memories of grieving for his father in his childhood years.  “No one else in class knew what I was going through.” Said my cousin. He cried spontaneously for months afterwards, especially when alone.  “Grief for me was like a rollercoaster with sudden emotional swings that were beyond my control”, he said.  Remembering that at the time he was described as “8 going on 15”, by his 3rd grade teacher, who knew of his father’s death. The teacher said it was a goal to get him to smile. Fortunately, his mother is a very strong woman.  “I always knew she loved me” and “I always felt I had security for whatever I did.” he said.  “She made sure that family and friends were very involved in our lives.”  His mother married again, “to a wonderful man I call Dad”, he said, with great warmth.  

My cousin, the physician, was 37 years old when he married, and the couple had their first child.  The timing of these major milestones in his life reminded him of both his father and of what he learned since childhood about life and grief.  He told me, “Understand that your loss will make you a different person – but don’t doubt that eventually you’ll be ok. Find a few people (sic family and friends) who have your back, people you can count on. Remember, it is not your job to help others with their discomfort as they try to find the right words to comfort you – allow yourself to grieve.”  In school counseling would have helped my cousin work through the challenging grief process he endured.

In November, 2017, another first cousin passed away from metastatic melanoma.  He left behind three young children.  Several of my friends lost their fathers when they were young- 9 and 6 years old.  A dear friend of mine lost his beautiful spouse leaving behind a 6 year old son and another dear friend lost his wonderful wife 5 days after she give birth to their second daughter. 

Nearly everyone reading this blog has experienced their own grief following the loss of a loved one or a classmate.  And while the journey of grief has similar stages and characteristics, each is unique to the individual.  In my own experience, I know that grief is incredibly complicated and life changing.  We can never prepare for it and grief is always different, always unpredictable with each new loss.   

Through this blog, we will learn from our outstanding Growing Through Grief counselors  how they help students learn to deal with their grief. They will help us understand that a child’s grief is different than an adult’s and is significantly dependent on the age of the child when they lose a loved one or classmate. We will also see how the counseling changes lives and improves school performance for children in measurable ways.  And we will hear from students about the many benefits they receive from the counseling.    

So, I dedicate my ride across America to the memory of the family members and friends I have lost and to those children now dealing with grief in childhood.   I will have many days on the road to remember the lives of my loved ones now gone and what made each relationship unique.  And my memory of them is a blessing to me.

Bike Route and Preparations

April 5th. 22 days to start of ride



Bike Route 3452 miles Costa Mesa, CA to Amesbury MABike Route
Total vertical feet climbed: 110,870.

With 3 weeks left until the ride starts, final preparations have begun. Clothing is being selected in anticipation of the vagaries of spring weather conditions. Equipment for the bike including many replacement parts for brakes, spokes, derailleurs, cables and inner tubes ( plenty of flats are expected ), a new helmet, sunglasses to fit over my glasses and running daylights for the front and back of the bike are purchased. The bike will have a complete overhaul and then be shipped out on the 19th to Costa Mesa. Computer, cellphone, camera, a Garmin to upload the daily bike route and all connecting cables must be reviewed.

Of course, buy plenty of sunscreen and lip cream with spf of at least 35 or higher. ( Yes, with my liberal application of sun screen, I must supplement my Vitamin D levels. As a physician, I’ve biopsied many moles and skin growths for skin cancer – so I know I must protect my skin) I will also buy electrolyte supplement for my water to replenish the electrolytes I lose in sweat. We drink at least a bottle of water every hour while biking, more depending on the heat and humidity.

Other considerations include regular sleep. During the trip, we’re up by 5:30 for an early breakfast and toileting before getting the suitcase out to the van by 6:30. The daily ride starts at 7 am.

Of course, good hydration and nutrition is needed now. And above all, don’t get sick – friends and family with the latest virus have been laid low for weeks. Don’t want to start a long distance ride the flu.

Training to bike across America

Training buddies during a ride in Scottsdale, AZ. Six weeks to start of ride.

The ride begins April 28th, with a rear tire dip in the Pacific Ocean at Costa Mesa, CA and ends with a front tire dip in the Atlantic Ocean at Salisbury beach near Amesbury, MA on May 30th. 3452 miles in 33 days. An average of 112 miles and 2500 vertical feet of climbing every day. We will bike through 14 states ( map below ) with 2 rest days – Albuquerque, NM on day 8 and Springfield, IL on day 21. Weather is considered when selecting clothing for the day. Only the threat of lightening will keep us off the road.

Our trip is supported by America by Bicycle (ABB), with a team of four guides. Two guides will drive the vans that carry our luggage to the next hotel, provide food at rest stops and offer technical support if needed. Two guides will be on the road throughout the day to keep track of us as we bike at our individual pace. I have ridden with three of the four guides in 2016 and they are outstanding.

On April 27th, I will meet the other bikers. We will introduce ourselves and participate in a very thorough safety talk about bike riding on all types of roads and in various weather conditions. Our bikes will be carefully inspected, along with our helmets, to be sure we have safe and properly functioning equipment.

How to qualify for The Fast Ride North with ABB? Ride a century – 100 miles – in under 6 hours. Since the time includes any rest stops, you must average about 18.5 miles per hour to qualify. Have time in the saddle – they recommend about 300-500 miles a week in the month leading up to the ride. Own a decent bike that is not too heavy nor too lightweight to go the distance. Find a comfortable saddle!!!

Next, have a serious talk with myself about my limitations- I am 63 years old and have never been accused of being athletic.

How am I training? First, get to ideal weight ( on the thin side for biking). Ok, honestly, that is not going to happen.

Next, get a power meter for the bike and train at The Fix Studio in Minneapolis. There, I ride my bike on rollers to reach 300 watts – my functional threshold. That threshold is the effort at which the muscles start producing lactic acid to maintain the power output. During the class, the cadence ( revolutions of feet per minute) and power output vary under the direction of our coach. Although I have reached up to 600 watts for 10 seconds, it is not sustainable due to production of lactic acid and muscle fatigue. I am training 1 – 1.5 hours, 6 days a week and will add 7-8 hour rides outdoors in the next weeks as road conditions allow. Other recent training included climbing Mt Lemmon in Tucson – 20 miles uphill at a 5 % grade on average. For this trip, I plan to bike at an average of 210 watts. Also, based on my power meter, for my weight, I average about 1000 kcal of energy consumed per 25 miles on the road.