One can never be sure what to expect of Marathon Sunday’s weather in New York City. Reflecting back on that Sunday, November 5, 2006, for spectators, the temperature was seasonably brisk. But for runners, like my husband Paul and his running mates, the weather was perfect. Although this would be a second marathon for Paul, this event marked the first organized fundraiser for the Skye Foundation, and a first marathon for TEAM SKY. The team was comprised of a special group of fathers recruited by what I would describe as Divine serendipity, as their lives had been either touched or directly impacted by Black infant death.
After months of training, Paul and the team left for the start in Staten Island at dusk. I said a prayer for Paul and the team, praying for protection and strength, especially for Paul, whose knee had never been the same after a freak accident on the basketball court a few years prior. The cheering squad, comprised of family and friends, left later that morning. We dispersed ourselves throughout New York City at different points on the race’s course.
At mile 8, it seemed as if Paul and TEAM SKY were progressing through the course almost effortlessly. I, along with my mother-in-law, sister and her husband, headed uptown to mile 21. But it would be several hours before I would see Paul again, a lot longer than I had anticipated. Most of TEAM SKY had passed mile 21, but there was still no sight of Paul. Using his time from the first marathon as a gauge, even with my slowest estimate, I thought Paul should have reached mile 21 by now.
Finally, my mother-in-law yelled, “There he is!” And then, through the sea of runners, we saw him. Paul was limping terribly; the pained look that we saw made it clear that he was in agony. He stopped to tell us how his knee gave out at mile 14, his legs were hard to move, and he had been limping for the last seven miles.
Knowing Paul’s proclivity to finish what he starts, I figured that it would be a long shot, but I had to say it anyway: “Babe, really, you can stop if you want. You have absolutely nothing to prove; you are already my hero.” His mom agreed, “That’s right, you’re my hero, too.”
Paul responded to my invitation without words; with a quiet and steely determination, he limped away from the sidelines, toward the race to re-join the participants. Without much thought about what to do next, I started walking with him.
Now walking the last five miles of the marathon together, Paul and I didn’t say much. I can only remember Paul saying once, “Daddy’s tired. Daddy’s really tired,” and I knew that he was focused on Skye, the Foundation and finishing his course. Paul later told me that he equated giving up the race to giving up on Skye, which for him was non-negotiable.
Despite the thousands of runners and spectators around us, it seemed as if Paul and I were in our own private bubble. My thoughts about the last year seemed to drown out what was happening with the race.
I thought about our own personal marathon and the complex grief experience that followed Skye’s birth and death. I thought about how many times I had not completely understood the difference between Paul’s style of grieving and my own.
My emotions after Skye’s death were visible and intense, but had I interpreted this to mean that Paul was not as impacted by her death? With every step Paul took, I realized that although our expressions of grief may differ, it did not mean that Paul was affected by Skye’s death any less than I was.
When it would have been understandable for him to opt out, only an enduring love for Skye kept Paul in the race. As dusk settled on the finish line, and Paul took his last steps of the marathon, I watched him with tears in my eyes and promised myself that one day I would share this story with fathers worldwide.
In the end, family, friends and TEAM SKYE runners were reunited at the finish line, celebrating the team’s accomplishment. And in the midst of the celebration, I could almost imagine our one-year old Skye, cheering wildly for her amazing father.