I teach a weekly Indoor Cycling class at my local YMCA. If there is any reason I miss my class, I always let my group know the week before. I rarely miss class. Whether they know it or not, I see them as a strong unit that keeps me coming back week after week. They are a diverse group of varying ages, circumstances. Over time I’ve seen conversations move from the weather or local races, to holiday plans and birth announcements. It’s a beautiful thing when such a unique group commits to one another on a weekly basis. I dig them. A lot.
While I was home after my mom passed away I missed two classes (without warning) so the week I got back, I got a few “Where ya been?” and “We’ve missed you!” from my fellow cyclists. Love them.
I wasn’t sure how, or when, or what to tell the group so at the beginning of class I recited what I believe was taken from the nether-reaches of my brain from a management/HR class in college: “Thank you for your concern. There was a death in my family that I needed to be home for but I am here, back and ready to go. Let’s begin.” Barely any emotion with just enough information for the group’s mood to plunge from moderately upbeat for a 6:30 PM on Wednesday to deep in the bellows of sympathy and apprehension. As class progressed, I was well aware of my lack of enthusiasm and internal struggle of addressing the issue further. As I taught — quite basically on autopilot for 45 minutes — I debated. Do I say more? To I tell them it was actually my mom who passed away? Do I let them know that a part of my bubbly, outgoing heart went with her? Do I admit that I may need their help to keep our collective energy up?
I called on courage and as we wrapped up, took a deep breath and just started talking. I knew once I started, I’d have to keep going.
“In the spirit of being honest and because I view this as a safe, welcoming place that any of us could come to whether we are feeling super fantastic or super rotten, I need to let you know that it was actually my mom who passed away. My mom. I want you to know because I think I’m going to need help over the next few weeks as I get my groove back. I might need your energy for us to make this class happen for a little while. I’m saying this because I want you to know that no matter what is going on in your life, you can come here and be welcomed. You don’t need to have it all together or even feel like going on a bike ride. Just be here with us.”
As I was finishing up, one woman hopped off her bike and just said, “I’m going to give you a hug now.” Everyone picked their jaw off the ground, wiped tears and one by one, told me they were so sorry for my loss. And you know what? I felt better. I needed them to know. I needed the balloon of pressure in my chest popped and deflated so that I could breathe out and admit that things are now and forever different. Now and forever more, I am not the same as I was August 17. But I so sincerely believe that “even in the dark we can whistle.” Even in the darkness, I can find something to smile about. That night, I felt brave and courageous enough to admit that life is tough right now. I saw bravery and courage in my classmates as they demonstrated compassion to me in a way we had never before. Together, we are in the beautiful, brutal, sad yet hopeful struggle. In an instant we went from friends who bike together, to friends who carry, support and help together.
Together makes so many things more bearable.
After class, I called my grandma to check-in. I think back on the pictures my grandma, mom and I have taken to display the generations in our family and how suddenly the middle link that connects us has left us. I tell my grandma about my class and how I really had to work to tell the truth. She said that she’d had a similar experience with a friend and ultimately decided that sharing the full, ugly, heart-wrenching truth at times is exactly what we need to do.
“Honey,” she said. “It’s harder but, boy, is it better.”
Whistle: Announcing that life is hard and being greeted with hugs, support and “We’ll see you next week!”