Boston Marathon

6 Whole Years

6 whole years since the bombing. It feels like a lifetime ago and yet it’s not very hard to find myself back at the finish line in my mind. The sounds and what my eyes took in are still so clear like no time has passed at all. The confusion and shock linger too. I sometimes wonder how something I know to be true can still feel so unbelievable.

2,190 days have gone by. Some felt ordinary while others have dragged on, filled with mental challenges. And I was one of the lucky ones so I can’t imagine what some of my fellow survivors might be feeling today as we all work to move forward the best we can.

April 15, 2013 was the day my life, and the lives of so many others changed. Some gone forever. Others physically changed. The rest of us, mentally altered just enough that our lives too would never be the same. In many ways that day feels like a line in the sand. I know for me I think about my life now in two parts – before the bombing and after. The Elena I was before feels so far away from the Elena I am today. She feels like a distant memory. Once in a while I find a picture of myself before the bombing and I feel like I am looking at a stranger and that’s hard for me but then I realize that my hopeful, positive, and patient demeanor hasn’t changed and I think those characteristics have given me the strength to live and grow through this season in my life. I thank God for giving me those gifts so long ago. I believe it was in His plan to make me that way knowing what I would one day endure. He is so good.  As I look toward my future, I feel confident in my plan to continue sharing my story and healing journey with others. I know it has helped others.

This week I received an email from the mother of another Boston Marathon bombing survivor who is now deep in his struggle with PTSD. He needs resources, support, and to know he is not alone. I called on my survivor friends and together they recommended many specialists in his area that he can now call on as he hopefully chooses to heal. This is a gift! This is why I write here and it’s why I speak out and share my story. This is my calling and I won’t stop. Survivors of mass shootings and acts of terrorism from years ago are taking their lives every day and they don’t have to. I will work in their memory each day to share my message of hope for healing. Their pain and mine should have meaning and I believe it can inspire other victims to move forward with their lives if they choose to embrace the journey.

So today, 6 years later, I choose to move forward and carry the many lessons this experience has taught me. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to see my life through PTSD’s lens and to use that vision to help where I can.

 

Be the hand of a hopeful stranger

A little scared but your strong enough

Be the light in the dark of this danger

‘Til the sun comes up

A Safe Place To Land – Sara Bareillles

Recovered

We are home from Boston and finally recovered from jet lag! 

I want to thank all of you; my family and friends, and followers for the prayers and love you sent my way during our trip. I felt it all in the form of the most beautiful peace during our trip and I believe they also helped Jeff push through the most difficult marathon in over 40 years.  The weather was terrible!

In the month leading up to the anniversary of the bombings I found myself overcome with symptoms of my ptsd. I shared this with my trauma therapist as she worked to help me prepare for the moment when I would confront the finish line with my kids in tow. My head was full of self-doubt; how could I keep myself together in those crowds, with all those triggers, and take care of my kids too? I realized I was trying to fit all of my plans for that day into a box.  A place I felt I could control. As I went through the motions of the EMDR session I was reminded of a time when I was a girl. My family and I were in line for a roller coaster at an amusement park and I was dreadfully nervous.  The roar of the cars of the track, the screams coming from the riders before me, and the uncertainty of what I would face on the ride were too much for me to take. However, those memories became muffled with the feeling I had once I stepped off that thrilling ride. I felt light and free, I was happy, and I felt confident because I had not let my nerves keep me from conquering my fear. This ah-ha moment became my motivation for the finish line. I decided I was going to embrace the experience for what it was and let is shape me instead of trying to fit it all into a space in my mind that I could control. 

I wanted to share that with you because I think much of life is a roller coaster ride. Full of ups and downs. Twists and turns. Moments you dread and those which take your breath away.

I sure hope that my life is full of more ups. More exciting moments that take my breath away.  Less of those that leave me lying in my bed trying to escape the world.  Either way I know my life will be lived fully and beautifully. I owe that to those who lost their lives on April 15, 2013 at the finish line, I owe it to Officer Sean Collier who was murdered by the bombers, and I owe it to all the survivors – those physically and invisibly injured. I owe it to my family and all of you.

I wrote a reflection for Maria Shriver’s website and it will be live soon. I will share it as soon as it’s published. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy some pictures of my family from our time at the marathon.

 

I Think I Have This...

I’ve been struggling lately.  I know why too. With the marathon coming up and my family getting ready to travel to Boston coupled with the five year anniversary of the bombing, I have been feeling a lot of stuff.  Sadness, anxiety, stress, grief, and fear – all just hanging out under the surface of my skin having an unwelcome kumbaya moment.  It was getting uncomfortable to say the least and came to a head last week during the Easter holiday. I could barely get out of bed that day and I found myself clinging to some of the words my dear friend and fellow survivor, Sarri, had shared with me recently.

Sarri has years of “anniversary” experience and her expertise on such a topic far outweighs the advice any therapist could ever give, unless they too have walked in our shoes.  I think my biggest take away from our long conversation was that April 15th is a big day for me (and many others) and it always will be and I have to accept and embrace it.  I also realized that I want others around me, those I love and lean on, to embrace its importance to me as well.  I don’t want my loved ones to tip toe around the subject or avoid me that day. I want to hear from them, I want to know what they were doing on that day five years ago, and how it all made them feel too. We all shared this experience together. Even though I was the one there that day – they are the reason I am still here today.  

I have been in a lot of therapy lately too. I am not sure if the EMDR therapy will ultimately cure me and that is a whole other subject for me to write about, but I am relying on it now to hopefully get me through the next week.  I recently went into a session and asked my therapist if I needed any other tools to get me though the finish line experience. Her response was that no tool will get me through it. I am either going to be okay or not. The whole conversation wasn't very reassuring for the planner in me especially since my kids will be with me.  I have been stewing over this. I want to be there. I really want to see Jeff’s big finish but I can’t prepare for it.  My biggest fear is that my bestie, PTSD, will grab hold of me while I am trying to be a mom and navigate the crowds and excitement that comes with standing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. 

In the meantime, I am relying on the tools I have that do work for me.

Focusing on the day before me and nothing else.

Being gentle with myself.

Acupuncture, writing, meditation, and other self-care.

Living with gratitude whenever I can.

Prayer.

I think I have this...

 

Sprinting Towards A Marathon

We have been very busy at our house the past few months and I wanted to include you all in on why we have been “running” around like crazy – no pun intended.  My wonderful husband Jeff was given the opportunity to run the upcoming Boston Marathon and the way it all happened was nothing short of fate I think.

Some of you might remember that Jeff and I went on a Strength to Strength retreat in November for terrorist attack survivors, bereaved family members, and spouses. I wrote about it here. We made wonderful friendships and had the chance to bond with other survivors, including Lynn and Doug. They are fellow Boston Marathon bombing survivors and Lynn’s traumatic brain injury from years past was only made worse by the events of that day. As we got to know these two wonderful people Jeff shared his desire to finish the marathon someday – neither of us thought it would be so soon.  As One Fund recipients, Doug and Lynn receive two fundraising bibs each year and they graciously offered one up to Jeff to accomplish his goal.

This all came together so quickly towards the end of last year and Jeff started training.  Training for a marathon takes an incredible amount of dedication and for someone who runs his own business, has two young kids, a wife who lives with PTSD, and other volunteer opportunities that he prioritizes it is near impossible. Jeff has been training hard and I am so proud of the effort he has put into this – his final marathon, or so he says.

This was something we talked a lot about and carefully mulled over because we just don’t have extra time in our lives but Jeff really wanted to do it and so I 100% supported his decision.  It’s not just the time it takes away from our family and all the added pressure it places on me, I also had to consider the fact that I will be standing with my treasures waiting for him where the bombs went off.  It’s unnerving when I think about it. I have been back to that place since and I am still in trauma therapy and working hard every day to heal but still, there are so many factors at play here. There will be thousands of people there, my kids will be with me so I have to keep my cool, if I don’t have passes for the bleachers then we will be on that side of the street, and I know my bestie, PTSD, will be right there with me.  How will I handle all these things at once? With grace and with God by my side are my only two answers to this question. 

Over the holidays my cousin mentioned to me that when she asked him about the marathon he had said that he wasn’t going to run it until I was ready to be at the finish line waiting for him again.  Just her recalling this conversation made me cry because he never voiced this to me.   

So I will be there on April 16th 2018. Five years after the bombs went off. Waiting for my husband to finish this race.  It will be such an accomplishment for the two of us and one I hope our kids will never forget witnessing.  It makes me feel as if this story of mine is coming full circle – in full bloom.

If you feel called to help Jeff with his fundraising goal and support a fellow Boston Marathon bombing survivor with her continued therapies, please click here. We are also accepting any prayers and good vibes you want to send our way!

To read my reflection on the marathon from Maria Shriver’s website last year click here.

 

Trailer Trigger

New Year’s Day morning my husband and I were laying around with the kids and snuggling into our bed to watch the Patriots game. This isn’t new for us but something new happened while we were watching the game that sent me running out of the room covering my ears. The trailer came on. The trailer for the movie that is set to premier very soon about the day that changed my life and thousands of other’s lives (I write this not knowing the title of the film, the premier date, nothing… I don’t think I need to).  When I caught my breath, I realized that I hadn’t been triggered by the first few seconds of it that I had seen but that I had been angered.

As I am still receiving bills from my hospitalization, paying out of pocket for the EMDR (trauma therapy), medications, natural supplements and hypnotherapy I need so that I can be a decent mom, wife, friend, and grounded human being, a movie will be entertaining crowds of people and I have no say in it. I was there wasn’t I? I’m still paying for the aftermath aren’t I?

Soon people will pay money for a ticket and plop down in their chairs and throw popcorn in their mouths while they take in a flick based on a day that I lived and can’t forget. Awesome! Hollywood will be capitalizing on an event in history that our very own citizens died in, were injured in, and are still suffering from every day. Why? The reason simply cannot be so that we, as a country don’t forget what happened.  It can’t be used as a reminder for Boston to stay “Boston Strong” and it sure can’t be used to remember all the innocent victims who lost their lives.  It’s being used to entertain people and I think that is wrong. But I am going to use it for something else, something greater I hope.

I went to therapy the following day and the first thing my therapist said to me was, “I thought of you this weekend.” I knew exactly what she was talking about, she had seen the commercial too.  She isn’t the first person to say this to me and she won’t be the last. So I continue to move through life in my protective bubble I’ve built – no news watching, no Facebook scrolling, and no energy spent on what is happening in our world. I’ve learned that I must completely focus on what is happening in my world, in my body, the conversations going on around me, and the situations I put myself in at all times. Can I go to that restaurant? Did I get enough sleep? Is that food going to irritate me? Can I stand spending a day at the aquarium with my kids?  Will it be too noisy? Will there be too many people? These are the questions I constantly ask myself as I go through my life.  My therapist reminded me of something very important that day after my trailer trigger; I have a greater confidence now and I have better tools that I can use to cope that I didn’t have before.  Most importantly, I have to believe in myself and have faith that when I see those images it doesn’t mean I will go backwards in my growth. Nothing scares me more then moving in that direction again.  

The timing of this film seems so ironic to me given what I have gone through mentally the past year, my recent hospitalization, the birth of this resource, and largely sharing and accepting this event as part of my life’s story.  I know that God has perfect timing in everything He does.  He is calling me not to be angered but to be blessed by the opportunity to hopefully reach more people with my message during this time. He is showing me that this film may be giving me the chance to share my journey with more people and so for that I will say thank you to Mark Wahlberg for his work about a city and people that we both love.

 

you are invited on my journey

This is my pass to wait for Jeff in the bleachers the day of the marathon. I keep it as a reminder of how lucky I was to be on the other side of the street that day.  

This is my pass to wait for Jeff in the bleachers the day of the marathon. I keep it as a reminder of how lucky I was to be on the other side of the street that day.  

Almost four years ago my life was changed forever as you have learned from the contents of this site.  Through my journey to find peace and healing I have started a journal.  I want to share with you some of the passages I have written to remind myself years from now what inspired me to keep living this beautiful life I have been given.  

When I was naming this space I consulted a dear friend and soul sister. She is this amazing person who reflects creativity in everything she does and I knew she was the right person for the job because I had entrusted her to plan my wedding 8 years earlier.  We tearfully dove into the contents of the composition book I was given in the hospital and began highlighting words that stood out.  There in her living room was born Still Blooming Me.

Still. I started my journal while in the hospital when I was seeking stillness the most. The first day I had none of my own belongings but the clothes on my back, a composition book, and miniature pencil. Here I was, removed from all the comforts of my home trying to find relief in such simple possessions. I soon found myself on medications that made me shake so badly I couldn't eat, couldn't sit still, and couldn't sleep. Wasn't I there to get relief from these things in the first place? My mind was plagued with racing thoughts. I was working so hard to claim some peace in that awful place I found myself in. I remember praying and begging God to grant me stillness.

Blooming. My maiden name is Flores, it means flowers in Spanish and flowers have always been a part of the beauty I seek out in my life. In my journal I wrote, "God is burying me so that I can grow into the most beautiful fruit bearing tree, with deep roots, strong branches, full of blooming flowers and the knowledge that my life is always changing and that's okay." Through this experience I have learned that blooming takes work, it can be painful, it requires the help of others, and if you work at it, you will find the most beautiful flower blooming is you.

Me. This is the most important word in the title.  This is about me. It's my story, I didn't choose it but I am claiming it. I'm not hiding it from you or from me anymore and that will help me heal. This blog is about what has helped me, how I have found the strength to be my own advocate, and how I plan to help others like me. Finally, the very best therapy I have found has been the time I have taken to slow down and enjoy my two treasures whose names begin with "M" and "E".