About six months later, struggling under a tsunami of grief, Jodie decided to work towards running 12 miles, one mile for each month of Silas' life. What began as a private focus to mark Silas' first birthday, shared with a small group of family and friends, is now the Celebrate Silas 5K, an annual run/walk benefitting the Dougy Center.
After Jodie began volunteering at The Dougy Center, she says, " I recognized that my grief was not the only thing out there. Many, many other people are grieving too and sharing my grief with others is therapeutic for me." She realized that the annual run could be "an opportunity for other folks to share their grief too". And so last year she featured a “We Remember” board, created by Silas' brother Felix, and called names of those being remembered.
Once participants took off running and walking, it "shifted the energy of the group back into the celebratory," Jodie says. "There is something about exercising together as a group that is uplifting."
Jodie's journey as an event organizer has been closely intertwined with her own journey of mourning. Since the beginning, the route has included a pause mid-event to tour the Crystal Spring Rhododendron Garden where there's a memorial bench for Silas. ("We wanted to have a public place to go and remember him and to have his name written out in the world. To tell the world that he was here," she says.) But that first year "I was hyperventilating while at the garden and could hardly look at the bench. Now, I really enjoy sitting on the bench at the event and chatting with folks about it."
In the third year, when she first opened the event to the public, Jodie invited the team from Fire Station 9 who had responded the morning that Silas died. They offered to bring the fire truck and let folks tour it. It sounded like a great idea until they pulled up at the site. "Seeing the fire fighters in uniform brought me right back to the morning Silas died," she says. "I started crying and shaking. They all felt so bad for me and offered lots of hugs. Luckily, I was able to pull it together."
That same year she realized that sticking to her own 12 mile run while public participants did a shorter route created more than a literal distance between her and the others. She says, "I welcomed people at the beginning, but most folks were long gone by the time I was back at the park. This combined with typical March weather and the singing of happy birthday to a dead baby made it less than celebratory. I decided to switch things up if we were to do it again."
That led to the ceremonial elements she's incorporated, and a unified route accessible to all. This year Jodie will use name tags to encourage participants to share the name of those they're remembering to encourage folks to talk and share stories about their loved ones. "I'm envisioning people coming up to you," she tells me, "seeing your name tag and asking, 'Will you share a story about Marcy with me?' I love to talk about Silas and don't get many opportunities. I hope folks will find this meaningful and that it will help build community within the group."
I asked Jodie how she balances celebration and bereavement. "The short answer," she says, "is that I combine them. I live with the magnitude of Silas' loss everyday. I feel like I balance bereavement with everything that I do. When I was new to grief, I was really concerned about forgetting Silas. Me forgetting, other people forgetting. I think most folks want the opportunity to remember and talk about their loved ones. Especially this year, I hope that Celebrate Silas will be an opportunity to celebrate/talk about/remember our loved ones and that this helps honor our grief. Someone once told me that the magnitude of my grief was a testament of my love for Silas. I believe this to be true. I celebrate my love, my grief, and my memories because it is all that I have left."
Check out the photos and participant feedback below and please consider joining me and Amber in supporting Celebrate Silas 2016 on Sunday, March 6, 2016. More info here. To hear Jodie discuss anniversaries and birthdays in greater detail, listen to this Dougy Center's podcast.
"Not everyone has the wherewithal to create such a public, meaningful tribute to their precious loved one. As a fellow bereaved mother, I love the opportunity that Celebrate Silas provides to remember and honor my own son. The course is beautiful and tranquil. Thank you Jodie!" Jami Keene
“It was a really lovely event- as always. It's cool how it's grown, and I'm sure will grow every year. It will never make up for Silas' death, but it does help celebrate his life and the lives of others. Thanks for all that you put into it. I plan to be there every year!” Sara Ohgushi
“Congratulations, Jodie! We were honored to have the opportunity to participate again this year in what is such a wonderful event. The walk/run is so aptly named, because it really does feel like a celebration. Such an awesome sense of community and camaraderie is created when friends and strangers get together for a shared goal. What an amazing way to kick off the week!” Sue Johnson