Grief Is An Interesting Phenomenon And One That You Will Encounter So Be Prepared If You Can


“A rich man asked a Zen master to write something down that might encourage the prosperity of his family for years to come. It could be something the family would cherish for generations.

On a large piece of paper, the master wrote, “Father dies, son dies, grandson dies.”

The rich man was angry when he saw the master’s work. “I asked you to write something down that could bring happiness and prosperity to my family. Why do you give me something depressing like this?”

“If your son should die before you,” the master answered, “this would bring unbearable grief to your family. If your grandson should die before your son, this also would bring great sorrow. If your family, generation after generation, disappears in the order I have described, it will be the natural course of life. That is true happiness and prosperity.”

I heard this story many years ago. This version comes from the blog, I’m Gina Smith.

Hi folks,

Lake Placid Ironman finisher hat 2007

I found my old 2007 Lake Placid Finisher hat at the back of my workout bag whilst preparing for the 2012 race.

Well! The 2012 Lake Placid Ironman is behind me, and I’m getting back to regular life and training for the next event. My support team left the hotel a day before me, and as I was packing I noticed a book and flier lying on the bedside table, so I picked it up. And there was a familiar image of a beautiful young girl. This image rang a bell, and then I remembered contributing a small amount of money to a related foundation of some kind or another. I packed the book in my bag, and moved on. Later that day I received a text message from Deb suggesting that I should read the book and blog about it as my life and that of the girl in the picture were linked in some way. So I read the book from cover to cover within the next 24 hours. The girl’s name is Cindy, and I say IS specifically, even though she is deceased. I have several people in my life who just aren’t around in the regular way anymore, but they’re around for me, nonetheless.

TeamCindy LogoCindy died of a ruptured brain aneurysm whilst training for the Lake Placid Ironman 2007, the year I completed my first full Ironman, at the age of 64. Whether her training contributed to her early death I am not sure, but I can reason it both ways. In my case, the 2010 Lake Placid Ironman most certainly saved my life, and I have no doubt about that, but that is another story. So why should a vivacious young woman die, while this old guy gets to live his life, in spite of a massive aortic aneurysm. I’ve not idea, it’s just the way it is, and we can’t trade places even if we want to, so you do the best you can, which is what Cindy’s admirable mother did. She handled the worst grief imaginable, loss of a child, and what’s more she turned it into constructive work.

Book 'Dear Cindy, Love Mom, Letters of Love, Loss and Life by Elaine Roberts Schaller

‘Dear Cindy, Love Mom, Letters of Love, Loss and Life’ by Elaine Roberts Schaller, the organizer of TeamCindy that supports the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, of which she is now an active board member.

Mrs. Schaller’s story of overwhelming grief follows a slow and tortuous journey of recovery, which led her to work to prevent others going down same road as her daughter, through her involvement in TeamCindy and the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. This I find to be admirable. I am not sure that I would have had such strength, myself. Let’s hope that I am never asked to find out.

The book is well worth reading. It is frustrating at first, as the progress is so slow, but on page 133 I sensed the true beginning of recovery, as Elaine Schaller talks for the first time about the human foibles of her daughter. I experienced similar thoughts as I grieved the loss of my daughter-in-law and mother of my eldest grandchild, who died in her early thirties of a cancer discovered at the same time as her third child (who is alive and well today thanks to the bravery of her mother). You have to grieve the real person, not the imaginary paragon.

Beth, FitOldDog's daughter-in-law and mother of his eldest grandson, who died too young.

Beth, FitOldDog’s daughter-in-law and mother of his eldest grandson.

It is evident that grief, in one form or another, is universal in mammals, birds, and probably many more creatures. It is a condition that occurs every day, though we often fail to recognize it. A stubbed toe will take you through the same series of thoughts and feelings, of shock, anger, and eventually acceptance and incorporation of the event into your psyche. I am still grieving the loss of my cat, Alobar, a year later. He died while I was at the 2011 Lake Placid Ironman, and I still feel guilty that I wasn’t there for him. Should that be compared to Mrs. Schaller’s loss of Cindy? No! But it still hurts to me! Each loss is a lesson that can be used to strengthen your character for greater tests to come, so learn from each one. It may help; you never know your luck.

I learned an important lesson about grief from this book. Never compare your grief with that of another grieving person, and NEVER say that you understand, unless you want to make them really mad to point that they will say hurtful things to you. I’ve been there, and this book allowed me, in retrospect, to understand my error and so understand and forgive the friend who hurt me.

Thanks for a great book Mrs. Schaller, it is very much appreciated. I guess it is time for me to join TeamCindy for the 2013 Lake Placid Ironman.

-k @FitOldDog

PS I was nervous writing this post, as I didn’t want to inadvertently break open old wounds, and that was most certainly not my intent. I might even bring some traffic to TeamCindy, you never know.



  1. This I like.

  2. Well, I’m glad you do. Real life takes work. -kevin

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.