A Journey Called Grief

Sarah SchieberBy Sarah Schieber27 Minutes

Excerpt taken from A Journey Called Grief: A Month-by-Month Reference for Those Who Grieve by Sarah Schieber


Chapter 3

October 7th, 2007

Well, my friend. Today is the day. Where do I even start?

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Only, not yet. I will get to that.

The truth is, we all have an October 7th. Yours most likely has a date all its own, but the reality is that just like I have a story…you have one also. If you are grieving today, then you have a story of ‘the day.’ Our stories are all unique, but have all led us to the very same place and a journey called grief. This is where my journey began.

We had had the best weekend of our lives. It was magical – truly! Saturday night (October 6th) we had walked many blocks of the Magnificent Mile back to our hotel from dinner – hand in hand – snuggling along the way. As we crossed the river, fireworks began firing off high above us and I just snuggled into his arms and we enjoyed the moment. Soon after that we went to the park across from our hotel and checked out the starting area for the marathon and there, on that warm and beautiful night we took the last picture, ever, of the two of us.

As we headed back to our room he looked at me and with this huge smile said, “I’m going to go back and try on all of my new clothes.” Ha! Isn’t that funny? He did exactly that. He was so happy. The evening ended the way that dreams are made of – we made love for the last time and slept in one another’s arms. It was wonderful.

We awoke very early on race day. Chad’s oldest brother, Ty, had flown in from Virginia to run the race and we met him in the restaurant downstairs for breakfast. After breakfast we went back up to ready ourselves and head over to Grant Park for the start. I will never forget sitting on the floor stretching and looking over my shoulder to the great big bed in the room. There Chad sat writing in his journal. I questioned him and he said he was almost done and would stretch in a moment. Today I will share that final journal entry of Chad’s with you – his final words to His God before he went Home to meet Him.

But first, there is so much to tell. I will try to be brief.

We made our way across to the park and headed to the starting corral. Now, you need to picture 35,000 people being herded together in organized chaos and that is where we were. Ty knew that he was way faster than us so he headed to the front of the corral area to be with the more competitive racers. Chad was way faster than me, but he decided to run with me until the runners thinned out a bit, so we positioned ourselves in amongst the people and waited. Most of that time I was tucked into his chest with his arms over my shoulders or around my waist. We just snuggled, prayed, talked. We were both nervous and excited. The Chicago Marathon is supposed to be one of the best out there to run and we were anxious to run it.

We ran together to mile five. By that point it was very hot. We had no idea how hot it was, but we knew it was scorching for that early in the morning. (It was maybe 9 a.m. by this point.) When we got to mile five there was supposed to be both water and Gatorade. Chad had to pee and found a port-a-potty and we tried to get water. The only problem was, they were out of water. There was Gatorade available – but at that point in the game neither of us wanted to do that because Gatorade only makes you more thirsty. It was then that Chad said he was ready to run on ahead. We kissed and said, “I love you.” He told me he would be waiting for me at the finish line and I remember looking at him and telling him not to worry about his time, that it was too hot and to just get through. Another “I love you,” and he was gone.

These days, if you were with me you would often hear me say “stupid Chad.“ I also say that when I get to Heaven I am going to find him and whack him. I don’t mean these things disrespectfully – but playfully – after a while that is what you have to do. I am going to tell him that he got the wrong finish line! Stupid Chad!

The next 12 or 13 miles that I ran were pure xxxx. There is no other word for it. In the days after the marathon there was a lot of turmoil and criticism of the runners that we should have all just quit. Well, when you are six or eight miles ‘out’ in a city you don’t know and you have no money on you…what are you supposed to do? Hail a cab? With no money? On a marked race route with no cars? Walk back? In the scorching sun?

My friend, every water station that I came to along the way I was told to ‘keep going, they will have water at the next one.’ The problem was they were all out. Oh, wait, I did come to one that had water – but they were all out of cups. The cups you get on a race route are like little Dixie cups – only more flimsy. I remember running over a pile of mashed up cups and them telling me they were out of cups – but did have water. Please keep in mind here that I am a bit of a germ freak… I reached down and picked a mashed cup up off the street… reshaped it as best I could… and got two small cups of water.

At one point along the way I was running past a freeway on the right and over to the left there was an apartment building with a fountain in the front. I pulled my legs up off the streets and onto the sidewalk and made my way to the fountain. I will never forget reaching down and picking up water in my hands and pouring it over my shoulder. It instantly evaporated on the heat of my body. I have never experienced anything like it… it literally drew my breath out of my lungs. It was bizarre.

I eventually passed the Sears Tower which was the half-way mark. Soon after that we went through a neighborhood and some wonderful person handed me a water bottle from their house. I nursed that thing for the next miles I ran. There began to be rumblings of the marathon being canceled, but there was no one to inform us, so we just kept running. I will never forget circling a park and there were fire trucks there spraying us with water. It was heavenly.

Not far past that total confusion began to take hold. We got to a spot where we were supposed to turn right and some police were there putting up barricades. Runners were jumping over the barricade, and the cops were threatening them. I remember one runner screaming, “You can’t stop me.” I now know that not far beyond that spot would lie my dead husband. I am so thankful I obeyed and continued running straight.

Within a few blocks we realized that we were not on a marked race route anymore… there were cars parked on the sides of the road. On a race route there are no cars. A few blocks further and a police woman was standing in an intersection saying, “Just keep running toward the water… keep running toward the water.” Now we were just runners lost in a city that we did not know. I knew that if I kept running straight, past and through all of the skyscrapers, that I would eventually hit water and Grant Park where the race started and finished. So, we all just kept running.

I remember thinking, “I better still get my medal! I trained long and hard for this and it isn’t my fault they canceled it.” Guess what? I got my medal. And a whole new life I never wanted!

When I finally got back to Grant Park there were towers of water bottles – all hot from sitting in the scorching sun. I looked and looked for Chad. There was news that they were going to begin bussing runners back to the ‘runner reunite’ area of the park. I couldn’t find Chad or Ty, so I went back to the hotel room wondering if Chad might be there. I remember calling my sister, Krystn.

I called Krystn to see if she could find Chad on the ‘race updates’ that our family members had all signed up for to get updates as to where we were along the route. When you run a race you get a ‘chip’ that you tie to your shoe that keeps track of your official time and your whereabouts. Krystn couldn’t find any checkpoint that noted Chad had crossed it. I remember standing in the window of our hotel room looking out across Grant Park. I still had Krystn on the phone and she said, “Honey, what is that noise?” I said, “It’s the sirens. They are deafening. It reminds me of 9/11.” And it did. Everywhere you looked there was someone collapsed with people surrounding them. And, the sound of the sirens was haunting… it went on for hours.

I took my phone and got a quick drink of some actual cold water and went back over to the park. There were easily 100,000 people in it and such confusion. I first checked the “S” section of the runner reunite area. No Chad or Ty. Then I stood in line at the first aid tent so I could see if they or any of the tents along the route had treated either of the men. Nothing. I went back to the reunite area and finally back to my room.

Soon after getting back to the room the ‘room’ phone rang. It was Ty. He had actually finished the race and was now back at his room. I told him I couldn’t find Chad anywhere and he told me to relax, that he was probably on a bus somewhere. He encouraged me to get a shower and we would go looking when we were both clean. The rest of my day lives in slow motion in my mind.

As I turned off the water from my shower, I heard the room phone ringing again. I grabbed a towel and ran. On the other end was a gentle voice that asked if I was Mrs. Schieber. “Do you know where my husband is? Is he dead?”

“Ma’am, I need to speak to you, is this the correct room?”

I quickly called Ty and told him I thought Chad was dead and that some man was coming to talk to me. He said, “What?”

I replied, “Ty, I am sure Chad is dead, get here as fast as you can!”

Ty beat the man to my room and soon after came a light knock at the door. I once again had Krystn on the line. I answered the door to find a man of small stature who was in running clothes. Surprised, I furrowed my brows. He introduced himself and told me he was a doctor and had been running right behind Chad. I looked right at him, the door in one hand, the phone in the other, Ty standing behind me and said, “Sir, is my husband dead?” He wanted to make small talk. Poor guy. He’s a podiatrist – I’m sure he’s not used to giving the news he had come to give me that day. I once again looked at him and now raised my voice a little and said, “Sir, please! Is my husband dead?”

His eyes shifted to the floor and his head began to nod…

I remember stumbling backwards into the room and sitting down on the bed. Chad was dead. Dead. My husband was dead. How in the world? What in the world? How could this be?

The thoughts… they just raced. And yet, I think I was already numb. My sister was frantic on the phone. “Okay Honey, we are gonna get through. I am on my way. I will call Mom and Dad and Kraig and we will get to you as fast as we can.”

Ty took over speaking with the doctor. He got the details as to where his body was and that we had to go ID it. Chad’s dad called and I answered and simply said, “I’m sorry. Chad is dead.” I handed the phone to Ty as his dad began to weep and put his mom on.

Phone calls. You can’t imagine the phone calls. We needed four more phones and ten extra batteries for what we were about to go through. I remember eventually speaking to my head pastor, Pastor Joel Stocker. He was very calm and put together and gently walked me through the next few hours. He prepared me to ID the body and what documents had to be signed so the body could be released. He then spoke with Ty as I walked over to the huge window that looked out over the still buzzing park. The sirens were still blaring. I remember looking at all those people wondering if any of them could imagine how my life had just changed. There was nothing I could do. Life had taken over and I was now at its mercy. How in the world could this be?

The truth is, I could go on for hours. I could tell you about the taxi driver on his first day on the job and with the city in gridlock, he didn’t know where to go. I could tell you about the men who greeted us at the hospital and tried to minister to me. I could tell you about the race official who blew into this scene at the hospital already doing some big time CYA (cover your xxx, for anyone who doesn’t know what that means. Sorry, some things you just have to say like they are… and that is what it was!) I could tell you about standing in a room with my husband’s dead body and not having any idea what to do. His face was bloody and I didn’t want to remember ‘dead Chad,’ I wanted to remember ‘live Chad,’ so I didn’t touch him much.

There are no manuals for these things, friend. I would later regret that I didn’t crawl up on that table and snuggle with him one last time because you cannot comprehend in that moment that you will never, ever again get to touch him. Well, I did at the viewing and funeral but he felt like wax. You do not know these things. There is no way to know.

As I left that hospital, my life changed as I never could have imagined. I was escorted, by two Chicago policemen, out the back of the hospital because the media had begun to gather at the front. Our life had now become national news and soon would become very frightening because of all the media attention. I was put in the back of an unmarked patrol car. How ironic – the back, where the criminals sit. How many times had my husband put people in the back of his patrol car? And now, there I sat.

It was at that point that I realized I was a widow. A 33-year-old widow and single mama to three babies. I had spoken with my brother and begged him not to tell my kids… they were 11, 9, and 6 and I needed to be with them when they found out their Daddy was dead.

I could go on for days, my friend.

What I do want to tell you is… peace. Somehow, in the back of that patrol car, with realization and reality closing in on me, I had peace.

In Philippians 4:6, 7, we are promised that we don’t have to worry. If we take our worries to God we will have a peace that will pass all of our understanding and it will guard our heart and our mind.

I don’t understand it, but I know it is true. In that moment I was held by peace. Oh, trust me, questions were screaming at me from every direction and do you know what one of the most amazing realizations was that day? It was the fact that I couldn’t change it no matter how hard I prayed. I grew up in a Christian home and our solution for everything was always to pray. When Chad and I had a need, or a struggle, or a fear, or something we needed to change or work on… we prayed. And now, no matter how hard I prayed… it wouldn’t change it. Never in my life had I known that. Never could I have imagined.

So now, my friend, I share with you Chad’s journal. His final prayer on that day was that God would get the glory. I tell my kids that glorifying God means that we make Him look good to the people around us. It has been a very big challenge in the ups and downs of grieving to glorify God through this story, this horrible story that became our life. There have been many days where I just wanted to pack it all up and stop telling everyone that God is good, even when life is really hard. But, you know what? This was Chad’s last wish – that God would get the glory through his life… and therefore through the lives of his family. So, I have found that God is good… even, and especially, on the hard days. I have found that I can go on because when I am weak He is strong. I have found that my ‘feelings’ betray me and that God is who He says He is and I can trust Him… no matter what I feel.

As we walk together through the next year of my grief, you will be captivated by the raw emotions of this journey and my journal. My prayer is that in it and through it all God will get the glory.

10-7-07 6:45 – Marathon Day!

We have had a wonderful time in Chicago the past few days. Ty got in yesterday and we have enjoyed the time with him. The morning so far has been blessed. Good night’s sleep, good breakfast, good times. I’m not too nervous, just excited. There is no competition but myself. It is going to be in the 80’s but no rain. My goal is under 5 (hours). But if I could get closer to 4, I think I would be very happy. Lord, may you get the glory.

Yes, Lord. May you get the glory!