full circle

This past weekend was a reminder of what I often refer to as my  “former life”. I relived my college years with old friends and forever teammates on Fridays UWMilwaukee Women’s Soccer Reunion. We stayed up into the wee hours of the night laughing, talking, and drinking – just like old times. On Saturday evening we honored my college soccer coach, Sue, as she was inducted into the Wisconsin Soccer Associations Hall of Fame. I walked away from these events with a sense of gratitude and joy seeping from deep within my bones. It is from this exact same place where profound hurt, loss, and anguish once lived. To understand this evolution, let me bring you back to the beginning…

I was 14 when I first earned a spot on the coveted select soccer team coached by Mrs. Mo. At 18, I received a full scholarship to play under her, the newly appointed Head Coach at UWMilwaukee. On August 1 of that same year, with our preseason starting 2 weeks later, she died of cancer. We were all heartbroken and wallowing in the depths of grief when her daughter, Sue, stepped into her mom’s role. She was 25, and did not ask, nor expect, to be a head coach of a Division 1 college soccer team. Sue immediately fulfilled her mom’s request to take care of her girls by becoming a mentor, tutor, coach, sister, mother figure, and saint to us. When I was diagnosed with a chronic condition called Ulcerative Colitis at 20, she supported me in the most nurturing of ways. I came back after a year break and I knew that my physical well being was more important to her than my performance on the field. She always asked if I was okay to play, and lectured me not to overdo it. She trusted that I could and would make the best decision for myself and supported me every step of the way. She did this with every single one of her players. To have been coached by Sue, was to know and feel valued and loved. Just like her mom.

In the years that followed my college life, Sue’s brother (and one of Mrs. Mo’s sons) and I fell in love and got engaged. We were happy and ready to start our life together. That was in the spring of 1999. That summer I underwent a 7 hour surgery to remove my large intestine to end my chronic illness. Major complications, including a pulmonary embolism, occurred resulting in me receiving 1 hour and 25 minutes of CPR, and experimental procedures to save my life. I woke up in the ICU and still wanted to get married one day, just not to the man who was at my bedside holding my hand. He and I immediatley felt the void between us. I was confused yet clear about what I was feeling: I loved this man, and also did not want to marry him. I imagine for my fiance and his family, it felt a lot like spiraling between being grateful I was alive, wondering why my love disappeared, questioning what will happen, and not wanting to see their brother get hurt. I chose to honor and follow my heart, which meant hurting a family I loved as my own. 

We all resided in this uncomfortable, and confusing anguish for a while. Friendships and connections were paused to allow room for each of us to heal and grow in the ways that we needed. We’d run into each other around town, send occasional kind emails, and eventually connected over social media as we navigated our new and separate lives. With time, he and I both found love with another, and built our own families. With time, patience, and acceptance our broken hearts began to heal.

Which brings me round full circle to last weekend, 23 years later. 

At the awards banquet on Saturday, I sat with a group of people who were still my family, just not in name. I sat in the acceptance of this family, who did not need to invite me back to their table, but did because they know me and love me. All of me. That is a big deal in this thing called life, and it has left me with a profound sense of gratitude. To both witness and be a part of the full circle of love, hurt, anguish, awareness, acceptance, forgiveness and back to love is soul stirring. I could have never imagined at the time of our shared desolation the profound sense of love and appreciation I would one day feel for the man, and the family I did not marry. 

As human beings we are hardwired for this kind of meaningful connection, we often don’t realize we are capable of it. My life the last few years has become more intertwined with his, as he is one of the soccer coaches to my oldest son. Our paths cross often now, in a place that feels both safe and familiar to us – on the pitch.  My son adores this coach, and I am not at all surprised. He is, after all, Mrs. Mo’s son, and Sue’s younger brother.  

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