Marathon brings blessings of family

Her mother can laugh now about Gillian's exasperated tone, the phone clicking off in her ear. Those few seconds told her what she needed to know: Her daughter was all right. There would be more time to talk, but not all the time in the world. "We are much more conscious of the time we spend together,'' Stephanie said. "We bought season tickets for the Boston Ballet. We're being smarter about what we're doing.''

Gillian decided almost immediately that she wanted to enter the marathon again and accepted the automatic invitation offered to non-finishers. The harsh winter challenged her training plans, but she was forced indoors only twice. On mornings after a heavy snowfall, she went to the Museum of Fine Arts, where the sidewalks were always "impeccably shoveled,'' and ran around the building for an hour.

Her parents will be at the finish line. They have seats in the grandstand with Stephanie's parents, who are in their 80s, and their son Geoffrey, who has come from California. "I feel very supported,'' Gillian said. "I'm sure it's not going to be easy for them to go back.''

Life has felt more precious and fragile to Larry over the past year, and he will carry that with him to Boylston Street.

"I know my eyes will be darting around,'' he said. "I'm not afraid to go back and I want to go back, but I'm not going to totally relax until she finishes the race and we leave the race site. But if anybody's doing something brave in our family, it's Gill. She's running it. I'm just being a supportive, loving father.''

Stephanie was just as resolute. "We're not going to let terrorism dictate what our family does,'' she said. But she was shaken enough that she sought counseling last spring. She still finds it helpful to talk. And there is one thing she treasures from that terrible day.

"Larry was unbelievably cool under pressure,'' she said. "Much more so than me. I really admire that. I reacted like a mother, not a medical professional.

"It was another aspect of my husband I didn't know about, and we've been married 34 years. It's always nice to discover something new about someone you've known for a long time.''

The timing of this year's marathon was fortuitous. We had Easter dinner together Sunday. Twenty-one people around two tables hushed only once, when Stephanie asked them to hold hands. "We thank you for the blessing of family,'' she said.

Later, I picked up my dessert plate and sat next to Gillian and asked how she felt. She is excited that the day has come and will be excited when it's over, she said, echoing many others I'd spoken to over the past few days in Boston.

She recalls the exact spot on Beacon where she got her mother's call, and where she and others were stopped on Commonwealth Avenue, and she is eager to put those waypoints behind her. She said she is better prepared than she was last year. She's confident she can do the distance. But she will be nervous at the start in Hopkinton, same as she was last year.

"It's kind of daunting,'' she said. "All my family is waiting for me 26.2 miles away, and I have to run to them.''

What safer destination could there be?

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