(I am going to preface this blog by stating that I am in no way a therapist. I am stating my experience and those stories I hear from others. I support and encourage grief counseling.)
In my social media feeds these days, there seems to be a lot of loss – often times sudden and unexplained. Whether it is COVID or cancer or just the age I am, it is heartbreaking to hear of each person’s journey through this loss. As much of my social media circles are also made up of runners, I read about how they are using running as part of their healing process. Sometimes it is a slow return, sometimes it is the only thing that is getting them through the days. As running has been well documented in its ability to provide mental clarity and a physical release from anxiety and depression, it is no real surprise how running can help the grieving process. (Runner’s World article of running and grief.)
My husband is a Stage IV cancer survivor. We found out very early in our marriage and it has defined most of married life. Any cancer survivor will tell you that you never feel healed, you are always waiting for that other shoe to drop. It was an incredibly scary and trying time, but he beat it and it was life changing. When one of my closest friends was diagnosed with cancer at 39 years old, with 2 small children, it galvanized our families as we had been through the war and came out the other side. We had the golden ticket and knew how to beat it – at least we thought we did. Sadly, she did not survive. Let’s just say the wheels fell off my wagon when she passed, for many reasons.
As she was going through her cancer treatments, I had qualified for Boston at the Baystate Marathon and was training for Boston with a goal of 3:30. As many of you know, training for any Spring race through the winter months is an incredibly challenging physical and mental test. Getting out when it is cold/dark/raining/snowing to run for hours in that weather is a huge undertaking. You are always tired – physically and mentally. Add to that the emotional toll of having to watch a close (and young) friend slowly fail…..
She passed in late February – we are coming up on the anniversary of her death this month. I remember having to do a long training run on the morning after her death. At one point during the run, I had been splashed from shoulders to feet by a passing car with cold gross road slush – just a dousing. I just lost it. I started yelling to no one in particular “I GIVE UP!!!” and then just sitting on the side of the road, crying. Just uncontrollable sobs, to no one in particular and with no regard as to who saw me. I was just so emotionally spent that I could not take one more perceived hurt.
A few days later, the first week of March – I was again out running before the funeral. After a week of consistent rain, the skies were clearing and the sun was rising as I was cresting the hill and heading home. I just remember being struck by how the sun finally was in the sky on that particular morning after a week of soaking rain. It knew it was going to be an incredibly hard day, burying my friend and having to watch her two children walk behind their mother’s casket in the Church – but that sunrise after a long, cold, dark run had me feeling hopeful, for some reason. It felt like a sign of some sort – that she was looking down on us and letting us know it was going to be ok.
Training for Boston all that winter went hand-in-hand with the grief journey of watching a friend succumb to cancer. She was an avid athlete in her own right, so I reminded myself to get out there and run for all those that no longer had that luxury. But also because each run allowed me to process what was happening a bit better, to exhaust myself physically and mentally and pour all those raw emotions onto the sidewalks and roads and just let go – just put one foot in front of the other and just run. When nothing else seemed to make sense, I could just reduce it to one of the most basic human functions – move forward.
In the years since, there have been many more feelings of loss and runs full of tears and emotions. And as part of many other’s journey with our Rhode Races, I have heard so many stories as to how running has helped them overcome their own loss – whether they have lost their breasts to cancer, or their spouses who never believed in them, or their dream jobs, or their beloved family members – just when life feels like it is too hard to go on, you just keep on putting one foot in front of the other and eventually you do come to a finish line that is so rich and deeply rewarding.
If you are finding yourself in what seems like unbearable grief, try a Mourning Run and start taking a few small steps towards healing.
“IN A WORLD WHERE I OFTEN FEEL HELPLESS, VICTIMIZED AND CONTROLLED,
RUNNING HELPS REVIVE FEELINGS OF HOPE, STRENGTH AND CONVICTION” – Author Unknown