Running with grief

Bereavement… running with my grief

Death comes to us all

My mother passed away at the end of May, just a few short weeks ago. She had been trapped in the strange world of Alzheimer’s disease for a number of years, slowing disappearing, little by little. We were so lucky that she didn’t lose her sweet character, her love of laughter or sharing a story and occasionally we saw the twinkle return to her eye when she recognised one of us. Although she had a foot in two worlds for years, her loss is still huge.

For the first week and a half after her death I stayed in my mum’s house and my siblings were dropping by to pick things up or drop things off as we all had pots and pans, dishes etc there from the wake.  It felt easier for me to be near my siblings as I now live ninety miles away from my family home and being that far from my family was too strange for me at first.

Now I’m adjusting to being back in my own home and feeling the loss. It’s easy to get lost in grief, to drown in the sometimes overwhelming feelings that accompany it. It’s also easy to pretend that everything is just hunky dory, to hide the feelings of hurt and loss from yourself as well as everyone around you. Neither of these approaches is healthy, as with all things in life, in bereavement we need balance. My heart is raw, it hurts and although my mind is not always focused on the grief, I need to allow myself to feel it when it comes up.

Forgetmenot Flowers
The Alzheimer Society’s Forget me not® symbol represents memory loss, a key symptom of Alzheimer’s disease

How will I carry my grief?

I’ve started to run regularly again, having only run about once a week for the last month. On my first outing I decided to run a route that I’ve only done once before, for the simple reason that “normal” things feel weird right now so I’m giving myself a break – I’m avoiding “normal” for awhile.

This newish route is more uphill than I’m used to, my regular route is flat to downhill and I walk the uphill return. This route however takes me over the hill behind us, so the view opens out, the horizon is further away and varied, there are times when I can’t even see any houses at all, just hills and the sky.

I realised that my usual route is quite closed in, the horizon is too close, as it’s mostly through forestry with only a few distance views. There are benefits to the more open view that I wasn’t even aware of until I ran it.

When my heart is heavy the last thing I need is to feel closed in. I don’t know how aware of that I was until I did the run. I walked for 1km to warm up and then started to run, taking shorter steps on the uphill pieces and trying to run at a steady pace. It was only when I came up above the tree line and the world opened out in front of me that I started to cry. I didn’t stop running, I kept on running and crying.

The beauty of where I live is that there was very little chance of meeting other people so I can weep and run without frightening anyone. A tough uphill distracted me from the tears and as I fought my way up, refusing stubbornly to stop, I was hoping that my phone would announce 2km because that was my goal for the run.

Thankfully I was soon rescued by the app, the voice in my pocket told me that I had reached 2km so I slowed to a walk, feeling grateful that I hadn’t given up. I walked and wept some more, until the heaviness passed and the beauty of everything around me started to really shine through. By the time I got home I had walked over 6km and run 2 so it was a good session and I felt so much better.

What did I learn?

I’ve known for years that running away from your problems, tempting as it may seem, doesn’t work. Now I’ve learned that running with my grief works very well. I’ve also learned that tears wash out of a running tee-shirt but snot? Not so much! So don’t wear your best tee-shirt if you plan on running and weeping or at least be prepared to pre-treat it.

Have you experienced bereavement? How did you manage the grieving process? Do you have any stories or strategies that you would like share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments…

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