Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Running with Grief

"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start."  -John Bingham 
Training for the ½ Marathon

Bounce, pat, bounce, pat, bounce, pat: the sound of his feet against the gravel path.  Pant, pant, pant: the sound of my breath, heavy and shallow.  Every muscle of my body ached and my mind was weakening with every step.  “Can’t you find a path without snow?”  He stopped, looking at his phone. I stopped, my body bent over with my hands on my knees, catching my breath.  

“There is a paved path just around the corner.” He huffed out of his mouth and continued on the next exhale.  “Listen Lindsey, I run for a challenge...” I cut him off before he could finish, “Just go.” 

“Take my headphones.” he offered.

“I don’t want them.” I replied, “Just go.  Go!”  
As he jogged ahead of me and off into the distance I made a face consisting of a grin and frown at once.  A haughty sigh brushed through my smiling lips as I made a mental note to myself of how I'm lucky because this is the most Nick and I ever argue.  Then in the same instant, I frown as his word “challenge” reverberated between my ears.  I remember that we are actually the unfortunate ones. As I began jogging behind him I thought to myself, Haven’t we had enough challenges lately?  Why were we out here creating more obstacles by running 6 miles, on a crappy snowy day in April, preparing for a half marathon  in two weeks.  This is stupid.  

With this thought I continued to jog forward.  Placing one foot in front of the other, left behind by my husband.  Alone now with my many enemies of late including my body, exhaustion, frustration, impatience, and grief I tried my hardest to push forward, to find my groove.  It wasn’t coming.
My blood started boiling.  My body fatigued and my feet became heavier with every forward movement.  As my muscles weakened so, too, did my emotional scaffolding.  My whole being was crumbling under the weight of the task at hand; to finish the run. 

It wasn’t an emotional task, or so I had thought.  I had crashed head first into the dreaded “wall” that all true long distance runners talk about.  Except my wall was not brought on by the physical depletion of my body’s energy, it was brought on by the deep, untapped feelings that had been lying dormant from my grief.  These unwelcome emotions decided now was the time to arise and greet me at the door again with the house warming gift of negativity.

With my pace slowing and my legs getting weaker with every new landing, I realized I needed to make a decision in this moment.  I could dig deep and find the strength to move through the physical and emotional pain or I could give up and wait…but wait for what? I was out in the middle of some wooded trail.  My husband couldn’t drive the car back here and pick me up.  No, like with the conception of my daughter, I had made the decision early in life and now I had to follow through with whatever crap life threw my way.  Like my grief, the only way out of this situation was through it.  I decided to continue forward.  I kept running.  Well, I would call it more of a pace little bit faster than a walk, it didn’t really count as a jog.
And there I was, pushing through my breaking point.  My madness. My anger.  I used my anger as fuel to keep going.  Pat, bounce, pat, bounce, pat.  My pace evolved, slowly, but it evolved and found its groove again.  And then it sunk into what musicians, sports players, and psychotherapists call “flow.” You, know, that sweet spot in any task in life that you do where you are so engrossed in it that you lose track of time.  Where it’s as effortless as a boat floating on water, you just succumb to the moment, the breath, the meditation of it all.  For a moment I forgot about my pain, be it physical or emotional.  I forgot about my grief and I just flowed with my run.  I melted into it and it into me.

This is how I view the relationship between grief and me.  A battle at times for space within the same bodily vessel.  She tries to push out my feelings of joy and bring in her unwanted gift of negativity, but when I accept her, for all that she is, I learn how to appreciate her and the tools she provides me with like power and fuel for my run, for my passions, and for my life.  Eventually we learn how to live with each other as two happily cohabiting partners in some kind of “flow” that creates a homeostasis for us.  Each needing one another to feel balanced, to flow.

Running the ½ Marathon

This past Saturday.  My husband and I once again started out together, but this time instead of needing to argue before we set our paces we knew it would be best to go our own ways.  This at times is similar to how we both have to deal with our grief.  We are on the same path through grief like on the ½ marathon trail, but we need to take the steps at our own pace and own time.  

Bounce, pat, bounce.  Bounce, pat, bounce.  I had settled into my groove and did so for a good 8 miles, but as the trail continued, with no end in sight, the task of running became grueling.  At this point on the path I was alone, stuck in the place between other runners, where they were either a quarter of a mile ahead or behind.  I truly was on my own, like with my grief.  I was on my own and I needed to figure out how to push through this by myself and the undertaking was growing more difficult with every step. 

My muscles and bones hurt.  I was having a difficult time breathing, grasping for air and there was a throbbing stitch in my left side.  I wanted to give up at mile 9.  This was good enough, I thought to myself, but then I could hear my inner voice yelling, “Lindsey, if you can go through 12 hours of labor knowing you were going to give birth to your dead child, you can do this.”  I decided to keep my pace.

But, half a mile later I was back to walking with negative thoughts flooding my mind and pain shooting up my legs and throughout my body.  It was time to quit.  Then again I heard my inner voice say, “Lindsey, this run is a metaphor for your life since Nora’s death and for every day forward.  You just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.  You have done it every day since December 30th and you will keep doing it.  You can do this! This is nothing compared to the agony you run with every day.”  I pushed forward.

At mile 10 the physical and emotional discomfort had become unbearable.  I decided like this race, life sucked.  It was pointless.  I wasn’t going to finish in any decent time so why bother.  I couldn’t do it. Then the most amazing thing happened.  I don’t know if it was my voice, or Nora’s, but I swear I heard her say, “Mom, I believe in you.  You can do anything! You are the bravest person I know.” Tears started swelling in my eyes and to hold them back I kept jogging. I looked up, and I saw three birds sitting on a branch above me and that was my sign. 

Birds remind me of Nora, and the moment the birds came into view I heard her say, “I’m still here.  I am with you right now.” And in that instant I doubled over in tears.  Relieved I was alone on the trail as sobs came bursting out of my mouth and tears of sorrow from missing her rolled down my checks. Tears of discomfort from physical pain blurred my vision and tears of joy from my immense amount of love for her, and the relief I felt knowing she was still with me, filled my heart with the strength I needed to go forward.

A tenth of a mile before I reached the finish line my faithful husband was waiting there for me to run and complete the race by my side.  He had returned in his own time back to support me through the rest of my journey.  We sprinted together to the end and he cheered me on the whole way.  

I finished the race in two hours and forty three minutes. Not an amazing time but like my grief I took the race at my own pace and made it.  Also like my grief, I was never really alone in my travels.  My husband met me and joined me again when he was ready and my daughter never left me.  She was with me the whole time, showing me the way. Giving me strength and blessing me with her love.  

“I run for her because she never got the chance to learn how to walk.

I grasp at air because she never got the chance to breathe.

I suffer for her so she never had to.

I love life for her because she never got the chance to live.”

~Still Breathing…Lindsey


  1. I'm not sure how I found myself here, but I'm glad I did. My son, Henry, was stillborn on October 25, 2012 due to Trisomy 18, and I ran my first 1/2 marathon in March 2013, it was amazing and just like you describe. Thank you for sharing your journey.



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