How Running Helped Me Deal With Grief

This is the hardest subject I’ve ever written about but at the same time, actually quite easy to write. I’ve wanted to write this post for a while and kept putting it off but a couple of things recently prompted me to write this now. I wanted to write it to hopefully reach out to those who have lost someone close to them or affected by some form of traumatic experience and hopefully inspire them to find a way to deal with it.

On 10th April 2013, we got the devastating news that my dad had been diagnosed with stage 4 oesophageal cancer. Dad displayed immense courage throughout his journey, which sadly ended on 2nd July 2013. I have been running regularly since the late 90’s so it wasn’t like I took it up but I found it a very useful way of processing my thoughts. It wasn’t like I didn’t have anyone to talk to, I was able to talk to Allison and my brother Derek about it but I still felt I needed a way to understand it all for myself.

When something like this happens, it’s natural to feel you want to find something or someone to blame, after all, our brain naturally processes things as x being the cause of y and it’s very difficult to fully rationalise something when emotions are still very raw for those around us. Going for a run has always helped me solve problems or come up with ideas and so I thought that the peace on a run might help me. I found I was able to speak out clearly all the things that were going through my mind and put the mess into some sort of logical order. Dad’s first words when I went to see him the day after he received the diagnosis was that he wanted his funeral to be a celebration of his life and no sadness. On one run, I was able to come to terms with the situation as that dad had lived a wonderful life, had ‘done his job’ and now it was time for him to go.

After he died, I found myself ‘chatting’ to him as I ran. First of all, I thanked him for being my dad, for all that he taught me as well as everything that had been happening. In the months after he died, a series of positive things happened in the family between my mum becoming much more mobile than I’d ever seen her, my brother getting back into work after a period of being unemployed and my nephew getting into the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and so I wondered if, in the grand scheme of life, he had to go in order for all these things to happen? It may sound crazy but it fitted well for me and that allowed me to move on.

I began to look forward to my long Sunday runs so I could have a chat with dad and would always finish my run feeling happy for it. I even managed to take the time to chat to him towards the end of the Edinburgh Marathon after doing all the other races in 2014 and I felt like he was right by my side when I crossed the finish line. Everything was good and for me, there was no sadness at all when I thought of dad.

All was good until one evening in August last year when we had some more devastating news…..mum died. This came as a greater shock to us than dad as while we knew she was really struggling without dad, we never expected this to happen. With dad, at least we had time to get used to what was going to happen and his death was actually a blessing as it meant he was no longer suffering. With mum, it was harder as she had collapsed with a heart attack and despite my brother’s attempts to revive her when he discovered her, she was already gone.

As anyone who has ever experienced a sudden death in the family will know, it’s utterly devastating. As I said above, the initial reaction is to look for a reason to lash out. Why did this happen? What caused this? I think this reaction comes from the feeling of being completely helpless. Sometimes there are no explanations and it’s difficult to accept.

My subsequent runs were often in complete silence and stopping to breakdown as I tried to figure out what had just happened. There had been no major warning signs and nothing we thought a trip to see the doctor wouldn’t solve. I tried hard to follow the same process as I had done with dad but found it so much harder. Again, I had spoken regularly with Allison and Derek but I still needed to rationalise this for myself. Eventually I found the courage to look at it as mum had had enough of the heartache of living without dad and was now beside him again.

With dad, I had been able to thank him for everything and told him how much I loved him before he died but I wasn’t able to do this with mum and so I started doing it on my runs. It was only when we were going through everything when clearing out the house that I discovered that I was like my mum way more than I ever thought. I always assumed that I was just like dad as I look a lot like him but my sense of humour, stubbornness and determination comes from mum. I was happy in that in my next run, I was able to smile more, thank mum and tell her how proud I was to realise that I was a lot like her.

It is almost a year now since mum died and my long runs have been really enjoyable. I would say that I look forward to the chats I have with them as much as the actual run. I can’t say what my life would be like if I hadn’t had those runs and the chats but I suspect that I wouldn’t have been able to put things into perspective with as much clarity as I have done.

For anyone reading this for whom some of this has resonated with, I would actively encourage you to try going for long walks or runs, anything that gives you the space to come to terms with things like this for yourself. It is important to have people you can talk to between family and friends but never be afraid to confront your own feelings and take that time to bring clarity for you and allow you to move forwards.

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2 Replies to “How Running Helped Me Deal With Grief”

  1. I walked many miles with my dog after my husband died — and he was with me all the time. My dog missed him so much, too, we were good for each other. We all find our own way of coping with grief.

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  2. Thank you for sharing Margaret 🙂 I’m delighted to hear the walking has helped both you and your dog remember your husband and I’m sure he continues to look down and smile to you both 🙂

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