I Cry When I Run: Grief and Exercise
I really like running. Mostly for how I feel afterward. Sweaty, worn out, and energized. Usually I feel smarter, more awake and with a slight edge for the next few hours. My Dad "taught" me how to run. He was a runner himself- logging miles in a paper log book that he kept in his top dresser drawer, (you can find one here) along with the coffee cup full of coins. Every day when he came home from work he would empty whatever change he had in his pockets into that can. At one point I tried to make extra money by ironing Dad's shirts for him ( I can't believe he wore them that way! I can only imagine how they looked how my 11 year old self ironed them! ). He paid me out of that coffee can money. 75 cents a shirt was the going price in 1994. I can only dream that one day I will continue this tradition with my son. I will pay him one dollar. #inflation
Dad ran during his work day. For 35 years he worked for the State of Connecticut in various administrative roles. It was this job that would earn Mom the pension that now supports her monthly, something we are so thankful for. Dad would use his lunch hours to run, eschewing the fancy Hartford gyms for the YMCA, where he would shower and change after his run. He would quickly get back into his suit, eat a "PB +J" that he pulled out of his locker and head back to the office. I'm pretty sure he would laugh at the $10 avocado toast I'm currently eating.
So I've continued running, through soccer camps, basketball games and the dreaded track team. But since Dad died, and Mom got sick, running is no longer just for the sweating and the awesome relaxed feeling I get after a run. Running is also when I cry. I don't make the space/time to cry at other points in my day. I don't want to hide from my children to take some time to cry for a while. So I lace up my Saucony sneakers and head down to the river to run. I'm lucky enough to live in a city where on any given day, in any weather, someone is running/biking/walking along the Schuylkill River with me. My brain unravels: "Are the kids ok? Did I leave the stove on? Did I have too much coffee this morning? Can Dad see me running? What if Mom gets sicker, do we have the money to cover her aides full time? Did I get the mail this week? What stinks in the fridge?"
At some point in every run, the constant thoughts stop and I have a few moments of mental stillness. It happens at yoga too- it usually takes me the whole class to get there. And then, in that still, mental moment, feet pounding the pavement, I let myself feel what it is to grieve for something lost. I can feel the weight of FOREVER. And tears that I thought were packed away are right back- hot and burning and awesome. I am not afraid of this- I hope for it. It feels like release- me unclenching a little bit- unrolling this burrito of grief (Check out my burrito theory here). For that moment I am lost, gone, letting out some of the frustration and sadness that is still there.
I am thankful for the run home- for the fact that I live at the top of slow hill for the last half mile. So I am exhausted physically and smiling as I pass my neighbors who think I'm nuts and if they got closer, would think I'm not so fresh. Where I grew up, the last half mile was also uphill. Dad and I used to run together, past our neighbors' houses and Dad would say "Come on! Big finish!" and we would attempt a sprint of sorts toward our green mailbox. Dad would cross the finish line and raise his arms up like he had won, like there were fans crowding the sides of Stephen Drive, waiting for us to finish our run. I've been scared to try new things recently and feeling unsure of the decisions I'm making. I feel like Dad would want me to take a risk, to choose the "big finish". Lace up your shoes everyone.