The world lost an incredible mother, wife, daughter, friend, attorney, underprivileged advocate, and community member suddenly and unexpectedly on October 16, 2013. In honor of my late wife, Holli Wallace, I am training for the Hallucination 100 mile trail run and raising money for the Children's Grief Center of the Great Lakes Bay Region.

My training progress

Friday, February 19, 2016

On grief and ultrarunning

Holli and I used to talk about running a fair amount.  Even though she wasn't a runner, she was my crew at all of my major races.  In long races it isn't unusual to lose the ability to understand clearly what you need or what is going on.  You can forget to eat, forget to drink, forget to change gear, the list goes on.  It is nice to have someone who knows what you need even when you do not.

We inevitably lean on past experience to understand current experience.  I've found that the difference between ultramarathons (in particular 100s) and shorter races is the number of ups and downs that you experience.  In shorter races, there is often a clean arc that goes from feeling great to feeling tired to feeling the elation of finishing.  With ultras you must endure several cycles of ups and downs before crossing a finish line that, at least for me, rarely brings a sense of elation.  Only later does a sense of satisfaction set in.

The myth of grief is that there is some sort of clean arc to the process.  The finish line lies when one has gone through all the stages, taken enough time, finished grieving or moved on.  The language of grief coming to an end is so much a part of our lexicon that you don't notice it unless you are given reason to pay attention.  Of course, it isn't true.  There is neither a clean arch nor a finish line.

On Wednesday, I heard my 4 year old son explaining to one of his little friends that his mom died.  Moments like that are heartbreaking and I know that there will be more. There is no finish line, just more ups and downs in a jungle gym of emotions that is neither fair nor predictable.  At times memories are a comfort and at times they are an open wound.  There are moments of pride and satisfaction as well as defeat.

The night after I finished my first 100, I dreamed that I was still running.  It had it's ups and downs, but I was glad to still be running.  And I felt strangely disappointed when I woke up in bed. 


Tim said...

When my dad died (I was 19), a wise older cousin told me that I'd never really get over it, that I'd think of my dad for as long as I lived, and I'd be sad about it always. (I'm paraphrasing.) This sounds bad, but it's NOT. Obviously he didn't mean I'd feel sad every moment of every day, but that I would not just "move on" like my dad never existed or had little meaning to me. And he was right. I still feel times of sadness and loss, and it's been 35 years. I'm thankful for these little moments of grief, although of course I'd rather he was still here.

Brian Thomas said...

Tim, I didn't know that your father passed when you were young. Your cousin's words make sense. Thank you for sharing.

Silvenwolf said...

My best friend once said it best - grief never truly goes away but it's more about each day making it easier to bear.

Running I've found is such a great place to be when the world gets hard to deal with; stress, grief, coming to terms with something that you don't quite understand. etc. It cleanses your mind, your soul, and rejuvenates you to face what's ahead.