on running + grief

running shoes by the lake

There are several kinds of runs I go on. The pent-up-energy run, the gotta-fit-in-a-workout run, the don’t-want-to-pay-for-an-Uber run, the killing-time-on-a-nice-day run, etc. etc. But there’s one run in particular that always catches me off-guard. The grief processing run.

Today I laced up my sneakers and I knew I wouldn’t be watching the time or trying to beat my mile time. I wouldn’t be listening to The Wombats like usual or dance-running to Beyonce. No, instead I turned on the most human version of autopilot and let my legs carry me as my brain worked through the remnants of grief and trauma that pop up in my world every so often. Life after loss is tough, you guys.

Let me back up. Today, I realized that it’s June. June is the month that I lost my best friend and nanny back in 2007. If you’re not familiar with this story, I wrote a piece for Literally, Darling several years back that sums it up pretty well. In fact, I’m publishing this a few days before the 14th anniversary of her passing.

14 years – wow. It feels simultaneously like it was just a moment ago and like it should be 20. Why isn’t it 20 years yet? Is that when it won’t hurt so much? It seems like that amount of time should do the trick.

Today was a grief run, marked with slower songs and less about form. It was conversations with myself and also drinking in all of my surroundings. It was smiles at panting dogs, the watermelon-rind scent of the harbor, and wondering if she would be proud of who I’ve become. I know, I know, most people will tell me yes. I’m not looking for validation as much as I’m genuinely curious. How would she feel about me now? What would she think of my friends? Of Shiv? How often would we see each other? Would she still be living in Michigan? Would we meet up to play gin rummy every time I go home? You know, typical thoughts we have when someone’s life went un-lived.

I sat at the corner of the lakefront path, just north of the skyline, for a long while. I watched the waves push and pull, seemingly chaotic but all part of a bigger plan. My mind wandered to Gigi’s pepper grinder comment – did you know that pepper came in so many different colors? There’s always more to something than we realize. There’s always a deeper story, meaning, purpose. Coincidentally, that one off-hand comment, which was hardly meant to be profound, settled the foundation of my philosophy for life. Never assume you know the whole story; everyone is dealing with something under the surface. It’s sometimes tough to remember – I fail frequently. But it’s a good rule of thumb. At the end of the day, we are all only human.

I’ve never thought that there’s nothing after life on earth. Perhaps that is due to being raised in the Catholic faith. But still, even when I try to picture the idea of “nothing”, my brain rejects it. What do you call a hopeless romantic for heaven? Is that what a person of faith means? I like to picture Gigi up there, hanging out with my grandmas, grandfather, aunts, and friends’ relatives. She’s probably cracking jokes and singing her little songs and dancing to early 2000s 50 Cent. I also often imagine her rolling her eyes at me, giving her a run for her money as an angel. Or whatever currency angels use.

On days like today, I picture her up there, silent and still, waiting. I ask if I’m doing the right thing and don’t get a firm response, obviously. But then a cool breeze picks up and my way home is seamless and I just have to believe that she’s telling me, “of course you’re doing the right thing, I’m pushing you in the right direction!”

I wasn’t a runner until college. Heck, I wouldn’t really classify myself as a runner today, because it’s not about the races or beating my best time (although I do get a little thrill when I come in under my usual 10 minute mile). And I don’t do it consistently enough to be a solid hobby. But it is a chance to get out of my head, move my body, and most importantly, process the grief that I’ve accepted will always live with me. On days like today, it’s about the opportunity to realize what I need in this phase of my life to cope.

So this year, instead of breezing past the anniversary of Gigi’s death like I normally do, I want to recognize and honor it. I want to sit with it – with her – and celebrate everything that she brought to our lives. Catch me by the lakefront on Friday, spending time with the woman who helped raise me.