Touched by loss. Empowered through community.

Running to Live

Date: 
Monday, September 14, 2015
Posted By: 
Jeannine Love

 

I run because I can.

I run because others can’t.

I run because it reminds me that I am alive.

 

These are the words of a lymphoma survivor. If you ask any runner why they run, you will likely get some version of this answer. Stories of running are often stories about living. My own story of running began when I became a widow, when I needed to learn to live again.

 

When Aric died my world turned upside down and I had no sense of what life could mean without him, or how to begin to live for myself, particularly after so many years of caregiving. Somewhere inside, when I tried to think logically, I knew that I should take all the love and energy I had given to Aric, in caring for and loving him, and turn it inward. But, I couldn’t do this for me. I couldn’t even do it for Ar. I was too tired. The world, too gray. 

 

In those early days, just getting out of bed each day was a trial. But, I decided early on that I could at least honor Aric’s memory by attempting to keep myself healthy. He had suffered so greatly due to his illnesses as his body deteriorated. His was a huge spirit, trapped inside a body that turned against him from the time he was a little boy. But despite his illnesses he had been active when he was young—skateboarding, cycling, snowboarding, and generally going nonstop. In his twenties and thirties, however, his body just seemed to collapse around him, and he eventually found himself mostly confined to a recliner or a wheelchair and in constant pain. He was frustrated by his body every day; it was a painful prison and there was no reprieve. And yet right up until his death, he continued to push himself to walk, to go out with family, to go record shopping, to go to concerts and art exhibits, to wheel his own wheelchairoften pushing himself beyond his physical limits.

 

And as his body broke down, Aric would have given anything to have had enough physical strength to ride his skateboard or his bike again, or to even go for a walk. He once told one of the doctors on his medical team that his dream was just to be able to ride a bike again some day. Aric knew that health is precious; that we only get one body, and we are always in it; that we shouldn’t wait until our health deteriorates or our body breaks down to realize what we have; and that we should appreciate every bit of health we have, and every day we have on this Earth, even when it isn’t perfect.

 

So, while I was unable to live for myself, I still knew that if I were to at least try to honor Aric’s memory, I had to take care of my body and my health. I couldn’t waste the blessing of health I have been given in this life. I had to crawl out of the whiskey bottle I was hiding in, eat healthily, and move my body.

 

This wasn’t easy—remember I could barely scrape myself out of bed in those early days and most days I wanted nothing more than to just hide away all day. So, I started slowly. Very slowly. In fact I didn’t attend my first (ever) yoga class until almost three months after Aric’s death, when my sister-in-law Rachel virtually shoved me out the door. She researched classes near me online, and continually nattered at me via text to just go: "There's a class near you, tomorrow, 10:30AM. GO!" And I went. 

 

And, honestly, those first sessions were rough. Hell, the first six or seven months were rough because it turns out that as we move our bodies we also process our emotions—and I had not only the grief of new widowhood, but years of the stress of caregiving work to process. It was not at all unusual for me to cry my way through an entire yoga session, and I cried my way through every savasana for probably a whole year. 

 

However, in that first year yoga became a crucial form of grief therapy for me. And, as yoga became part of my routine, daily exercise provided a foundation for my mental and emotional wellbeing, and it slowly blossomed to include strength training and sporadic biking. 

 

And then, about a year after Aric’s death, something happened I never dreamed possible: I started running for the first time in my life. And I love it.

 

Next month it will have been three years since Aric’s death. And, this month marks two years that I’ve been running regularly. One year ago I ran my first 5K to raise money in Aric’s name for the American Liver Foundation—I only ran a 12-minute-mile, but I ran that whole damn course and I was elated. Last week during my regular runs, I ran seven miles at a 9:20-minute-mile pace. Twice. It’s an accomplishment I never would have considered possible before Aric died; I’d never even been able to run one whole mile in one go, let alone seven. 

 

And yet it’s more than just a physical accomplishment, and I have gained much more than the solace that I am honoring Aric’s memory through healthful living and exercise. Running and exercise have become my therapy, my form of meditation, my way of reclaiming my own life and learning to live for myself again. 

 

These days I no longer run for Aric. Now, I run for myself. 

 

I run because I can.

I run because Aric couldn’t.

I run because it reminds me that I am alive.

I run because to do so is a celebration of life.

 

Comments

You are an inspiration. I, too, am trying to improve my health and well-being by exercising and eating better. I run even though I don't like it. I run because it feels great when I'm done.

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