The pain from mourning a loved one is not just emotional but physical. So, logic dictates that one should be vigorously active to fight that physical pain. But, as many know, exercise is the last thing that seems possible when you’ve lost someone. So, I hope this post serves as a reminder that exercise is not only helpful in the fight against depression but a necessity.
I don’t know why I let so much time go between letting my feet hit the pavement. Running is magical medicine. Even though I always knew this, it took me a good amount of time to remember and get back to it.
For all of my adult life, working out was as much a part of my life as breathing. But, when my husband, Garry, got sick, priorities quickly shifted. I had a husband diagnosed with stomach cancer, a business to run, and two young children. What was once a staple in my daily routine promptly became a non-priority.
I know about the entire “put your oxygen mask on first” thing. But, there are times in life when this doesn’t apply. Times when no matter what, the needs of others come first, period.
After Garry passed away, I knew I needed to get back into the groove. But the survivor’s guilt in my head prevented my body from moving. What right did I have to promote my health when he died? And how could I find the time to be consistent?
I tried going to the gym a few times, but I could see him there. (He had started to go after his stomach surgery in an attempt to take back his life.) The image of his skinny frame lifting small weights left me choking and fleeing the place as I sobbed. It would be a long time before I would return.
I ran a few times last summer, but still, I couldn’t make it a habit. It wasn’t until I joined a group of girlfriends at SoulCycle that, in the dim lighting of the Chestnut Hill studio, I started to heal.
A frequent song during class was Cold Play’s Fix You. One of Garry’s favorites. During his illness, it killed me I couldn’t fix him. And during those first few spin classes, tears did stream down my face. Every lyric coming through the speakers was about our failure with cancer. But, I pedaled my butt off, and each class the song changed a little bit for me. I had lost something I could not replace. But, for the first time, I heard hope in that song. I’m here. The boys are here. I must be worth something. And, slowly, a little bit of myself was reborn. I realized at some point that I had to fix myself; it just has to be in my own time.
So, I went back to the gym. And even though I still saw Garry’s image, I pushed through it. Some days, I just lay out in the stretching area, answering emails on my phone or pretending to do crunches. Each time I went back, I did a little more. Eventually, I started to run on the treadmill, and then it all came back to me.
And so, when this spring came, I was back pounding the pavement. Back on the five-mile run I’ve been doing since we moved to Ashland in 2003. I’m not one for meditating; I am pretty sure I am physically incapable of it. But, when I am running, I equate it to a meditative state. My body is in motion, and my brain disconnects and starts to work through problems, ruminating over the past 39 years of my life, mainly the previous three. Things get fixed during that time; I get fixed.
When I run, there isn’t any more survivor’s guilt. Being outdoors with my thoughts and memories is one of the things that makes me feel closest to Garry. Seeing simple things that Garry loved; condensation trails, a Baltimore Oriole darting through the trees, the bright yellow forsythia heralding spring, running through a perfume cloud from the lilacs, or hearing a song come through my earbuds that he loved. It’s a wonderful time, and when I’m finished I feel as though I could conquer the world and as if Garry is by my side helping me to do so.
For anyone who is a consistent runner, you know you see the same people: the same dog walkers, the same moms pushing their strollers. Sometimes I run in the mornings. (I ran into a former co-worker the other day!) And sometimes I run in the evenings. One evening as I was climbing up the big hill, I saw a gentleman I have been “running into” for years. We both waved with excitement at our recognition of each other. We’re both a little older now, his hair a little grayer. But, there we were, on our same route. A reminder that while my life has changed so drastically, some things are still the same.
If you haven’t already, I hope you find the motivation to get out there and do something. Walk, yoga, swim, anything. I hope it will bring you the peace and comfort it is bringing me.
This post’s featured artwork is I Went Running Out Into Your Yard.
We hope this Widow’s Column provides hope, support, and a sounding board for anyone who has lost a spouse. We know we’re not alone. We want to hear from you. Share your experiences and comments, and maybe we can learn, grow, and heal together.
“Fix You” was first published on June 8th, 2015
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