Author: Rachael Hill
On October 26th, 2014 I ran the Marine Corps Marathon with TAPS, my second ever full marathon! Now I have never claimed to be a runner, but completing a marathon had always been on my bucket list. The way I see it if you can run a marathon, you can do just about anything! While training for this marathon, I had to complete many long runs, and while on these long runs my mind would often wander through all sorts of things. One run even brought me to the realization that running is actually a lot like grief.
For starters, running and grief are both extremely hard, physically and mentally. When running, my chest hurts, my legs hurt, and it often becomes a mind game in telling myself I need to keep pushing forward regardless of the hurt, and that eventually it will get better. For me, it is an amazing similarity to how I feel in grieving the loss of my husband. My heart hurts, my mind hurts, and sometimes it all hurts so badly that I am not sure how I can continue to live my life without him. Those are the times it becomes a mental game in not only knowing that I can continue on, but believing that I can do this without his physical presence in my life. It's hard, it sucks, and I miss him terribly, but I know that I can't give up and that at some point through this journey it will get better.
Long runs often bring the proverbial "walls" where you just feel like you can't go any further and all you want to do is quit. However, inside you know that if you keep going just a little bit further you will find a second wind that will keep you going with the run. Since my husband died four years ago, I have run into many "walls" in my grief. Most days I feel pretty good and am accepting of the path this life has put me on, but then all of a sudden, virtually out of nowhere, there will come a day that it all feels too much and I miss Jeff so deeply I can physically feel it. Those days cannot only feel like walls, but giant skyscrapers that won't let me by. Sometimes these walls only last a day or so, but then other times they can last much longer. Ultimately I know I have to continue to push through and the walls will eventually break down, but it can be so hard. It's not always easy reminding myself it will get better when I feel so down, but eventually it does, and each time the walls seem to get a little further and farther between.
Perhaps the biggest difference between running and grief is when running, I know there is ultimately a finish line. Whether it be a time, a distance, or a finish line at a race, there is a definitive end and at that point I will be able to recover and rest. Grief doesn't have that definitive end. However, what it does provide is the understanding that as time goes on it will start to get easier. The hurt and pain will always be there in some respect, but you learn how to maneuver through it in a different way.
This is why grief in itself is not a short sprint, it is a marathon. It is a marathon with no training and you have to learn as you go. While some people seem to master their grief in a short amount of time (the key word here is "seem"), others take it at a bit of a slower speed, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with either of these options. I have learned to follow my own timeline and do things at my own speed, regardless of what others are doing around me. It's a marathon, so I have learned to take my time and listen to my mind and body along the way. I have to continue to remind myself that I can do it. I have to believe in myself and trust that Jeff's memory, as well as his new form of presence in my life, will help me through. Then at the finish line when I see my husband again in Heaven, I believe my own steady pace in the journey of this race will have all been worth it.