Running is the beginning, middle, end and beginning again of my story. My relationship with running is the longest relationship I’ve ever had. When I was eight I ran away from home. Literally, I ran down the dirt road behind my house that ran along the peach orchard my family owned, until I couldn’t run anymore and walked back home. Then when I was fifteen and qualified for the state track meet, my Dad asked me to reflect on the best thing I did that day, then followed up with the unexpected question, what did I need to do better. His message has been a driving force throughout my life. Six months later, on Christmas Eve, my Dad gave up his seven year battle with cancer and passed away.
Fast forward to April 2007. A single Mom of three teenage boys, I was getting ready to run the most coveted of all races for runners – The Boston Marathon! Little did I know, that week began a race that would last the next four years of my life and beyond.
The week of the Boston Marathon my fifteen year old son, Daniel, ran away (like mother like son!) and would not return for ten days. After that, the next sixteen months would be a marathon of wilderness therapy, residential treatment, bodyguards and boarding schools in an effort to save my son from the clutches of drugs. This journey traversed Colorado to Hawaii and Montana to Utah. And yes, he ran away from one of the facilities- that’s where the body guards came in. Throughout the process my heart knew Daniel would come out the other side and that someday the young man I knew and loved would come back.
Between 2008 and 2010, I remarried and gave birth to boy number four. By the summer of 2010, Daniel graduated from high school and was off to college, and his older brother, Brandon, had joined the Army. In spite of all the good things, I was still waiting for something unexpected to happen.
On a crisp Colorado morning in October 2010 I took off on a favorite trail run in the mountains. Running up a steep section of the hill I could feel the drag of the last three years weighing on my soul and pulling me down. In that moment I realized I was tired of running from things and exhausted from standing guard. As I approached the crest of the hill, I glanced over my shoulder to be sure the hill was firmly behind me, then completely let go down the other side. It was the most free I had felt in years!
I let go of waiting and being afraid of what life would give me.
After all, I had already lived through more than most parents could imagine. And Brandon would be home that weekend on leave from the Army.
Seventy two hours later I regretted ever having that conversation with myself about ‘letting go.’ On the same sort of crisp autumn morning where three days earlier I chose to start living, I died again. Only this time it wasn’t Daniel that broke my heart.
On his first night back home Brandon died in his sleep from an accidental overdose. I use the word ‘overdose’ lightly; technically it was a reaction to half a prescription pill. The irony was not lost on us that after all the treatment we had been through with Daniel it would be half a pill that would take Brandon’s life.
The next day, in a dreary cold rain, I ran. My body was heavy, my heart ached, I couldn’t breathe and I realized – You can’t run and cry! I couldn’t run away because I couldn’t quit crying, I was stuck.
Over the next year I ran on occasion but mostly drank too much coffee and booze and got too little sleep or exercise.
Somewhere around the one year mark I began to recognize that on the days I did exercise my grief became clearer. It didn’t make it go away; rather I could make sense of it. Exercise gave me a much needed sense of control. I felt empowered by it, not crushed by it. More importantly I found that the times I felt most connected to Brandon was when I was running and I began to come alive again.
Movement allows us to explore our grief from different angles. The act of moving initiates a physical shift at the cellular level, one that transforms our grief into something more malleable.
This softening gives us a sense of control that empowers us to see who we are meant to become as a result of our loss.
Hi I’m Paula and I am the lucky mom of 4 boys (yes, I still include Brandon). The tomboy in me rose to every occasion the boys threw my way – camping, skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, running and lots of fart jokes made me the woman I am today! Movement literally saved my life after Brandon passed away. That combined with a serendipitous career as an exercise physiologist helped me start the “Crazy Good Grief” project. This projects uses the fundamentals of fitness & wellness (and maybe a few fart jokes) to recover from loss with your health intact. You can follow me on Twitter & Facebook.
I’m so excited to debut the Life Starter’s Blog Series. I have had the greatest honor and fortune of hearing your powerful stories of personal transformation and I wanted to share them all. Because I know that together we can help support, inspire and lift one another. Every Tuesday, we will proudly feature your stories. If you’d like to submit a post, please go here for guidelines and more info. Happy reading!
Image courtesy of Nathan Rupert.