It’s been six weeks since my mom died. My heart aches every time I think about her, a homesick feeling I’m guessing will always be with me. There’s just something about a mom, and something not right about me not having one anymore. Of course she lives on in her family. In my youngest, her namesake, and my oldest, whose hair is the same beautiful shade of red my mom’s once was. I’m comforted by over 40 years of memories, I really am. But it’s just not enough.
I want my mom. Alive.
And so this new homesick feeling is a companion I’ve been busying myself trying impossibly to ignore. Probably not the best strategy, I know, but you do what you do to get by, right? There are times I let my guard down. Times I let my grief surface and heavy my chest until there is nothing left for me to do but lay down and cry myself to sleep. Times I go to the one place I can see my mom alive again—dreams filled with the healthy and spirited woman she once was.
Running has always been a type of therapy for me, helping soften the edges of the anxiety and depression I’ve had since I was a kid. But lately its therapeutic effects have grown even stronger. Physical pain (from pace or distance) has become an expression of grief, leaving me free to experience the memory of my mom in a calmer, softer way. While running, the memories don’t hurt my heart so much, because the pain is somehow channeled through my body. If you’ve ever lost a loved one, perhaps you can relate.
This “substitute pain” is why I decided to run for 12 hours and 24 minutes the other weekend. It would be a way for me to spend some quality time with my mom, without that heavy-hearted feeling I’ve grown to disdain. I could let go of the heaviness and spend the day with her, being open to whatever memories surfaced and whatever thoughts crossed my mind.
Spending quality time with my mom is what helped me to finish the hardest ultra distance race I’ve ever participated in. It was that desire that helped me push hard, finishing second overall among women and first among master’s women. I let my body take away my pain for 52 technical miles on the Superior Hiking Trail until I was able to say, out loud with the finish line in sight, that I miss her.
Healing from my mom’s death will take time; and I’m quite confident the wound will always be with me to some degree. But somehow I’m stronger for it. Just like crossing that finish line in Lutsen made me stronger. It helped me open the door a little, to test the experience of grief like a toe in a pool of water, to find strength in my sadness.