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Justin Grunewald: “Gabriele always was and always will be my North Star”

In an exclusive essay, Gabriele Grunewald's husband Justin reflects on loss, struggle, and resilience on the one-year anniversary of her passing.

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In life, you will inevitably endure loss. Oddly enough, I didn’t really lose anything until I was 33 years old. But at 33, I lost everything.

A year ago today, I lost my love, my best friend, my favorite conversationalist, my training partner, my travel buddy, my inspiration. You would assume I had lost a bunch of people with a list like that, but it was just one who took on all those roles for me: My wife, Gabriele Grunewald.

The biggest thing I learned in the last year is that you can lose everything in one day, but it doesn’t mean everything will be gone forever. As time passed, those empty slots have been refilled. Not in the same way, but in different ways. Gabriele always was and always will be my North Star. It’s wonderful being guided by a strong woman and I’d have it no other way.

Over this past year, there have been ups and downs. Some moments that felt unsurvivable, some moments that brought a smile I never thought I’d make again. The pain is still there every day, but it’s a controllable and redirectable pain. Sometimes it’s paralyzing but sometimes it gives me strength.

The Brave Like Gabe team and I have been incredibly grateful for all the support the foundation has received from people around the world. For many, it has become a staple of hope and bravery. For me, it’s been the best community. It’s a group of people that encourages you to keep going when you don’t think you can, it’s a group that spreads hope when the world is full of despair. It’s incredible how the messages of #bravelikegabe and #runningonhope have resonated with so many people.

Gabriele created this group a couple of years ago to show the world no matter what the circumstance, your dreams can remain larger than your fears. When others were up against the odds she’d message them and encourage them to press on. When she wasn’t well, she received thousands of messages of encouragement. It’s been the same for me—in hard times, this community has kept me going.

Whether people are struggling with motivation to run or running out of hope due to any number of life circumstances, I feel they will always be able to turn to a quote from Gabriele and find inspiration to make the most of their situation. Life threw many obstacles in her way repeatedly but she still lived it to the fullest and never, ever gave up. She gave her all every day and never stopped showing up. Gabriele would have never dreamed of running professionally pre-cancer diagnosis. The adversity made her better. I try to remember that lesson now. 

No matter how hopeless that day feels. No matter how long you want to lay in the road and cry assuming a car will come eventually, if you get yourself up, there will be better days to come. They might not be the same as the days you previously had. You might (and likely will) miss that person forever, but that person will still find you. They will help you when you need them. Lift you up when you fall down. You just have to keep moving forward and keep finding beauty in your surroundings. There will always be another sunset, another shooting star, or another rainbow. You just have to keep looking out for them.

And whenever it gets tough, because of course it does, I just remember what she always told me: “It’s okay to struggle, it’s not okay to give up.”

Editor’s Note: To make a donation to the Brave Like Gabe Foundation or find out more about its mission, visit the website.