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My mother died when I was 17 years old and my holidays have never been the same.
Although she never saw me graduate from college, or finish my first marathon, and wasn’t there when I got married on a beach in Key West, or was most notably absent when my twin sons were born, for some reason, the holiday season never ceases to create the deepest hole year after year.
As anyone who has experienced significant loss knows, this particular time of year shines a blinding spotlight on who is is missing, of the one who is not home, and never will be again.
When I go out shopping, the sight of a mother and daughter together can bring me to tears. I get overly depressed knowing my mom will never experience the simple joy of watching her grandchildren tear open gifts on Christmas morning or share a knowing glance with me when they are shockingly ungrateful or overly appreciative. Most of all, I just miss being her daughter. It’s a searing ache that seems to flare with every flash of holiday lights and decked out halls.
Most years I want to hide under the covers and cry until January 1, until I remember what I can do, of what will help or at least dull the ache.
It doesn’t matter where or for how long but something changes when I’m out there, there is a shift, a freedom, a connection—with myself and with my mom. I actually never feel closer to her than I do on a run and I’m so grateful for it.
As most runners can tell you, unexplainable things happen when you’re strapped into running shoes, swathed in technical fabric and generating sweat from seemingly every pore. It’s a moving meditation, a conversation, a feeling, a turning point.
Running allows me to deal with my grief or brush it aside, to feel all the feelings or go completely numb. Whatever happens, I’m better for it when I return.
Sometimes, a long hard run can be so much better than a long hard cry.
Sometimes when you swap heartache for physical pain, it becomes manageable.
Sometimes you need to not run away from the hurt, but toward the recovery.
Afterward, everything suddenly becomes easier to deal with. A run can give you the time to air out your grievances, to embrace the physicality and simplicity of movement, and let go of what you’ve lost, even if only for a little while.
Like running, grief never seems to get easier but, if you take it one day at a time you can make peace with the journey.