Anger, rage, disbelief, depression, guilt, confusion, fear, disconnection, loneliness, panic, anxiety – these are all common symptoms of grief and I’ve experienced them all over the past almost 11 months since the loss of my wife Lisa.
This week I accepted an invitation to speak to a “grief group” about my loss and how I have and am still coping. I’m not in a position to give true advice to anyone as every day presents a different challenge. And I can’t say that my methods would be of benefit to anyone else because if I’ve learned nothing over these past many months it’s that every single person experiences grief so differently. There isn’t much anyone can say or do for you, it’s just something you must experience for yourself and find a way to come through it, find a way to continue living and seeking some form of happiness.
I’ve tried to be very open about my experience as Lisa and I lived a very public life through our newspaper work writing columns 52 weeks a year for decades now, so it never seemed appropriate to go into a shell, although it’s a constant temptation. I knew, and with the encouragement of friends and family, I had to find something to help me push forward. That proved to be exercise, intense exercise.
Paraphrasing an old quote, true happiness comes from activity of the mind and exercise of the body; the two are ever united. Anger was the grief symptom that most consumed me and at times still does. I struggled to shake it until one night I decided to lace up my sneakers and hit the street and run. I ran around Bruce for so long I reached a point I could barely take another step and was a mile from the house. But as I struggled to get back home with my rubbery legs, I recognized I had run the anger out of me.
It would certainly return, but I could run again, so I did, every day, multiple times a day. The more I ran, the better I began to feel, both mentally and physically.
I’ve always enjoyed exercise, but never running by itself. I was one of those who would see someone out in the pre-dawn hours running and think, “How terrible? Go eat a doughnut.” Now I’m one of those people.
I run in the morning. I run late at night. I add in some weight lifting here and there. I ran a Spartan race, which I wrote about last week. It has helped me to pick myself up more than anything else.
There are other symptoms of grief such as fatigue, restlessness, body aches, loss of appetite and weight loss, headaches, inability to focus, shortness of breath, and lowered immune system. My only experience with these has been restlessness. I’ve never gotten my sleep back to normal. A couple hours each night has become my norm, but it works for me right now.
The weight loss and other symptoms are less about my grief and more about my exercise. When I can’t sleep, I put the headphones in, crank the music up as loud as it will go and go run. I’m not much for just lying around staring at the ceiling.
This is what’s working for me. It’s not going to work for everybody. Almost every day I see and visit with others struggling with their own personal loss. Everyone copes differently. Many dive deeper into their faith, their family, their occupation, and many more struggle to find a release.
The only point I could offer in my speech Monday night was it’s all about surviving one day to the next and finding your best means of putting that next foot forward.
Poet Thomas Campbell once said, “To live in hearts left behind is not to die.”
Grief and loss are an unavoidable fact of life. We all experience it distinctively personally and our relief will come just as uniquely. I feel Lisa with me in every stride and while the sense of loss and sadness isn’t vanquished with each run, it does lessen if just for the moment which offers hope for what’s to come.