How Running has helped me Grieve with Death

Rachelle has taught me SO much about life.  She has been there with me through the hardest times of my life and has helped me in so many ways! I know that she can help so many others get through the tough stuff in life and so I am excited for her to share some more about her life with you.  You can read her previous post here—>  7 Life Lessons I’ve learned from Running

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Hey Hungry Runner Readers, this is Rachelle back with a post that will hopefully resonate with some of you.  I’m so glad that Janae is full of joy, laughter, and fun on her blog.  Because it seems that my posts are always a little deeper and more on the serious side.  I promise Janae will be back soon to brighten your day and cheer you up!:)

In the meantime stick around.  I’m here to talk about how running has helped me to cope with death.  Please stay with me as I hope I have some beneficial and meaningful thoughts to share.  Running and intense exercise have been proven to have emotional benefits that go far beyond improved physical health.

This past week my grandmother passed away completely unexpectedly.  Losing my grandma in such a traumatic way evoked feelings of shock, despair, numbness, confusion, inadequacy, and sadness.  Her loss left me feeling lonely and completely cut-off from the real world.  

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I remember these raw and vulnerable feelings vividly from losing my little brother in a car accident in 2009.  After the initial shock, the funeral, and the stress I realized I was shattered from his death.  I was left feeling alone, angry and even guilty for his loss.  I had no idea how to cope and could not imagine moving forward.  It was the most confusing and difficult time of my life.

For some reason I literally started putting one foot in front of the other.  I had absolutely no experience at all with running and it was a very slow process.  But I kept trying.  I kept trying because I felt closer to my brother and I knew he would be proud of me for trying something scary and hard.  I felt my brother with me and watching over me.  It was like Trevor was encouraging me and cheering for me from up above.  The feeling of him being connected to me helped me to slowly overcome my sadness.  The challenge of running allowed me to grieve with the loss of my brother.

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Running, for me, became a positive light in my seemingly dark and chaotic life at the time.  The more I ran and the stronger I became the more connected I felt with my brother.  Running gave me courage and helped me to cope with my loss in a healthier way.  Running provided me with an outlet, a constant, and gave me time to reflect on my bother and his life.  It was absolutely beneficial in my emotional healing.

Yesterday as I went out on my daily run I was reminded of my grandma and the feelings I had when I lost my brother.  I was able to process some of the hurt and the pain I was experiencing.  Being out on the road putting one foot in front of the other helped me to sort through my emotions and reflect and ruminate.

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I know everyone deals with grief in different ways and I am not here to tell you that running and exercise is the best or only way to cope.  But I do know that running has helped me.  Below are some of the ways that running has helped me to grieve and assisted me personally in the healing process.

1.  Finding meaning in your loss.  When my brother passed away six years ago on October 27th he became an organ donor.  Each year my family and I honor my brother by participating in the annual Dash For Donation.  This activity has become a wonderful tradition for my family and friends and it is such a wonderful opportunity to reflect on my brother and his loss.  We chose to use this fundraiser to celebrate Trevor’s life.  In addition we have also gained a deep and profound appreciation for the benefits of organ donation.  Supporting this cause has gien my running more meaning and helped me to continue to cope with the loss of my brother.

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2.  Time to reflect on your loss and connect with your loved ones.  Running for me is a way of spiritually connecting with my brother, my grandma, and those I have lost. I often feel their spirit with me when I am running and even focus on them towards the end of a race to give my race greater purpose.  While I’ve been trying to grieve the sudden loss of my grandma I’ve felt alone and lost.  Running has helped me to feel my grandma’s soul and reflect on positive memories of her life.  I even found myself smiling about the memories on my last run.

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3.  Honor your loved one. When I first started running it quickly became, for me, a positive way to honor the life of my brother.  As I’ve spoken openly about in the past, I’ve struggled with both addiction and anxiety.  Running was a positive way to cope with Trevor’s death and something that I knew would make him proud.  I think that what our loved ones want most for us is to thrive and be happy.  Part of fulfilling their wishes is taking carte of ourselves and putting our own health firs.t  Running for my brother even encouraged me to run my first half marathon exactly one year after his funeral.

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4.  Sort through your feelings.  When your life is feeling scary and out of control getting away and removing yourself can give you time to grieve.  For me running helped me to understand my feelings and work through them in a positive way. It made me feel confident and strong enough o overcome devastation.  Running can evoke a sense of purpose and is a great way to regain the feeling of being in charge of your own life.

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5.  Breathe.  Everything is going to be okay.  Often when I am feeling suffocated by stress and anxiety I forget to stop, take in my surroundings, and just breathe.  Running can be peaceful, meaningful, and a great reminder to take life in the moment and one breath at a time.   Death is overwhelming and it is difficult to see past the trauma.  Running forces us to breathe and rotate our perspective to getting through the day one step at a time.  This might sound cliché but I honestly believe that sweating out the sadness can help us refocus and move forward with our day.

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I can certainly say that running has helped me through several extraordinary difficult periods of my life.  It has comforted me when I am weak, provided me solace, peace, and most importantly given me purpose.  When we lose someone it is difficult to not feel like all is lost.  Exercise has been a positive outlet in my life and while it cannot bring that person back, I do feel like it can be effective in the mourning process.  While exercise and running cannot take away the emotional scars, it has helped me keep a positive attitude through difficult times, and take better care of myself while grieving.  Unexpected death is not easy but it has given me a deeper appreciation and brevity for life.  It has broadened my perspective, and made me love more deeply, and appreciate every second of life.

How has exercise or running helped you cope with difficult times?

Do you think running has healing effects?

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31 comments

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I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for sharing your story in such a positive way. I’m so sorry for your losses but so happy you found an outlet and are inspiring others to do the same. My son was born three months premature two years ago and he was very poorly. Thankfully he is a cheeky nearly two year old now but I grieved for the pregnancy I should’ve had and the good health he should’ve been born with. I took up running when he was six months old and it has made a vast difference to my mental and physical health. I can’t recommend it enough as therapy. It also makes you realise that being fit and healthy is a privilege you should never take for granted. Love and hugs to you x

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Thank you for sharing your story! My condolences on the loss of your grandmother (and your brother). This is a very inspirational and positive way to cope with loss.

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Such a beautiful post! I too used running to help me grieve in a lot of ways after losing two of my grandparents within a year. Thank you for sharing!

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Thank you for this post, it is so true. A well-loved coworker passed away two years ago. I was training for my first half marathon at the time, and running definitely helped me sort through the grief that I felt.

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Running is my stress relief. If I’m worrying, running helps to relax me and give me some clarity.

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When I am stressed out, my thoughts go a million miles a minute. When I am running, I usually get clarity and can process things much more easily than when I’m not running. If I’m mad, usually by the time I run a few miles, I’ve gotten over the anger and can see things more clearly. Great post and I’m so sorry for your loss!

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So sorry for your loss, Rachelle. I think running definitely helps. It allows you to escape a lot for a short time, and it’s often when I do a lot of praying. Life can be really hard, and while running can’t fix everything or make pain go away, it can give us an outlet to go to when we need to just be alone and let ourselves heal. Thank you for sharing this.

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I think so many people turn to running when dealing with death, loss, and hard times in general. So sorry to hear about your loss but I know your words will resonate with many people and help them heal :)

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i’ve definitely relied on running to get me through tough times! thanks for sharing your story. inspiring!

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Thank you for a beautiful post. We are so sorry for your losses, Rachelle. I am so happy you have found a positive outlet for your grief. You are making them proud!

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Thank you for sharing your story, love this post! Running/Exercise definitely helps me when I am stressed out or grieving. After my mom passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2010 I was completely lost and had no idea how I was going to go on. But like you said, I put one foot in front of the other and over time the pain got a little easier to deal with. I found out about the Huntsman Hometown Heroes through a friend and decided to join. Now, every spring I run a race in honor of my mom and also raise money for the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Not only am I doing something in memory of my mom but I am paying it forward by getting donations for cancer research, so hopefully one day a cure can be found for this devastating disease. Running gave me my life back and for that I will always be grateful.

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Thank you so much for your post. You are amazing and I’m sorry for your loss.

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So sorry for your loss. A great post and it rings very true. Running helps sort out so many feelings in a way that helps me feel engaged and productive.
Thank you.

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Let me start by saying I am sorry for your losses. Two days before my first 26.2 as my only sister was flying out to run with me, we got the news that our dad would likely die from cancer in the next 2-6 weeks. Of course we offered to get on the plane and fly back immediately. Dad would have no part of that. We ran the marathon and flew home 2 days later. I KNEW that run would be the easiest part of my next 6 weeks. This was my first, and easiest, marathon I have ever run.

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The timing of this post is really in sync with me as I’m creating my “memory” miles for my marathon this Sunday. I always dedicate each mile to someone who is no longer with us. It started with my husband who died when we were only 5 months into our marriage. I was 25 and he was 29. Cancer swooped in and he just couldn’t fight it anymore. I was lost. I just didn’t feel like I fit in with anyone as at that age all my friends were happily getting married and having children. I met a coworker in 2005 and she was a marathoner who totally inspired me to start running. I started off with 1 mile and by 2011 I was preparing for my first full marathon. I always dedicate my final mile to him. He is no longer here on earth but I feel him around me on specials days mostly. (It’s been 16 years and I feel him less these days). This year I am keeping an old high school friend’s 9 year old daughter in my heart and on my memory mile list. She was hit by a car crossing the street earlier this year. I know her parents are in so much pain. When I’m crumbling at mile 20 it’ll be hard to quit knowing that they are feeling such pain. I remember being paralyzed by my grief and I’m so happy that I’ve come so far. Running is truly an amazing coping tool. Processing thoughts and emotions while moving forward.
My condolences to you for the sudden loss of your grandma. Thanks for sharing.

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Thank you Rachelle for sharing this post with us. I am very sorry to hear about your recent loss of your grandma. I can imagine how difficult that must be, especially with it being so unexpected. I will be thinking of you and hoping that you can find comfort and healing as you grieve this loss in your life.

Your question has helped me reflect on how running was such a huge help to me during a difficult time in my life. About three years ago I was struggling deeply with depression and anxiety. Things became so dark and I was stuck in overwhelmingly powerful thoughts of self-hatred, hopelessness, and was suicidal. I was in and out of counseling but it was not very helpful for me.

Eventually I was able to get up the courage to start running as this was something that I had done previously (but not very much of) and exercise had been recommended to me as a positive tool to help deal with depression. By running I was able to gain confidence in myself. It soon became a much needed positive outlet in my life. When I was filled with so many overwhelming emotions that I didn’t know how to deal with I could just put on my running gear and go out the door. I cherish the time it allowed for me to self-reflect or to use as an escape to get out of my mind for a moment and just focus on my music and just pushing myself one foot in front of the other. I signed up for a marathon and put together a training schedule for myself. Having that goal was so important and meaningful to me. It allowed me to have something to work towards, something to look forward to, and helped me to not give up on life. I remember how I felt crossing the finish line. It was such an amazing feeling that I will hold dear always.

I continued to run afterwards and it continued to be a positive force in my life. I signed up for my second marathon the following year but due to setbacks I ended up quitting the race at the halfway point and I was devastated and so completely disappointed in myself. After that I stopped running. What was once such a great thing in my life became a source of anxiety to me because I felt like a failure.

I am still struggling with depression and recently it has become very bad. I have decided to give running another go. It is good to reflect on how positive running was for me and how much it helped me. I want that again in my life. I just need to overcome that mental barrier I have created in my head that I’m not good enough and a failure. Just going out and running, even if it is a very short distance or takes me a long time is an accomplishment and not something I should feel bad about.

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Running has helped me through tough and lonely times. It is very healing to run alone and reflect and it is also rejuvenating and uplifting to run with others. I could not imagine the pain caused by the loss of your loved ones. Thank you for sharing this was a very inspiring post.

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Ugh, this hit me right it the feels. So true, running has a powerful impact on people. This was such a good post, thank you so much for sharing your story. Running, I think, definitely has healing effects and can change lives.

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Wow! So so true! I think running can help with any number of hard things you are going through. It definitely has helped me run through my fertility problems.

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Running was my only outlet a few years ago when my husband and I separated for a short period of time. Sometimes I felt too weak to even walk out the door so the treadmill became my best friend. I would like to think that running kept me sane and away from antidepressants and sleeping pills. But like you said, running is not the answer to everyone. Thank you for another great post

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Running was a great way for me to grieve for not only losing ones I loved, but those my friends have lost as well. It is a great reminder of the amazingness of the human body and what it means to live to the fullest. I like to dedicate each mile to someone when I run a race. Thank you for sharing!

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Rachelle—I enjoyed reading this post–and you as guest contributor. You write so well, you are articulate and help the reader to understand the whys of running. I completely understand tho’ I am not a runner that moving out in nature is so refreshing. I agree that running puts you right in the moment. God bless you for your tender feelings for your beloved Grandma. I enjoyed your singing so much–you are talented in many ways–best tho’ is being the best auntie for James, Vara, and Lyla Sue.

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I am so sorry you lost your brother. Some of that pain probably won’t go away for a really long time but going out and doing something healthy that clears your mind, that forces you to focus on something else, that’s always a good way to deal.
When I am trying to figure out a problem, when I’m writing and I’m stuck, when I am bored and thinking about eating just because, running helps.
Sometimes, I take time away from running and forget the benefits but then I’m always thankful to find posts like this that remind me how awesome running can be.
I am sharing one of my funny running stories at http://runwright.net/2014/04/23/modrun-week-4-day-4-he-pushed-me/

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Thank you so much for this great article on the healing powers of running. I have felt first hand how running has helped me…the only negative is when I get injured from running it is so hard for me to cope with the challenges of life.

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Thank you for sharing your experiences with us and my condolences for the recent loss of your grandmother. I can really relate to what you’ve said here as I experienced a huge loss at the beginning of the year and the pain I felt (and continue to feel at times) could take my breath away. Running and my faith have been so incredibly healing for me. I look forward to my runs where I can just let my mind go and sort out my feelings. Its nice to read someone else’s experience with this as well.

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Running has been a great relief during tough times for me, like it has so many people who have commented above. Marathon training gave me something positive to be accountable for as I went through my first divorce, and running (although at much shorter distances) over the last year has helped me deal with the struggle of infertility.

Running is both a safe space to strip away all of the noise and get to the core of grief or and a place to get away from grief for a little while. Eventually you stop running away from the grief, and realize that you’re running towards a new beginning.

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For me – it was CrossFit that helped me deal with my dad’s death. I needed to feel alive, and getting my body moving was the solution to work through my emotions (along with counseling) rather than being numb and just existing. I think being active was also my way of appreciating the time I have here on this earth. I did CrossFit and ran to honor my dad whose body no longer allowed him to do so the last few months of his life.

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“I often feel their spirit with me when I am running”

This sent shivers down my spine because it is the same with me, you absolutely KNOW they are there. I’m so sorry about your grandma and I thank you for posting this Rachelle. <3

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Thank you for sharing this.
Running is very peaceful to me and I feel connected to so many emotions when running. In April I lost my fur baby, I had her for 11 years and saying goodbye was so hard. I think running saved me. Saved me from spiraling into a depression, saved me from choosing other ways to deal, saved me from given up myself. I believe running helped me deal with my loss and still continues to help me deal and focus on the opportunity I had with her for 11 years.

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I resonate so much with this post-Thank you so much for sharing. I believe wholeheartedly that running has healing powers. I can remember it like it was yesterday, the morning when my grandfather died 6 years ago, and how I needed to just go out for a long run in the pouring rain with no music or anyone else to just simply grieve. I was a collegiate track runner at the time and the night before he passed away he asked me if i was ‘trackin’ tomorrow’ so I knew his spirit was with me during that run. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences again.

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Thank you. I am sorry for your losses. I deal with my husband’s illness and surgeries in part with running. It absolutely helps me clear my head, pound out frustration in a healthy way and lets me breathe deeply.

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