Last Monday morning my dad and I ran in the rain before I hit the road, back to DC after Memorial Day weekend. We suited up with hats and water repellent shirts. We wore our water resistant watches, left our phones on the kitchen counter and were out the door.
Oh, running. I always love it after the fact. Sometimes I enjoy it as I’m actively running, but that’s not all the time. I understand the appeal but I am certainly not one of those people that feels the need to run every day. But I think my interest in it lately is that it so clearly illustrates my grief to me.
As my dad and I started to run, we talked about how living with grief is like running in the rain. You are moving but every movement feels like it takes just a bit more effort, as if you are doing life with a wet, heavy shirt. Somethings hurt a little more than they normally would. When my dad, brother and I go out for dinner — “Brown, party of three” — often we are seated at a table with place settings for four. Several times the hostess has seated us and then removed the glaring fourth place setting. It’s an innocent act and done for our benefit but it hurts every single time. That’s my mom’s seat. Even going out to dinner has its own wet t-shirt.
We continue to run and the rain is steady but not heavy. I kind of love it, though. The rain matched my mood. I missed my mom and sunshine would have annoyed me.
A few weeks ago, I talked about Tornado Grief. It’s the grief ambush you don’t see coming and it’s no fun. Tornado Grief is like a flat road run that abruptly gives way to an unavoidable Heartbreak Hill. You’re jogging along and all of a sudden you’re scaling cliffs. It’s quick but a bit more intense. Fun. Our tools: Breathe. Hold on. Remember, downhill is coming.
This practice of recognizing analogies in running and applying them to life is invaluable. Later that evening, I was hit with Tornado Grief. It was all I could do to get to a safe space and grieve. But I remembered from my run: Breathe. Hold On. Downhill is coming.
Back to our run, my dad and I were about a half mile from home as we waited for the traffic light to escort us across the street. Just as I pushed the button at the crosswalk, the rain started falling heavier, faster and quicker. It was pouring. I look up and just start laughing. Of course it’s raining heavier!
I look to my dad and without missing a beat, he starts dancing around. “We’re singing in the rain! Just singing in the rain!”
At the highest intensity of rain we’d seen, we laughed, danced and even sang.
The truth is while everything still feels labored, it’s made us stronger and so appreciative of life’s lighter moments. Thinking back to my days as a personal trainer, when we lift weights, the tug and pull of our muscles on our bones tells our bones to make more bone so our bones can bear the weight. This makes our bones more dense and therefore, stronger because of resistance. This is totally applicable to the tenacity and strength of our soul. To a degree, too much weight and heartbreak can be impossible to bear. But in most cases, we can lift more than we’d ever imagine. It’s not easy but fighting through resistance only makes us stronger and able to bear more.
My grief has also lead me to be less preoccupied with things that don’t matter. So what if I get rained on? So what if all the drivers passing us on that street corner were baffled at two weirdos dancing in the rain? Life is to be celebrated. Life is such a gift. I’ll say that again, life is such a gift. I refuse to go through the rest of my precious life being weighed down by things that just don’t matter.
Unfortunately, grief is something I don’t get to choose. I live in that wet t-shirt.
But the things I choose to carry don’t have to add to the weight.