Those pesky “on this day seven years ago” Facebook running reminders are torturous.

On this day seven years ago I was at the Brooklyn Arts Museum with my husband. We weren’t married or engaged at the time, but dating. We’d together for 14 months, and I must’ve been inebriated when I agreed to go to the art museum. I cannot recall a time when I willingly ventured to look at art. My mother has years and years of data supporting this. Cleaning a bathroom is more appealing than looking at an art exhibit. Heck, getting a tetanus shot is more enticing to me than spending an hour in an art museum.

The way I look at the twisted figures on the canvas, with knives for fingers and buttons for eyes, is probably the same way people look at me when I complain about my legs hurting after a 12-mile run.

“That’s ri-damn-diculous. I don’t get it.”

I know, I don’t either.

But until there’s a bloodied ear laying next to the painter, or feet tattered and blistered after a run, no one suspects either one being a form of self-harm.

I signed up for a full marathon, and it’s in 12 days. I will be running 26.2 miles, and before you roll your eyes, and wonder “what are you trying to prove?” This is my rebuttal.

My grief made me do it. I don’t know why I went to the art museum seven years ago. And I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea to sign up for a marathon. Because it has been excruciating. And I’m tired all the time.

But it’s not the hardest thing I’ve had to do.

Not even close.

The hardest thing I’ve had to do in my entire life was when I was 28 years old. I was getting off the Q Train in Brooklyn with my dad. We were heading to the funeral parlor so I could sign the cremation papersfor my husband and pick out the urn I will receive his ashes. With the flick of a pen and a bunch of check-offs, the deal was made. We headed back to my apartment where my husband was still alive.

It burns my soul to sign off on those papers as he breathed. And in his absence, my soles ache in the redundancy of figuring out how to make these elusive sorrows into something tangible.

Running is my therapy, just like how a fifth of vodka numbs the agony for others. When my muscles are screaming and begging me to stop, it gives the unexplainable pain of losing a spouse a pinpointed feeling. When my knees ache or toenails pop off, those weeks of painstaking bullshit of finding a single piece of paper required for life insurance can now be easily described. There are setbacks, stops, starts, restarts, aches, doubt, and finally triumph. Especially on longer runs, there’s a way to get to the end, whether I’m sobbing, crawling, or limping. I’m going to do it.

Training for a marathon is nothing like grief. But marathon training certainly evokes feelings of grief. And being tired all the time reminded me of insomnia the weeks and months after his death.

I remember sitting in a car with my parents just two hours away from my house on my way to Rhode Island days after he died. Staring out the car window at the trees coated with frost, wishing I was back home. I wanted to be back home where my life wasn’t falling apart. And surrounded by his things, because even those eventually were going to have to be removed from my world too. It becomes inevitable my life was going to begin to shapeshift and become unrecognizable as time separates.

When I was running a few weeks ago, I’d been out running for two hours or so, and these feelings of loss began percolating. This memory of my trip to Rhode Island, which I thought was laid to rest, returned. I felt the coolness of the November morning on my brow, even with the summer Alabama sun beating down on my scalp. I wanted to be back home, but I was 6 and a half miles away from home. What do I do?

One forward step at a time.

These moments of deep torment are opportunities to shed one’s skin and push along the process of renewal and paint a new portrait. The screaming pain of wishing it will be over soon will eventually pass. When it does, I’ll be stronger the next time. With grief, we take it one day at a time, and “we’ll get there.” And the same thing about running. One mile at a time and “we’ll get there.” It’ll be disorienting at the end, but I’ll find joy knowing I was capable of doing it.

Happy Anniversary, George and thank you for giving me the strength to successfully push my body to limits I never believed I could do.

[image credit: pixabay.com]

About 

Julia lost her husband in 2013 to a rare liver cancer when she was 28 years old. In the months and years afterwards, Julia continues to use her grief into a positive lifestyle change. She has been involved in NCAA Athletics for 14 years, and has continued to document her fitness, athletic and grief journey in her heartbreaking and honest blog The Unwanted W. Julia's journey has been featured in US Lacrosse Magazine, SoulCycle, and The Guardian. She currently writes for an online fitness and nutrition journal and works as a professional fitness instructor in Montgomery, AL. To contact Julia, please visit her website www.lacrossewidow.com or visit her Instagram for health tips at @flippingsteier or @uglygirl.fitness