Friendships and Exercise Help with Grief

Friendships can last a lifetime, or sometimes for only a season. This unexpected friendship pulled me from the hell of grief. This little cycling studio in Short Hills, NJ opened up the same month my husband passed away, November 2013. I didn’t know this studio existed until one of the employees, an acquaintance at the time, stopped by my office to say hello.

I met Jordan in September 2013. He had developed a friendship with our university’s baseball coach, and we just so happened to meet one evening. I never gave much thought about fate and coincidences, but Jordan helped open my eyes to it. In the days following George’s passing a lot of people expressed their sorrow and offered me a lot of support. Daily text and facebook messages to see how I was doing. As if I could be doing well after watching my life turn to dust, but then again, how many 28-year-old widows are there milling around?

But as time pressed on, people I was closest to walked on egg shells because I didn’t express sorrow in tears. My tongue was sharp, and my temper was more dangerous than ballistic missiles. Soon, the daily check-ins became bi-weekly, and then transformed into the occasional “hey, I read your blog post, hope you’re okay.”

The fog dissipated over time and the figures in the corner of who I thought was there, turned out to be imaginary. But the ones who stuck around were bulwarks robust enough to weather a carpet bombing. And for that, today I stand stronger than I could’ve ever imagined. As I fractured and the wound ripped back open, they were the ones who brushed my hair and allowed me to believe I’d be okay, eventually. I promised my husband I’d be okay, so that’s what I tried to be: Okay.

It was almost three months after my husband’s death when I ran into Jordan again. He stopped by the university to visit our baseball coach, and I recounted our brief meeting in September. He had just heard about my loss and asked how I was doing. Small talk I had become accustomed to when people learned of George’s passing.

But something was different. He didn’t have the almond shaped eyes of woe. But widow brain doesn’t believe anyone understanding the enormous horror I’ve been through as I watched the one person I love, cherish and adore be consumed alive by cancer. So I brushed Jordan’s condolences off as no big deal.

The next day, he stood at my office door, passing by again to say hello.

And then again a couple of days later.

At first, our greetings were as awkward and dry as you might have with your bank teller before withdrawing money from your account. But our brief encounters transformed into hour long conversations and soon it dawned on me his visits were genuine, and my interactions and conversations were helping me adjust to a life I didn’t want. A new life forced upon me.

One morning he dropped in to tell my assistant coach and me about a new job he started at SoulCycle. We were excited but had no idea what in the world SoulCycle was. But he invited us to visit him at work– oh how the tables turn– but we emphatically agreed.

The Life Changing Invitation
Widow Transformation
Life Changing Invitation

Jordan’s kindness during the worst months of my life assisted in lifting my chin up. Raising my eyes and looking around me to see opportunities, to embrace the uncomfortable situations being a young widow, and forging a new path for me living a healthier and fitter life.

And soon rediscovering the one emotion which kept eluding me: happiness.

He would come to my office a couple of times a week to check in, and we started meeting up after work hours for dinner or drinks. I’d go and visit him at the cycling studio, and we became fast friends. In my grief I was selfish, but as I got to know him more, I realized he was going through a life transition and needed a friend too.

We grieve for different things in this life. When there are significant life changes and immediate disruption our ordinary daily routines, there are flutters of grief. Whether it’s someone going through a divorce, a pets death, or in his case, he had lost his dream job. And SoulCycle was a new career path for him. Though it’s not on the grief spectrum of losing a spouse, it was myopic of me not to wonder what was happening with him.

A lesson I was slow to learn, unfortunately.

I opened up to him about my misery and my longings to vanishing. Which I eventually did, by moving to Alabama and away from all my friends, family and my support system.

He listened and asked me existential questions, but he also wasn’t afraid to push me away. Some days I was too challenging and erratic because of the grief. When I reflect on those months, I didn’t realize what was happening, but today I do.

I barely saw anything beyond the tip of my nose. The grief made me volatile and jaded and I hated my existence, I loathed the sun because it never stopped rising. But at some point, the iciness of the winter in my blood began to warm as our friendship blossomed. And I glistened with strength each time I walked into that cycling studio.

While astride on the bike, I realized I did have a purpose. The bike offered me the courage to start believing in myself again. My life was already well out of the comfort zone, but being on that indoor bike provided me an outlet on how to manage my grief. Plus, my husband’s favorite form of exercise was cycling. In the winter he would do spin classes at New York Sports Club. So when my quads burned, and my calves began to scream, I’d close my eyes and think about him and his battle against cancer

Sore muscles today, stronger body tomorrow, and clearer mind immediately.

Indoor cycling showed me I had a strength I never knew existed. With the turn of the resistance knob, I challenged myself to push on because what was the alternative? I began adopting the mantra “kill or be killed.” Grief won’t kill me.

The nights where I would cry myself to sleep became fewer over time, and the crippling feeling of loneliness when I woke up by myself subsided too. I wasn’t afraid of what this reinvented life had to offer, and as I started climbing out of the depths of grief he regained his too, and we drifted apart.

Some people come into your life for a reason, and sometimes for only a season. He entered mine for a short time but made a lasting impact. My naivety and selfishness during my grief prevented me realizing it. But he was truly a blessing during a very dark time. Without his compassion and friendship, I wouldn’t have discovered my passion for fitness and healthy living. I try to pass along the lessons I learned from my friendship with Jordan to those around me.

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