Updated: Nov 2, 2018
Marathons are for the community, cameramen and news reporters, vendors sell products, roads are closed off, cheerers form a crowd, veteran partakers exchange advice and first-timers nervously check out the clock at the starting point. There are teams and those who pride to run the race singly, but all with a shared expectation to capture the finishing line.
With this blog I would like to compare what marathon runners endure during the race to the physical endurance of people working through grief. The reason for this comparison is quite simple - too often we assign the grieving process mainly to emotional suffering and forget that our physical bodies are subjected to challenges too.
Let us then investigate the physics of a marathon runner to understand the course of a griever.
START WITH A ROUTINE
No need to test the altitude, you can’t run a marathon on the peak of the Himalayas.
Before the decision of which race to run, a lot of research goes into where to start practising. Sometimes the circumstances demand that you put aside your personal desires, but the opposite can also be that you are too isolated and have all the time in the world to procrastinate. Do you have a copy of Journaling Through Loss and Grief, a private space and allocated time to keep track of your growth? Competitive runners will not be able to participate unless they put on their sneakers and hit the road. Take the control back, decide where you would be most comfortable and proceed to practice to be on track once again.
Like the runner plan routes to get fit on a daily basis, you need to plan a daily workout to get through your loss.
THE RIGHT GEAR
You don’t run the Tokyo Marathon in your PJ’s, do you?
Do you expect your friends and supporters to visit and keep in touch with you all the time? After the initial trauma of loss, people tend to move on and the texts and phone calls are few and far in between. Most marathon runners belong to clubs with coaches. They show up for practice with weather specific, sweat absorbent clothes, cushioned socks, supplements and a variety of running shoes.
There will be days that you resist the thought of getting out of the bed, taking a shower, preparing food, let alone attend a support group, phone a friend or write a journal entry. Runners will attest that the best way to avoid physical discomfort during any race is to train and prepare properly. Active grievers attest that daily positive activities have significant health benefits and combats depression.
Do you know the specific criteria qualifying you as a griever?
Shorter races qualify runners for marathon participation. It’s not like the morning of the race you get up and decide to run 42.4 kilometres to shed some extra pounds. Unfortunately when a major grief happens it is often unexpected, but we tend to forget that smaller amounts of grief already happened throughout our lives. Think of it, have you ever lost a pet, moved, someone took something that belonged to you, you discovered the truth about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus? Whatever the case may be - you have already mourned.
To recognise and acknowledge earlier petite losses you will have courage to push forward. Like the marathon runner on the day of the race, divide the journey into smaller parts. The first couple of kilometers is the warm-up phase where in the griever’s case shock, denial and anxiety heightens the fight-or-flight hormone secretion. Similar to the runners’ first ten kilometers you will feel crowded with partakers, the crowd still cheering the expectations high.
Are you fit to complete the distance and get a T-shirt?
LEGS, JOINTS AND FEET
Did you know flamingos are more stable on one leg than two. Do they have special features on their legs or feel that help lock their joints in place? No, they have the ability to shift the weight to naturally stabilize the joints of the limb they are standing on, they can remain upright without any muscular activity.
Our legs carry the upper body and for us to maintain balance we constantly use our muscles to balance our posture.
Halfway through a marathon most runners hopefully shook off self-doubt, anxiety, guilt and competitive jealousy. The professional runners created some distance between them and the what they refer to as annoying wanna-be’s. (Yes they do!) Even champion runners concentrate on their bodies’ friction, the pounding rhythms on the pavement, bleeding toenails, painful muscles and joints. But they keep moving forward.
Grievers go long distances and can get caught up in physical fatigueness. They can also feel exhausted by the demands that co-grievers air. Often when loss of a loved one was associated with a life-threatening illness the griever can circuit every pain to death. Cancer phobia can let you drop out of completion. The good news for runners is when cramps kick in there are First Aid staff to attend.
Grievers do not have to feel ashamed to pay a visit to a physician when a nagging pain becomes a mental concern.
TEAR UP, TEAR DOWN, TEAR AWAY
Did you know microscopic tears form within your muscles are being used in a marathon?
Partakers are not the only ones who run marathons, noses, glands and eyes do too.
At a marathon event there are busses ready to take under-achievers and drop-outs back to their hotels with the media on their heels, eager to broadcast emotional outbursts and tears.
At a funereal there are people who vulture on distress, pressing to get their story told. Your senses are drawn to only absorb information linked to the loss. During the process grievers stop smelling the roses, what was earlier a mouthwatering scent now reminds the griever of the loss.
While running the muscle-tears will not cause soreness, but after the race that can cause inflammation and discomfort. Many grievers shed a vast amount of tears during and soon after the lost, but even tears tend to dry up when feelings of anger, disappointment and the weight of reality surface. Tears have a salt and antioxidant content and not restricted to specific emotions. Many people cry when extremely happy or during times of laughter. Tears however, always changes your breathing.
As runners breathe faster, it can cause excess mucus to flow in their respiratory system.
Catch your breath.
Become aware of your inhalation and exhalation before starting your journal entry about tears, the duration and the end result. And on a sidenote, regulate excess water intake, but stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol intake to numb your senses at all times. Try a healthy smoothie instead.
I hold the opinion that the moment you try to lose weight your thoughts occupy your dietary needs contrapositive. Are you what you think or what you eat?
On average a marathon runner loses between 4-5 kilograms of (water) weight during the race.
Now, in conjunction with field training aspiring runners follow a strict diet to ensure maximum body strength. Grievers often neglect this aspect, the possible food intake of a deceased prior to death worsen your case. People entering the palliative phase often have no desire to eat where their bodily functions shut down. The urge to nurture the body with more or less than what your body need is a harmful decision.
The more healthy your meal the more healthy your thoughts. If you choose to avoid food that the absent person liked, why not stick to food that build muscles and give you energy to cycle to town?
Enjoy a meal outside or invite someone over for dinner and ask them to help you make the meal.
What if you have a cut-off time for completing the grief marathon?
Marathons have cut-off points, halfway through and at the finish line. The “slow-police” encourage partakers to keep up the pace and the turtles might find the water stations abandoned and the roads opened for traffic if the pace is too slow.
Let us place the mourning process into a timeframe and assume all partakers intend to cross the finishing line and wear the T-shirt: Been-there-done-that. What will that ask from you? If you don’t have the energy today, journal down a day that you will start.
Chances are slight to die from a broken heart alone.
The heart is a muscle, like the case of any other muscles the heart can suffer fatigue too. Those at risk for heart complications must take extra caution and keep high/low blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and stress under control.
During the process of filling the void that was left after a loss, you can become disheartened. Don’t postpone seeking immediate medical advice, but also keep in mind that your heartbrokenness can cause chest pains and discomfort. As we always say, the body, mind and soul are all connected.
Many marathon runners end up not being first or qualify for the olympic team. With or without a medal, all who finish the experience learned something about themselves, grown in perseverance and showed the world that they have what it takes to finish their journey.
The grieving process can turn your life around. Understanding the impact of grief on your body can help you make healthier choices enabling you to finish the grieving marathon.
You are in a moment in time.
Once the race is completed most runners will revisit major turning points during the race, like when injuries happened, where time was running against the pacing, how other partakers affected them and road or weather conditions.
In the case of real hindrances, it could later become unfinished business leading to negative self-talks and unnecessary challenges. “What if?” cannot change the outcome, can it? We often tend to forget afterthoughts are removed from the circumstances. In other words, the what ifs were tied to choices, physical and mental states that have now changed.
Journal instead where you are at this present moment.
A person who proved to themselves that you have the endurance and stamina to take on life regardless the uphills and storms. Someone who successfully took coacher’ advice, the crowd’s cheers, listened to your body-mind demands and grew stronger while finishing the grievers’ marathon.
Final thought, there are all sorts of walks/runs for a cause of for fun. By joining your own community you become part of a collective for the better.
Use your body to work your mind.