On my desk I have a picture of my Stepmom, Dad and me. The photo sits in a tan, heart-shaped frame with trees, stars and little golden flecks collaged around us. We’re smiling, albeit tiredly—a sign of those happy, yet tumultuous early days together. Among the trees and stars, there’s a short poem juxtaposing the greenery and gold:
“A part of me is left
In every place that I have loved
And a part of of every place
That I have loved
Is left in me
So neither can return
To its simplicity
Before I came.”
I get bleary-eyed just writing about it. A lump rises in my throat and I feel myself gulping down the tears. “Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.”
The poem is right: A part of her is ingrained in me—nor can I return to the simplicity before she, my Stepmom, came. I know this framed, bedazzled snapshot is the work of my Stepmom. She had a knack for beautifying things like that. And boy, oh boy, did she love poetry. But, this frame and its poem make it seem as though she knew what was coming. As if she knew that her time with us would be cut short and that I’d later need this framed photo to remind me of those invaluable times spent together.
This past June I lost my Stepmom. And let me say this: nothing, and I mean nothing, can prepare you for the grief felt when you lose a parent.
To be honest, I thought I knew grief. Furthermore, I thought I knew what to expect from (and of) myself having experienced loss and trauma before. In the past I managed to cobble and quick-stitch myself together—you know, just enough to get by. But I’d never not run. Running, in light of trauma and sadness, provided solace, comfort, and grit. Running reminded me that I was tough as nails and that I wasn’t as small or frail as I was afraid I might be.
Running kept me sane and whole. Well, it used to. Life has a funny way of catching you off guard—especially if you think you know yourself well.
When I lost my Stepmom, I did as I’d always done and went for a run. But what began as a short moment of reflection transformed into full-blown panic attacks and crocodile tears. I could barely get through a mile without breaking down. I wanted nothing more than to give my Stepmom a hug, to hear her laugh, or to see her smile. I’d find her in the sky, alpine flowers, or sagebrush, but….it wasn’t enough.
It was as if the very act of trail running ushered in the absence of her in my life. All I wanted to do was cling to my memories of her. Perhaps this goes without saying, but this has never happened to me before. Running has always been a steadfast aspect of my life, regardless of how many days I run or whether I take a break for two months-at-a-time.
I felt betrayed by running: it was supposed to be there for me, not undo the time and effort I put into it. And then I realized something.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve spent most of my life running from _______: from abuse, depression, PTSD, body dysmorphia, or my perpetrator. I have long leaned on running to fill the void—to take the nothingness I feel—and turn it into something. That’s not to say that I never ran with these things. But, I wanted an escape. And…..right now I just don’t want to escape the memories of my Stepmom. Though, I’m not sure I feel like running with them either. I just feel like I miss her.
To be honest, I’m not running a lot these days. And, to be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Every time I pick up my cadence and hit the trails, I feel a level of rawness and vulnerability that only exaggerates the hollowness of missing my Stepmom. Instead, I find myself walking the trails or going for super-duper-duper short jaunts near home. I know that the trail running will always be there for me, but, I want to honor the space I’m in right now. I don’t want to run through, with, or from these memories.
For once I’m okay with feeling All The Feelings.