Recently I read an open letter posted online by Sheryl Sandberg after the unexpected death of her husband. Her post marked the end of the period of intense mourning, a time of religious and spiritual significance for so many….

Her courage to pen a letter to the whole world at this most vulnerable time forced me to summon my own inner strength….. so here goes

My mother died a year ago – it was unexpected, abrupt and arduous……..

Watching your parent die, you are reminded that your power and influence is ephemeral and fragile – and so is your physical and mental state.

After Mum passed away, I felt totally unhinged and physically my body responded wildly – I developed a nervous tick, a stiff jaw, and extreme night sweats …….I didn’t know my own body – I had lost my own sense of myself.

I am blessed with a wonderful family, a community of close friends and a loving life partner who literally carried me back to myself. They fed me, sheltered me and cloaked me in love and support for months.

In time, outwardly I seemed fine – one might say even flourishing. I was busy with ambitious projects and promotions at work. To anyone who inquired, I was challenging the spirit of my Mother and living life as boldly as she had ……….

But that was untrue – I was terrified – afraid to be alone.

I first realized this during exercise – my runs or elliptical training which had once been precious moments of solicitude and self-reflection were now painful reminders of my loss, a grief that felt fresh and bottomless. As my heart sped up and my focus centered, I would think of Mum, how I missed her so immensely and the tears would flow – I would be breathless, sobbing and out of control.

Many times this would happen in public, I would be embarrassed at people’s puzzled looks and inquiries of concern at these outbursts, so instead of running – I stayed away from the gym and instead ran away from anything that would leave alone with myself.

It led to this impasse –

I missed the stress-relief and calming effect of exercise but I wasn’t comfortable with my volatility – I didn’t trust myself to feel.

Meditation finally allowed me to address this head on. Meditation’s very purpose is to be alone with oneself, sharpening your mind and thus strengthening the soul and acquiring the resolve to do this with regularity is challenging.

Sitting quietly with myself, I realized that running was a way to connect to life – my limbs, my stamina and strength. It was also a way to tap into the countless complex memories of Mum which are very much alive, etched in my brain…….

Exercise allows for me to visit with her through my memories, acknowledge my feelings and release the emotions that kept me struck……..

Exercise is now back to being a refuge……. After a busy day, I can still feel tempted to give it a miss but not out of repressed fear or grief……..and yes a year on, the tears still flow but I always feel better. I hope all those out there silently struggling with pain, anxiety or grief to find the same solace, comfort and peace through exercise.

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