On mile 23 my legs were ready to admit defeat. Mentally I was still focused on crossing that finish line, but my body was weary in the heat of the day. Walking 26.2 miles is not an easy feat, especially when you are out of shape and overweight. While I trained for this day, nothing prepares you for the actual event.

By mile 11 I had already learned that mental attitude was far more important than physical training. I witnessed people talk themselves out of the race. “I will just rest for a while and then continue,” they would say. They caught the next bus back to the finish line. My feet hurt and I have the wrong socks and it is hot and my leg is cramping… excuse after excuse after excuse. Not one of them reached their goal and finished the race.

But I did… twice. Once in Jamaica and once in Oregon. And I am thinking about training for another. Walking those marathons changed my life.

Grief can feel like walking a marathon. It is a long journey and one that you can never be totally prepared for. There are others on the path that support you and encourage you, set the pace and keep you going. There are others who get stuck and never seem to find their way. Their lives do not move forward. Time continues, but they hold on to the past, grieving deeply years later. 


Become a survivor by acknowledging the small steps you take toward healing. For one person that could be mowing the lawn for the first time. For another, it might be grocery shopping without tears when you pass by your loved one's favorite food. Each small success is a moment to savor. It is an indicator that you will survive, that you can do more than you ever thought you could. Inside of you is a strength that you may have never called upon before, but now that you need it, it is there to carry you through.


There is one major difference between a marathon and the journey of grief. In the marathon, I could mark my progress by each mile marker – 26.2 miles and I was finished, medal around my neck and heading back to the hotel, proud of my accomplishment.


But there is not a finish line to cross for grief. There is no cheering crowd or end point to aim for. How can we measure progress on a journey without an end? How do we avoid feeling hopeless and helpless? How might we harness inner strength when we have no energy to even make it through the day?

Three things to keep in mind:

  1. There may be no finish line, but the journey is taking you somewhere – and you can help guide your path. You can join a grief support group, read books on grieving, get involved in new activities, take care of yourself (pamper yourself even), or just breathe deeply when you are feeling overwhelmed. Remember that, while you did not choose this to happen, you can choose how you handle it. Are you content to wallow and give up, or are you ready to take action?
  2. Celebrate each step of forward progress. Recognize when you do something that was difficult to accomplish. If you learn how to pay the bills, change a light bulb or take a trip alone, acknowledge that this was a moment to savor. Mixed emotions may accompany these times, but you did it… or at least you tried. Success is not always measured in completing a task, but in getting started. The first step is always the hardest one. Once you do that, the rest of the way will open to you.
  3. There are no medals for surviving a loss, but never doubt that you are a winner. Each time you reach out in understanding to someone else in pain, you win. Every laugh, smile and happy moment you share with others, you win. When you give in honor of your loved one, you win. When you share a memory of a time spent together, or look at their photo and feel love not pain, you win. When you start to accept your “new” life and begin to see all that is before you, you win.


Step by step, slowly and steadily you find yourself moving along. Life begins to find its rhythm and you start to dream of things yet to be, once again. The journey of grief has no time clock, no finish line to cross and no medals to display, but it does have one thing that a marathon might not… you are not walking alone. Your loved one accompanies you every step of the way.



Nancy Weil is a leading authority on humor and grief. She serves as Director of Grief Support for eleven cemeteries and is a Certified Funeral Celebrant and Grief Management Specialist. Through her company, The Laugh Academy, she offers products to ease the stress and pain that grief can bring. Bandages for Your Heart on DVD or CD, Laugh for the Health of It on CD and her new book, If Stress Doesn’t Kill You, Your Family Might, can be ordered by clicking here.


Images via stock.xchng/ekki, Flickr Creative Commons/tomaszd and Flickr Creative Commons/slgckgc

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