Running with Grief
Dealing with Son’s Suicide
By Anne Moss Rogers
Two days after my 20-year-old son’s suicide, I got up and dressed for my morning run. I am sure no one expects to see me on that path that day. But the weight of grief is so insurmountable, I must find relief.
I hoist myself out the door with Herculean effort. It took everything I had just to put on my shoes. Do I have enough left?
My whole family is in residence or in nearby hotels fulfilling the Southern tradition of embracing a loved one who’s suffered a loss. Cousins are driving up for the service in two days. Neighbors are bringing food and Kleenex.
Teens and young adults are coming from all over the US to pay tribute to the funniest and most popular kid in school, my dear son Charles. The visitors provide us with so much comfort and I dread how it will feel when they are no longer here. Today I have to plan a funeral, write an obituary and fill out forms for a death certificate for my child.
Charles was an emerging rap artist and had graduated high school at 19 from an international boarding school in Utah. We were not in the socio-economic class to have been able to afford it but the drive to save your child’s life forces you outside your financial comfort zone. He had been to a 10-week wilderness program, a Therapeutic Boarding School prior to that Utah School. Resources for children with substance abuse and mental illness were few in the state of Virginia in 2010, living up to its rank of 49th in treating childhood major depression. We had exhausted every possible avenue in the state.
It’s a warm day on June 7. My limbs feel so heavy. I am still in shock and my mouth is dry. On many occasions, I have struggled with breathing. All side effects of grief. Running down the path, tears are streaming down my face mixing with the sweat. It still seems surreal. I am the mother of a son who hung himself. That can’t be me.
This run feels like the first “normal” thing I’ve done in days. How do you go back to normal? Why did he do it? How could I have missed such obvious signs of suicide? Who found him?
I see one of my path buddies. She stops and I stop. We embrace. She’s crying. I am crying, letting go of the crushing weight of grief and accepting the embrace. She tells me how sorry she is. I know. I know. I pick back up. Another sweaty runner stops. Similar exchange.
I’ve been seeing my “path buddies” for years now. We have a special kind of bond. Then I realize how long I’ve been advocating for my child with depression and how little support I’ve had on that journey. How good it feels to have it now. And what a price to pay to get it.
I stop to talk to a friend who is a walker and then another friend of mine joins us. The two of them don’t like each other and get into an argument with me standing awkwardly in the middle.
Are you kidding me? I just lost a child to suicide and they are embroiled in an argument over a lame-ass neighbor dispute. I can’t take it. So I take off running.
Later, they would each apologize but it’s the first time I realize, I’ve walked through a secret door. Those petty disputes are so trivial. How much life gets sucked up in useless drama? I can already feel like I can see into someone’s soul like my son Charles could. This is his gift to me in death.
I am still in shock still but this running routine grounds me. I can’t tell you how many times when my son suffered setbacks from either depression or drug use, that this was the only thing that kept me sane.
When I arrive home, I realize I was so lost in my thoughts, I don’t remember how I got where I’m standing. I now feel enough clarity to tackle the morbid tasks in front of me.
For the first year after my son’s death, getting myself up out of bed and outside felt like a miracle. The tears usually stopped after the first mile of 3.5 and I stuck to my habit of not running with music. It’s my break from anything electronic. It’s where I invented the title of my blog, Emotionally Naked.
Running with grief is like running in quicksand. It can be slow, sluggish and painful but when you hit your stride, you find answers, you accept there are some things that will never know and you find moments of peace and clarity.
Anne Moss Rogers is a writer, speaker, mental health and suicide prevention advocate in Richmond, VA. She talks about taboo subjects on her blog, Emotionally Naked. She raised two boys, Richard, a filmmaker in his twenties, and the late Charles Aubrey Rogers, who died by suicide at age 20. Anne Moss (her first name!) is a former digital marketing business owner and now President of Beacon Tree Foundation, advocates for youth mental health.