One year ago, in September 2018, I ran the Loch Ness Marathon in honour of my mom. She died just over a week later. I wrote this shortly after as my reflections on what that race was like and what it felt like knowing that I soon would be in this world without the one person who was always supposed to love me unconditionally in life. Knowing that she was in her final days made the race a more thoughtful one for me, as I pounded out the 26.2 miles in the Scottish Highlands.
Have you seen the movie Big Fish? It’s one of my favourite movies, and yet I am forbidden from watching it because it causes me to cry. Well, I’ll be truthful, not just cry – sob uncontrollably for a long time. The final scene, where the dad is going to the river and he passes by all the people he knew in life, those who were important to him. They wave to him and greet him warmly, excited to see their friend. I thought about that movie as I went into the Loch Ness Marathon in September (2018). And I don’t think I’ll every really look at a marathon finish line without thinking of this movie – or my mom – again.
When I ran that race (Loch Ness Marathon), I knew my mom was going to die in the coming week or two. I felt so strongly that I needed to run that race as a way to honour her battle with cancer, knowing it would be the last one I ran and could show her my medal and share with her the experience of what I saw and felt along the way. It was one last big gesture I could make for her to show her my love. I ran a marathon the day after we found out she had brain tumors, and I presented her with that medal (Richmond Marathon, November 2017) as a symbol of strength and determination to deal with whatever that finding meant; this seemed fitting to be able to run a race for her at the end of her journey as well.
It was not a great run. My legs felt heavy and I wanted to quit at several points. However, they drop you 26.2 miles from the end of the race, way up in the Highlands of Scotland, and the only way to get back is to travel the distance. In a marathon, spectators come and cheer on all the runners – not just the fastest and the best, so at various points, people were there, cheering on all of us. Offering encouragement. Telling us that we were doing something amazing. Even more so at the end – the final 0.2 mi was lined with the most people all encouraging tired runners to give it their best, in spite of exhaustion and soreness and possible injury – that we could rest in just a short while. But we had to finish first.
I couldn’t help but think about the finish line representing my mom’s death, and I kept moving toward that inevitable moment of crossing the final timing mat. I could slow down, but eventually I would make it there – just as she would eventually die from brain cancer. I really wanted to stop my race, hoping that would stop my mom for succumbing to the cancer that ravished her brain, taking her from us one day at a time for more than 10 months. Of course, that is a foolish thought and nothing would stop the freight train of life from continuing forward for her. It was inevitable. So I continued forward, pressing on with a heart that continued to grow heavier with every step. As I approached the end of the course, the gauntlet of people grew thicker and more dense. My eyes filled with tears, spilling over onto my cheeks, indistinguishable from the rain drops that had started coming down as I made my way to the finish. I was only thinking how my mom was approaching her finish line. That her rest would be well deserved.
Like those spectators who came out to cheer the runners, I hope she knew that she had so much support on her journey – that her fans were lined up cheering her in to the finish, applauding a life well lived. That she earned her medal and her rest for a long and difficult road that she had to travel.
So every finish line I will remember her, imagining her cheering me in across the final stretch as I was able to do for her. I miss you mom.
The medal from Loch Ness was interred in the urn vault with her, along with the grey flower I carried along the course. She never saw the medal in person, just on a facetime call with us that night. But it is with her forever, one last gift I could give her, a tangible expression of my love and gratitude for all she was to me.