Smarties, you know how you get e-mails in your inbox that fly in and out of your head? I got one recently that stuck. I was reading a weekly newsletter from Cross Conditioning Training, a small-group fitness center founded and run by my friend Jen Dufresne. One of her clients, Cathy Kendrick, was sharing a story about how working out at CCT helped her cope with grief following her mother’s death. Her words really resonated with me.
One of my brothers died unexpected in 2007, and news of it came just 24 hours after we found out my oldest brother had been diagnosed with leukemia. Running became the way I functioned for a while. I started training for my first half marathon, and shortly thereafter came two full marathons. Reading Cathy’s story was a poignant reminder of those critical first few weeks and months after a devastating loss and how exercise can be such a healthy way to find your way through. So I reached out to Cathy and asked her to share a few more of her thoughts for our readers at Charlotte Smarty Pants. Here’s what she shared with me. – Smarty Carroll
What happened to your mom?
She died suddenly and unexpectedly in her sleep on January 10th. The entire family, 14 of us, had all just been together for Christmas in Bethlehem, Penn. on December 27th and she was completely fine. I got the news she died right after I had left a class at CCT and gone to work.
What was your mother’s name and what was she like?
My mother’s name was Nona Pearce Gregory. We all called her Nona because it’s just a cool name. Everyone thought it was because it means grandmother in Italian (she was not Italian) but it was her real name and we always called her by it. Nona was a lot of fun to be with, had friends of all ages and from all stages of her life was still making more in her retirement community. I spoke about this at her service.
Was she an inspiration for your active lifestyle to begin with?
I remember back in the day when she – and all the other moms in the 60s – would get in front of the television and do exercises with Jack LaLanne. Typically, though, she just walked for exercise. When she lived at her retirement community, she went to the gym. But when they were in lockdown during the pandemic, she ordered herself an exercise bicycle for her apartment. (See photo)
How often did you work out after she died, and how did it help you in your grief?
It was so important to me to stick to my workout routine, which was two classes per week at CCT. As the trainers there often say, “all you have to do is show up and we’ll tell you what to do.” It was exactly what I needed. There was a lot that didn’t feel right, like large social gatherings and entertaining, but getting into the workout space did feel right. For some reason, running did not feel good. I usually run solo with my dog and no headphones so maybe it was too much time alone with my thoughts. I also had a hamstring issue, so it was good timing for a break. Something else that did feel right was taking long dog walks with friends in the afternoon sunshine.
What gave you the most comfort during your workouts? Getting away from your thoughts? Clearing your mind, so that you could think about it?
All of that and the comfort of routine. The workouts at CCT are so interesting, varied and challenging that you really need to concentrate. But you can just let the trainers work their magic and encourage you throughout the hour.
Did you notice your stress level was higher than normal?
Definitely, but I just wanted to be and feel sad. Something I discovered during this time was that I was so afraid to be in a group where someone would ask “How are you” and I would just blurt out, “You know my mother died, right?” But what I realized is that many ask how you are and don’t actually wait to hear the answer if you pause. I am now watching myself closer when I ask how someone is, in case they really want to tell me. It has given me a heightened sense of empathy.
What was it about CCT in particular that you think helped you through this time?
They talk about doing modifications around an injury, and they all are so good at providing those. Members should also be encouraged to get to space and do modifications around other hurts – like a broken heart. I can attest to that.