Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Loss is a powerful lesson

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On May 27, 2012, after four years and seven seasons, I ran my last high school track meet at the Division 1 championship at Durfee High School. My event was the 400 meter hurdles and I came into the meet seeded somewhere in the middle of the 28 qualifiers.

I left that meet in 27th place after running the worst race of my life.

As I sat on the bus ride home wondering how I managed to fail so badly, I began to receive texts from my friends. “I’m sorry,” they said.

That’s how I learned that my grandma, after a three-month battle with brain cancer, had passed away earlier that day. I had lost one of my grandfathers 16 years earlier when I was 2, but the passing of my grandma marked the first time I had lost a loved one as an adult, as somebody who could understand and would remember.

The days that followed marked one of the hardest times of my life. The death of a loved one is not something easily comprehended or quickly accepted. Some days I felt almost unbearable grief and some days I felt anger, but through it all, my thoughts were pervaded by an overarching sense of disbelief: I would never hear my grandma’s voice again.

Losing my grandma forced me to finally confront the transience of everything around me. It seemed that life was destined to be an endless cycle of loss, grief and recovery that would damage me more and more every time.

Whenever I think back on my high school experiences, I inevitably wind up thinking about my last track meet and consequently, the day my grandma passed away. I wondered for a long time why two distinct events in my life were inexplicably intertwined on that Sunday morning in May, but I dug deeper, and in that day I remarkably found a serendipitous lesson.

Grieving over the loss of my grandma was like grieving over my 27th place finish in my final track meet. In the moment there was a natural reaction to something I was unwilling to accept: why did I dedicate four years of my life to a sport only to have it culminate in my own failure?

I never broke records. I never competed on the national level. It was a waste of time.

Standing at a distance now, almost 18 months later, the emotions I had after losing my last track meet seem almost ridiculous. My track experience wasn’t defined by its final outcome: it was defined by everything in between, and it was worth every second. Looking back, I don’t remember the failures. I don’t remember the throw up, the last place finishes, the trips or the falls. I remember the victories, the cheers of my teammates as I passed a competitor, the rush of adrenaline and the refusal to quit.

To ask why my grandma had to leave us was to ask why my track career had to end. It just had to, like all things, but it was never about the end. It was about the emotions – the nervousness and exhilaration and determination and pride – felt while running the race. My grandma ran many races in her life – sometimes she tripped and fell and sometimes she lost, but I know the ones she always remembered were the true victories: the births of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and her marriage at age 18 to my grandpa, which lasted for 58 years.

I was just another average high school runner, and my grandma was just another average woman. I never broke records and she never made millions. I never raced nationally and she never traveled the world. When I lost her, it was easy to become caught up in the emotions just as I had after running my last race. It was easy to ask, “Why?”

Whenever I find myself missing my grandma, I need only to think back to the times when I whipped around the track as a high school student and the impending sorrow is replaced by a soothing realization.

I miss you Nanny, and I always will.

But I know you ran, just like I did, and I know you loved every second of it.

Steven Gillard is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].



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  • J

    Joe Gillard, Jr.Nov 7, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Thank you Steve,
    For sharing your emotions and inner spirit. You are surely one of Nanny’s “trophies”. As in life we also learn lessons when death strikes. When an era ends, when the crowd at the finish line leave, when someone we Love passes; the lessons learned, the emotions experienced, the anxiety and adversity that was faced are what readies us for the next challenge, the next race. Peace and Love.