Running for relief from grief

Jun 19 2011 - 9:59am

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KRISTIN HEINICHEN/Standard-Examiner
Lora Erickson leaps over her daughter, Rachel Erickson, 4, at West Bountiful Park in Bountiful.
The Erickson family
Lora Erickson stretches with her daughter, Rachel.
KRISTIN HEINICHEN/Standard-Examiner
Lora Erickson leaps over her daughter, Rachel Erickson, 4, at West Bountiful Park in Bountiful.
The Erickson family
Lora Erickson stretches with her daughter, Rachel.

A new race event allows grieving parents to run the road together.

The Race For Grief 10K and 2K walk in Bountiful on Saturday is an awareness event for infant and pregnancy loss -- and a labor of love for Lora Erickson, race founder and professional running coach.

The 38-year-old Bountiful woman has been looking for a chance for 12 years to honor her daughter's short life. Doctors found Erickson had an "incompetent cervix" during the pregnancy, a medical condition in which the cervix dilates too early. The result is usually a miscarriage or a premature birth.

"She was my first pregnancy and I had a condition that you are not aware you have it until you have (a pregnancy)," said Erickson. "She was just born too early. She lived about five hours."

Erickson learned that grief over a miscarriage or lost infant does not get a lot of support from others.

So the race will draw attention to places where parents can get support, such as Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support and the Caring Connections grief support programs. The goal is to find help for grieving parents that goes beyond the first year -- couples need help for a longer period of time, she said.

Erickson has had four children since the loss of that first baby, but not without stress and a painful surgery each time.

"You just worry the whole time that something bad is going to happen," Erickson said.

"I like to give hope. I have had four kids and they were high-risk pregnancies. But I made it through it."

Not alone

Too often, Erickson said, this kind of grief is suffered alone.

"Sometimes those miscarriages are kind of a silent, suffered thing," she said.

She has been trying to help others by using her own experience. On her website (http://blonderunner.com), for example, she includes the right and wrong ways to help grievers.

"I think a lot of people have this misconception that you shouldn't really be attached to this baby that you never really knew," Erickson said. "But when you want a child and you get pregnant and you're excited all that time, you really do create a bond before you ever really know that child."

Leah and Spencer Johnson, of Layton, met Erickson through running clubs, and they learned about Erickson's story while dealing with their own grief.

"I know Lora's (story) was 12 years ago. But when we met for the first time, we still got emotional together about it. Because it's something we both went through," said Leah Johnson.

The Johnsons have been dealing with the loss of a stillborn baby, Dani, since last November. They are both runners and decided to join the race. They like the idea that proceeds are going to places that helped provide care for them.

Now, Leah Johnson said, they have become recruiters for the event.

"You can't explain the emotion to someone who has never gone through it. Sharing the grief helps you feel more joyful," she said.

Fathers, too

The support is not just reserved for the women. Fathers also need help to grieve.

Spencer Johnson remembers the trial his family went through when they found their unborn baby had a heart defect.

"It was very surreal to hear that news because it is the kind of thing that you think will never happen to you," he said. "I did a lot of praying in the weeks that followed and eventually came to the realization that I needed to accept the fact that our daughter may not live. I realized I needed to be the rock for our family, and I accepted that role."

Spencer Johnson said he was in an odd emotional place after their child died and as they arranged the funeral. He grieved for the loss of a baby, but was focused on being strong for his family. There was a hole in his heart from the loss and, yet, he believes he came to terms with it faster.

"I believe that most fathers are probably the same way," he said. "Because Leah gave birth to a stillborn, I never really knew the child nor did I have a physical attachment. Leah, on the other hand, carried her for nearly seven months... She had felt her alive inside her, and then she was gone."

Erickson allows a spot in the registration process for the race where people can leave their own story of loss, grief and hope.

But she emphasized that you don't have to have a personal story or connection to infant loss to join the race.

"I have had people sign up who this has not happened to," Erickson said. "They just want to run."

RACE FOR GRIEF

The 10K race begins at 8 a.m. Saturday at the West Bountiful Park, 550 W. Pages Lane, Bountiful. A 2K walk follows after the 10K racers are off.

The course takes runners west before traveling north on the Legacy Parkway trails.

"This is a 10K that is chip-timed. So they can do a flat, fast 10K route," said Lora Erickson, race founder and running coach.

"There is a two-mile route. If they are not a runner -- that's OK. The idea is also about health promotion, not only physical health but the mental grief."

Check-in options: 4-7 p.m. Friday at Willow and Wildflower, 371 N. 200 West. Bountiful; before the race, starting at 6:30 a.m. Saturday.

Cost: $45/10K run, $30/2K walk

Information: www. raceforgrief10k.com

HOW TO HELP

Lora Erickson has a list of the right and wrong ways to help someone grieve a lost baby. More information is available on her website, www.blonderunner.com.

Ways to help:

* It's OK to say, "I don't know what to say."

* "When I went back to work after I lost my baby girl, I could see that many people felt awkward and didn't know what to say to me. Many people even avoided me. That was difficult. I appreciated those that said, 'I didn't know what to say, but I want you to know I'm thinking about you.' "

* Give him/her a hug.

* Ask and listen. "Listening and allowing the person to talk about the experience can help them sort through their emotions."

What not to say:

* "Don't worry, you are young, you can have more children."

* "You have an angel in heaven." (Writes Erickson: "They don't want an angel in heaven, they want the baby.")

* "This happened for the best."

* "Don't be sad. Don't cry."

* Don't share stories of the people you know who have had loss. "This is their time to share and your time to listen."

-- From Blonderunner.com.

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