Running Alongside of Grief

by K.J. Joseph


It was about four miles into the marathon when the sun hid behind the clouds and the hot summer temperature went down from the deathly humid eighties to the high sixties. The wind bounced off Lake Superior cooling down my face and arms. The breeze reenergized me to the point where I briefly forgot just how thirsty I was. As I hit a gradual right turn in the road, the trees parted on either side of the road’s guardrail, and for the first time during the races route I could see the picturesque view of Lake Superior. The lakes vastness appeared much like the ocean as it appeared infinite along the skyline. My lungs craved each breath of air as it rushed through my face and hair smelling so pure and fresh. I could not help but compare it to the air back in Minneapolis that carried smells of sewage and exhaust.

It was at that moment on the edge of that beautiful scenic road that that my feet rhythmically hit the pavement in a mantra state of meditation. My body felt like I could keep running forever.


The date was June 20th, 2021. The previous year of events that led me to this wonderous moment started off with a global pandemic full of Asian racism, George Floyds murder, and the riots that burned my little sisters post office and bank down in South Minneapolis. It was horrific to stay at home following the governor’s nightly curfews as my family watched our city get destroyed on television only 20 miles away.


Yes, these were all life changing events that our community went through, but the truth was that after all the hardships, there was only one reason that brought me to the shores of Duluth Minnesota. That reason was the loss of my stepbrother, Johnny.


When my mom married my stepfather John, he had two boys and a girl. Curt, Johnny, and Shawna. I was the oldest but close to Curt’s age. My sister Courtney was close to Johnny’s age, and my sister Kelly was close to Shawna’s age. We used to joke that if Shawna were a boy, we would be like the Brady Bunch.


All six of us were into sports and immediately grew close and formed teams to play just about any sport. Johnny was always my teammate when we played Curt and Courtney in driveway ball. Basketball was our favorite sport to play and we did it for endless hours. Johnny and I never won because Curt could have beat us all with one hand tied behind his back. The fact that beating Curt was nearly impossible didn’t stop Johnny from beleiving and motivating me that one day we would win. It was that hope that kept us going.


Johnny was my little brother. He was part of my family. When I woke up on July 5th, 2020, after Johnny had been missing for a week to see I had numerous missed calls from my mother, I felt it in my gut that it wasn’t good news. I reluctantly called my mom back to hear her teared voice on the other end confirming what I already knew. Johnny was gone. Alcoholism and addiction is a tragic sickness.


Training and running Grandmas Marathon was a deliberate choice I made to help myself deal with the loss of Johnny. Running always was, and still is an outlet for me. It is a way to challenge myself. In this case it was a way to keep myself from caving into the grief, but still grieve. I felt that Johnny was with me every step of the way and that comforted me.

Although I didn’t finish the marathon that day, and only ran a half marathon, I felt that I had won. For once I wasn’t worried about time or aware of any runners around me. I set out to go slow, have fun, and listen to my body. That is exactly what I did, and I had my favorite race because of this.


Somewhere between the miles after the memorable view, and the halfway point, I felt a spiritual connection with nature, the universe, and the rhythm of my feet that brought me closer to Johnny. It was a perfect way to experience a marathon after many months of training while grieving. Although I know realistically, the grieving process never fully ends, that peace I found out on the road running that day was a step towards evolving. Most importantly, it was a fulfilling way to let go and say goodbye to Johnny.


Johnny Walter Tyszko

November 18, 1983 - June 29, 2020

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