When Grief Is Your Running Companion

Mina Samuels
4 min readMay 3, 2023

In Joy Hargo’s poetry collection, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, there is a poem titled, We Were There When Jazz Was Invented, interspersed with lines of italicized words I didn’t recognize. Wey yo hey, wey yo hey yah /hey.I like to read poetry aloud and, as I read her poem, a series of strong emotions swept through me — sadness, longing, love. I am often overtaken by the emotion of a poem while I’m reading, but, in this case, I didn’t even know if I was reading proper words. I later learned that they weren’t words. They are what’s called vocables (more on that in a moment). Yet, I could feel their meaning as I spoke the sounds aloud. They compelled a chant that seemed to start in my very DNA. I read that poem in summer 2019.

The feeling of that poetic chant came back to me suddenly last Tuesday morning when I was running. My beloved 17.5- year-old cat had died in my arms 3 days before.

The loss arrived less than six months after the loss of my mother and my relationship of almost 29 years. I felt (feel!) like I have been thrown into a bottomless abyss. The nausea of falling and falling and falling; of fear & grief and fear & grief and fear & grief. Of ear-ringing silence. And yes, I had gotten myself out to move my body, if only for a reprieve from the desire to crawl out of my own skin. As I was running, I started to cry. The tears were not enough. I started to moan quietly as I ran. Then I found myself vocalizing sounds, as in Joy Harjo’s poem. Of course, I couldn’t remember what her exact not-words had been, nor did I remember that they were called vocables. I just remembered the feeling of the chant.

As I ran, I let sounds arrive on my out-breath, until I settled into a pattern of Hee Ya, every second out breath. I varied the pitch, tone and emphasis as I chanted. I varied the volume according to how close other people were, getting louder when I was less likely to be heard. Still, I saw some heads turn as I ran by. I didn’t care if people thought I was crazy. Maintaining the chant was a challenge. I had to control my breath more consciously than I usually do when I’m running. More like swimming. At times, I felt like I wasn’t getting quite enough air. I continued. I had the sensation that my nervous system was shifting into a different gear. Slower. Deeper. Even as my running pace picked up…

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Mina Samuels

Writer. Performer. Citizen. Traveler. Enthusiast. Author of Run Like a Girl 365 Days A Year and other books. www.minasamuels.com