Lori Tanner, a volunteer from Wyoming, took part in Team AFSP’s L.A. Marathon event in 2017, raising funds and awareness while finding meaning in the loss of her son.
March 13, 2018 - It’s something you never think would happen in your family. Not your child. My 17-year-old son Gavin took his life. I thought the world had stopped. It was gut wrenching to bury my son. To see how it affected my small community was heartbreaking. I was left with so many questions.
Two weeks before he died, He ran his first 5K. He asked me to run with him and of course I couldn’t. I wasn’t a runner! But I promised him I would run the next year with him. That would not happen.
But I remembered the promise I had made him. I decided to run for him, in the same 5K that he had run. I ran a 10K, then signed up for a half marathon. And I finished! This was close to two years after his death. I had NEVER been a runner.
I realized I needed to find a way to live again despite my deep grief. I had to find a way to accept that there would never be the answers I wanted.
I had participated in one of AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walks; it had been the first one in my small town. I wanted to participate in another AFSP event. I saw the listing for the Team AFSP LA Marathon. I had never even been to L.A.!
I was terrified. A marathon!?! Me? Well, I wanted to do something BIG. I wanted to raise money. I wanted to run for my son. I signed up before I could change my mind.
I began training in the dead of winter in Wyoming. I endured long, cold, dark, lonely runs. I didn’t know anyone else to run with. I dedicated those cold runs to people suffering and considering suicide and those who have lost a loved one. I thought of my son. I just kept pushing forward.
I started connecting with my teammates through Facebook and email. Without their encouragement, I don’t think I would have made it. I didn’t want to let them down, or my sponsors who had donated.
I ran through several snowstorms.
I was so nervous as the date of the marathon approached. I got on the plane thinking, “I can’t do this.” I felt for sure I was going to fail.
I met my teammates in person at the team dinner. We all shared why we were running. It was so powerful to hear all their stories. I walked away not feeling alone anymore as a loss survivor.
I’m sure I didn’t sleep at all that night. I rode the bus to the Dodger’s stadium. I found my teammates. We all waited together.
During the race, we ran together. I thought of my son. My family showed up at mile six. As we kept running, our group separated naturally as we spread out.
At mile 22, I passed the AFSP booth and saw my family again, holding up signs and cheering me on. I was so exhausted. Everything hurt. I looked to my right and standing beside me was Traute Winters, AFSP’s Los Angeles Area Director. She said, “I’m here for you. I got you.” I suddenly felt so much lighter. For the first time, I thought, “I’m going to finish.” And I did, with Traute running alongside me until mile 23. I had done what I thought wasn’t possible.
I would love to have my son by my side. But that isn’t going to happen. What I can do is be that person now who shows up at mile 22 and says to someone else, “I got you.”
I can’t imagine enduring anything more painful in my life than losing my son. As long as I am living, I want my life and my son’s life to have mattered. I want to work toward suicide prevention and mental health awareness. Running in the Team AFSP LA Marathon helped me find a way.
This story originally appeared in AFSP’s 2017 online Annual Report.
To learn more about Team AFSP events, click here.