Running and the Grieving Process

Nearing the tenth anniversary of my brother Michael’s passing, I am reminded by how beneficial running can be in the…

by Sam Unglo

On May 1, 2020

Nearing the tenth anniversary of my brother Michael’s passing, I am reminded by how beneficial running can be in the grieving process. For me, it has allowed me the chance to think, to clear my mind.

During the quarantine, which many have likened to a grieving process given that we can’t do many of the activities we were accustomed to do, I encourage you to get out there and run. We can still do that, and I think you will find some helpful thoughts of your own when you do.

I am sharing a reflection I wrote several months after Michael passed away in 2010.

The Wind at My Back

It’s race day. It’s 4:30 AM in New Orleans, Louisiana. While many are still recovering from misspent nights on Bourbon Street, there are still many others getting ready for a marathon. How will the day turn out? Always a big question for marathon runners as the 26.2 miles loom.

Today’s my 26th marathon, and it never gets old. Marathons take on new and different meanings as life continues to unfold. I do my usual morning routine fueling up on Gatorade, eating a couple Snickers Marathon bars, then head to the start line, 1.5 miles from the hotel. Before I head out, I take one last look in the mirror for a gut check and say, “This one’s for you, Michael,’’ as I dedicate this race to my brother, who is now watching from above.

I get to the start and in an instant know this is going to be a special day. The first full song I hear starts from the top: It’s “Are We Human, Or Are We Dancers?” by The Killers. While every artist has his intention for his work, the beauty of art is that it lets those observing build and come up with their own meaning. For me, this song is a reminder to consider whether we are merely human or if we can rise above the basics of being human and be more, much more, just as Michael demonstrated throughout his life.

The race begins. It’s a perfect day: about 40 degrees Fahrenheit to start, not getting above 50 before expected finish time, and the course is flat and fast, just asking for a personal record (PR). As the previous 25 marathons have taught, the PR happens from a race run smartly, containing the initial rush of adrenaline and unleashing it smoothly throughout the race with the ultimate goal of finishing faster than when starting. The first seven miles go by easy as I run sub‐8:00 miles. Reality check: Am I starting off too fast? I try to hold back a little to make sure I’m not overexerting, but 14 miles in, and I’m stilling yielding sub‐8:00s. Miles 15‐20 see me slow a little as the third quarter of a marathon usually proves to be a little tougher all around, but as I start into the 20s, there is still plenty of gas left in the tank.

This is one of the greatest feelings in the world: running a marathon smartly and knowing that with six miles to go, you can attack the course, and that’s exactly what I do. As I run between miles 21 and 22, I run alongside beautiful Lake Ponchartrain and feel an extra presence: those watching from above, who I miss dearly down here, namely my Dad and Michael, are inspiring a strong finish. The wind is at my back. They propel me forward, not just now but long after today’s race is over. Their hopes and dreams for me demand ongoing discipline to give life the best I have and to chart new frontiers for myself and my family. Leaving a great legacy requires elevating the lives of loved ones and inspiring them to achieve their own sense of greatness.

The rest of the race is history. It’s an awesome series of moments. I run faster than I have any six‐mile portion of the race. The strides are effortless. This is my time to shine. Everything is clicking and working on all cylinders. These are the moments from which I will draw upon in the future to know I can do anything and that there are still great times ahead. And there is always the hope that there will be more and more days where the wind is at my back, and where effort and hard work lead to those memorable days where it all comes together, and all is possible. Perhaps, one of today’s lessons from above is when you train hard, work hard and focus on the fundamentals, the bigger picture has a way of taking care of itself, and you surprise even yourself.

The finish line is ahead — time for one last surge. As I near it, the right hand, donning one of the final gifts my brother gave to me, a brothers’ ring, flies high symbolizing thanks and admiration for all he ever did for me. Today, indeed, was for him, and he, of course, provided inspiration from above as I set a new PR: 3:26:17, shattering my previous PR by 14 minutes, 57 seconds! We’re dancing.


A necessary read to understand the complexity of abuse
in the Catholic Church.


"The Murder of Innocence by Sam Unglo is an incredible, raw, heart-wrenching book. Within it, there are moments of great joy, however, where the author, with great timing, adds poems, meaningful quotes or a picture of Michael. I read it in one tear-filled day. This book was incredibly difficult to read, as Michael was my classmate at All Saints Catholic School. Michael and I went to school picnics together, played basketball, ran around the neighborhood, and was the first boy I ever kissed under a bridge near Pine Creek. I can still see him coming over the hill down to my house, eating a sandwich and yelling something back to his mom. I can see Michael beside me, holding my hand in 8th grade, in line at Kennywood Park. We are waiting to ride the Bayern Curve. Michael is dancing to “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie. It had to be 1983/84. Still, when I hear a Lionel Richie song, I think of Michael. When we played basketball with the neighborhood kids, even if he was on the opposing team, he would guard his own players to let me go in for the hoop. The kids would say, “C’mon Mike!” He would laugh and smile. I will never forget when he was on break from college and came to my front porch, hair disheveled with that beautiful, unforgettable grin. I never knew of Michael’s abuse during those years. Through his smile, he silently suffered, and that is what hurts my heart the most. The depth of Michael’s death has impacted all of his classmates deeply. It also has impacted the faith of many. I, too, have stepped away from the Catholic Church, as Sam Unglo has, directly because of the crimes committed against Michael, as well as the organized cover-ups by the church.

This book offers an in-depth look at the systematic crimes committed by the Roman Catholic Church. To say it is eye-opening is an understatement. It is a transparent story written by a grieving brother, a pain I sadly know also. It made me look back at our childhood in a way that surprised me deeply. Many prayers offered up to Michael’s family and to those who are hidden from our sight, silently traumatized. While this book is an incredibly sad account of Michael’s life, it is most importantly a book of advocacy. The author’s bravery to write this book can never be measured. Despite his own grief, he pushes through, unraveling an incredibly complex account of what was hidden behind closed church doors. May God have mercy on the administrators of the Pittsburgh Diocese for the role they played in Michael’s loss of life. Everything we do in life has an impact on others. Be kind. You never know who silently suffers. It is also vital for readers to know that Richard Dorsch did not only commit crimes against Michael, as the book explains. There were several boys who were raped and sexually assaulted from All Saints Catholic School at the hands of Dorsch. It is sad to drive past the church, All Saints. Once every year or so, I do. And I say out loud, “House of horrors.” What an oxymoron, no? A horrible name to call a church building, where love is supposed to live. And for that I apologize. However, it was the reality for Michael, and other classmates.

To Michael’s Family: Many nights I have prayed for you through the years. I am so sorry. To Sam: God smiles on you. Never forget, He is near to the broken-hearted. The strength it took to write this book inspires many. To Michael: Fly high; may freedom carry you to new heights each and every day. —Xo.

— Julie M.

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