After my son died, I felt intuitively that he was still with me, would always be with me. But that sense was overshadowed by his absence, the sense of loss. The deeper sense of our enduring bond would take years to develop, through persistence and faith. Chris was there, but in order to sustain that sense from where I stood, I had to become an active partner. I had to cultivate it, to keep coming back to it, to believe in it. Most especially, I had to learn to let him go.
Keeping Chris alive occurred through many and often wondrous ways, which crisscrossed and ultimately formed a cohesive whole. Today there is deep gratitude, knowing that through God’s grace we never lose who we love.
Love Burns Eternal
From the beginning, there were simply ways of experiencing Chris without any thought or effort. He had been a lover of the natural world, and I felt him in the wind, the brilliance of autumn, rainbows, and crimson skies, knowing his spirit could be many things. I spoke to him each day, telling him how much I loved him and how proud I was that he had become one of God’s own. I would look to him for guidance and pour out my feelings. Chris comforted me daily in my sorrow, whispering, Mom, I am with you always.
I recorded memories of Chris, vignettes about growing up, and collected stories from friends, traveling to places where he had lived. Through the hearts of others, Chris came to life in ways I could not have known him otherwise, enriching my own memories. Our collective tales formed a kaleidoscope of perceptions, capturing his essence.
Though it felt wonderful to connect with Chris’s spirit, I could not have sustained it without letting him go as I had known him. I would have kept drifting back to the sense of loss as the dominant, tangible reality. It wasn’t a given that I could let him go—having raised him from infancy. You revel in the aliveness of your child and the miracle of his being. Releasing Chris, accepting his death, came in many guises over many years, in little steps and with frequent backsliding.
Letting Chris go meant the willingness to live again. To dance again, run with the wind, embrace hopes and dreams—when Chris could not. It meant admitting I still belonged to Earth, with more to learn and more to give. It meant risking our bond, for in reclaiming my life, I feared his spirit disappearing, when all would be lost.
For the first anniversary of Chris death, I journeyed to Yosemite, the place that had claimed his life. On the anniversary day, I hiked Half Dome, circling the 4000 foot giant by trail. Standing high up in the elements, in the deep ethereal blue, surrounded by the granite wonders Chris had so loved, I scattered his ashes, releasing him to God.
The ways of keeping Chris’s spirit alive are with me still. I share my visions and the news of the day. He quips clear, humorous one-liners, as he did in life. I see the calm, smiling nature shining through memory. I see him in the serendipitous way of things and in exquisite cloud formations. I feel the joyous giving and receiving of our love. Meanwhile, I keep letting go, stepping back towards life.
God never takes without giving back a hundredfold. Ten years after Chris’s passing, our love burns eternal—a beam of light, becoming ever more golden.
On June 11, I will be offering, through Hay House live online events, a free seminar on loss and the redemptive power of love, entitled Freedom to Fall. I’ll provide details on how to register for the event later.
This post, the first in a two-part series, is an exploration of the seminar, not in content but in spirit—a personal canvas upon which I will build the course. I look forward to having you as guests on the show!
Part One: Surrender to Grief
Grieving is healing. By opening your heart to grieving, surrendering to the experience, giving it passage, you embark on journey towards feeling whole again.
In the aftermath of my son’s death, one way that I could face intense spells of grief was by going to the mirror. Standing thus, I could pour my feelings into my own reflection and be in witness of those feelings. It helped me stay with the experience and not run away. The torrent of tears and pain would soon subside, and I could gratefully rest. But there was something else about being before the mirror that truly helped: I could feel God and Chris there with me. I wasn’t alone. As I returned to bed, their compassion remained. From that time on, I always thought of Chris and God in the same breath.
In those early days, I took care of my needs in the best possible way: taking walks, resting, making wholesome meals, keeping a journal. Being in the world was hard with Chris gone, and I allowed myself the grace of small steps. Most importantly, I did not pretend. If the world was incomplete, then I could be a part of the incompleteness, not strong, but fragile. As I wrote in my journal, A mother mourning for her child is a beautiful sight. It is a reflection of the deep love. By stepping into the world openly, I encountered the kindness of strangers and safe passage through crowds—realizing again that I was not alone.
I found purpose in grieving through creative expression. Creativity in grief is cathartic. Chris’s dad made a rock garden on the hillside next to his house, complete with a waterfall. My daughter painted a portrait of Chris. I began writing a memoir. Having a meaningful project at hand gave me a reason to get up in the morning. I also found creative ways to deal with the reminder of Chris at home. For example, I put Chris’s framed pictures into a drawer until such day that I could reasonably view them. But I didn’t want to banish him from sight. He had been a rock climber and had loved the mountains with all his heart. So I collected rocks on my walks in the mountains and laid them artfully about. I also created a shrine, which included a St. Christopher medal, a statue of St. Christopher, Chris’s climbing photo album, fresh flowers, and an urn of his ashes. Months later, I tenderly set his framed photos among the relics.
Grieving the loss of my son was never one long line towards recovery. Through the years I have revisited grieving time and again. But today there is a deeper reality shining through the sadness, bringing joy. The way towards redemption—learning to keep the spirit of Chris alive—will be shared in part two, coming soon.
Excerpt from Freedom to Fall —
Sadness is a necessary part of loss. Grieving must have its day. Do not stop the tears. Allow them to freely flow. Do not turn from pain when it comes. Be with it and honor it. It will pass.
Know that this lament is not suffering, any more than winter suffers the loss of barefoot days through soft green grass. Sun-kissed crystals dangle from trees, and the white earth glistens. Honor winter, and know that spring will come. Flowers will bloom and the heart will heal. We will live and even flourish.
When my son died, I believed in the durability of love. Yet it was never a given that I could overcome loss. I had to release Chris, mustering the courage to embrace our love in the realm of the sheer airborne present.
I had been on a spiritual path for a few years, my teacher, Dawn, having opened my eyes to a higher reality, helping pave the way to receive Chris’s death. In the aftermath of his passing, I had to learn to climb the sky.
Faith and Love
On the spiritual path, climbing is a mirror image of diving. The deeper you go into the inner wellspring of life, the closer you come to God. In the midst of loss, I brought myself time and again, albeit briefly, into the sanctity of pure communion—beyond timed existence, where love never dies.
In the early days, the sense of loss was so overwhelmingly real, spiritual awareness was like sand sifting through my fingers. I tried to keep to the higher road, but couldn’t.
The beautiful thing about faith is that once it takes root, it allows you to keep on. Without faith, I would have tumbled, perhaps forever, into the past, futilely longing to reclaim what couldn’t be.
As months passed and Chris’s life on Earth receded into the distance, I pushed through uncertainty, fearing the day his spirit would also disappear and all would be lost. As months became years, I witnessed the strengthening of our soulful bond. What once was faith became faith’s rendering. God set Chris’s death before me to help me grow, opening me up to things eternal.
Excerpt from Freedom to Fall
With the coming of spring, bleak days were followed by blessed days,such divine sweetness,when the light of Heaven streamed through, and I would see with fresh eyes that Chris’s death had been purposeful….
When all of life is glad again and bursting with exuberance, the tender buds of healing can peek through. Wondrously, in the midst of tumult came a steadying sense of closeness with Chris in my heart. I could be with friends without being overwhelmed with sadness. Most significantly, for the first time, I was taking a few of Chris’s framed pictures out of the drawer where I had placed them and setting the out. Amid the pangs and birthing of spring, I created a shrine, which included pictures, a St. Christopher stature, Chris’s climbing photo album, and an urn of his ashes.
After my son died while rock climbing in Yosemite National Park, May 2003, I ventured into his world. I wanted to understand why climbing had been the heart of his life. Why would he have done something so risky that it could take him from us forever, especially since he knew I loved him so?
I learned that climbing for Chris had been an impassioned expression of a spiritual path. High up in the elements, moving across stone, Chris had felt a deep abiding connection. As his best friend, Greg, told me, “Chris climbed for the pure joy of the act itself. He was acutely aware of the ‘spirit of the mountains,’ an intuition that was obvious in his art form—that of dancing on rock.”
Entering the Rock Climbing World
In January 2004, for Chris’s birthday, Greg, his girlfriend Sarah, and I traveled to the climbing site of Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. The scene was stark: granite monoliths rising out of a sandy plain studded with the twisted, spiked Joshua trees, resembling shrunken palms. The days were an immersion in sun, wind, and rock, as I watched Greg and Sarah climb, the nights fiercely cold. As we sat around the camp fire, Greg talked about his climbing partnership with Chris. They had come of age exploring the South Platte River Basin in Colorado. “Back in those remote mountains, Chris would often say, ‘I feel at home here.’ It was quality rock, a lot of adventure, and just that sense of solitude, when you’re the only one for miles and miles….”
The loss of my son caused a fundamental shift in my approach to life. If what was most precious could be taken away, then what was life for? Why was I here? It seemed as though God was holding a vision for awakening to a truer life.
We create our lives in partnership with God. For Chris’s sake, I wanted to see what was possible to make the best of his passing. And if this experience was potentially life-changing, I wanted to step to the plate.
Losing Chris taught me what is important in life. I gave up trying to prove myself, to garner accolades or recognition. I stopped seeking life or trying to reap benefit or advantage. I settled down into the person I am, the life I have, and the little gifts that abound. I became more giving of myself. I opened up to a life founded in love.
In finding a more authentic life, I was able to keep my bond with Chris alive. The love that shone brightly for Chris also allowed me to heal. It allowed me to eventually step beyond the borders of grief to connect more deeply to life in the surroundings, to awaken to my humanity.
Losing Chris helped simplify my life. It revealed how fragile life is: hopes and dreams can shatter in an instant. It showed me what can never break. It is not God’s desire that we continue to suffer. God wants us to discover the truth about life—the gem at the center that allows us to thrive.
I once thought it would be impossible to survive the loss of a child. So after my son died, it seemed a wonderment that not only could I endure, I could learn to let him go.
There is no one who brings joy the way your own child does. You revel in the aliveness of your own child and the miracle of his being. You take pleasure in his pleasure and feel hurt when he is hurt. To lose a child is one of the most profound experiences of human life. — Freedom to Fall
A Mother’s Perspective
I have always believed that one of the highest expressions of love is letting go. I had approached motherhood that way—releasing my children a little at a time, encouraging them along the pathways of their own callings. But I couldn’t face the finality of releasing Chris to God, at least not alone. Through God’s mercy, a golden cord was forged between us stretching from Heaven to Earth, which could never be broken.
Looking back on the time of grieving the loss of my son, I feel gratitude for the experience. There will always be times of sadness, but the gains are immeasurable.
On the first day of knowing my son was gone forever, when I took to my bed with a broken heart, certain truths rose from within: Only good can come from love. Chris will be with me always. There is meaning and purpose behind his death. In the months that followed, I held onto the insights of that first day. They became my guide, my faith, my eventual resurrection.
The Road to Recovery
Grief, in those first unbearable months would come in waves. In moments of relief, I could feel Chris’s loving presence. He didn’t exist in our time anymore, but as a spirit in eternal time. Though I didn’t know if that sense could last, it was a revelation—the saving grace. I learned that my two states of awareness, that of Chris’s absence and his presence, could not exist side by side, but only in succession. Surrendering wholeheartedly to the pain of loss, allowing it passage, opened a door into God’s realm.