Today, my son, Chris, would have turned thirty-seven.
In the morning, I bought flowers and put them in a vase that Chris had given. Later, I stepped out for a walk, a glorious January day—windswept and brilliant.
On the walk I talked with Chris, feeling sublimely his presence. I told him that I was on the cusp of change, ready for a new life that would last until the end.
The breeze whispered, it’s time to let go of plans, ambition, and predictability to embrace life’s boundlessness. Time to step boldly into the unknown and be present for when guidance comes—to lay aside grievances and predilections, responding to what is given.
I thought about Chris in life: his courage, the gentleness and bigness of his love, the setting aside of “should” and shouldn’t” to pursue his dream.
I considered what I’ve always wanted. When may anticipation or expectation disappear, leaving behind life’s essence?
Surrounded by a January beauty I couldn’t contain, I heard: It’s yours for the taking, with only this moment as ground.
Happy birthday, Chris. Though you live beyond reach, your presence abounds.
Chris died in a rock climbing accident in Yosemite National Park in 2003. The following is an excerpt from my book, Freedom to Fall.
“I am going to live the free life,” Chris told friends on his last trip. He was an outdoorsman. He recognized his passion and pursued it. He knew he had what it takes. He lived simply, without fanfare. He revered nature. He was keenly observant.
Chris also meant that he was going to live life without a scheme. His life was going to be open-ended. He would go wherever life took him and partake fully in the offerings.
When Chris came to me on the second day after his death, he showed me that there are no divisions—not between life and death, being and doing, old and young. He showed me his truth. He showed me he was One.
I am going to live the free life. He meant he was going to live life without walls, in the fullness of light. He was at home in himself and at peace with the world.
On May 31, 2003, my son died in a rock climbing accident in Yosemite National Park. He was twenty-five.
After Chris died, I created a manuscript about his life, which included many poems. Later, the manuscript was culled into a book without poems. In remembrance, for the 11th anniversary of Chris’s fall, I am sharing a few of the poems.
Love’s Angel expresses the sense of Chris’s freedom following death. Growing Up and Reverie cast light on his character and love of life. The final unnamed poem reflects on my experience of loss as a whole.
Chris is Love’s angel,
such wealth untold;
I feel his sparkling Presence—
stardust turned to gold.
Love is not earth’s servant—
rather rapture on the wing.
Love flames mortal hearts,
then soars to hear seraphs sing.
Angels flit among us
like shining shafts of light—
Some linger but a moment,
then spiral into flight.
to Love’s sweet home.
I’ll know you by the ash
you hail from heaven’s dome.
Chris grew up and up,
an unwieldy clatter of bones
ahead of himself.
He was the tallest kid in class.
While playmates tilted
to tease or taunt,
he tied knots in their shoes,
and learned to laugh at himself.
At six foot five the kid settled in—
a slick, swift, lanky
gem of a guy,
though they say he couldn’t dance!
When others cracked up,
he’d jazz it up,
bobbing above the crowd.
Goofy or graceful, it was all the same.
Chris rolled with the rhythm of life.
Chris danced the elfin jig
under a crescent moon.
He leaped to touch the arc
of a rainbowed afternoon.
Live your life, forget the strife,
Whirl and twirl; be free!
The wind is heckling clouds,
and the sun glitters glee.
Chris juggled feathers
strewn by wayward flocks.
He gazed on nature’s splendor,
whistling on the rocks.
Laugh and play your nimble days,
tread lightly on the earth.
Rain is clapping; trees are sapping—
My love is full of mirth.
Loss is loss of pleasure—
the pleasure of a tantalizing smile.
But what is loss compared to love,
when love is all the good worthwhile?
Through faith, miracles work
to rouse the tender twinge to wing.
Through loss I probe that deeper well
to tap the silent mystic spring.
When Chris was 14, he discovered rock climbing. His brave journey as a rock climber and my climb from despair after he died come to life in the book Freedom to Fall. To order a copy, click on the appropriate link above.
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.
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.
Though I’ve kept up this blog for a while now, I feel led to bring you all into me – into my life and my story. I’ve recently published a book titled Freedom to Fall, which chronicles my journey to healing after losing my son Chris. This is me.
I am beginning work to publicize the book and share my story with whomever will find it. Here’s to new beginnings.
Taking a Step Back – My Story
Born and raised in Louisiana, I followed my heart to Colorado, where I attended the University of Colorado and pursued a career in Special Education. After marrying and moving to the mountains to raise a family, I discovered a calling as a storyteller, performing original stories as well as myths and legend from world cultures. Ultimately, I divorced, and after my two children left home, I made my way down the mountains, landing in Denver around the turn of the century. Then in 2003, something happened that changed my life.
In May of that year my daughter, Kate, who was in college, had come home for the summer. Chris was rock climbing in Yosemite National Park. On June 1 we were awakened in the night with the news that Chris had been in climbing accident and was dead.
The devastation and shock of that summer was soothed by the presence of my daughter and by an abiding faith. I knew intuitively that Chris was still with me and always would be. I felt there was meaning behind his passing. I wrote every day about the raw emotion of grief coupled with whatever insights came. Those journal notes became the basis for Freedom to Fall, which I began that autumn.
The book chronicles my journey through the first two years of grieving, along with a portrayal of my son in a way that captures his spirit. Just as all people have special qualities and gifts, I felt that Chris, for his 25 years of living, had much to offer in the way he loved life.
The hard times of those first two years were also times of hope and redemption. I discovered the healing power of love. I did not think that my life was over. I knew that I would fully live again, and through that belief, found my way.
Writing the book was cathartic, and the blessing was in realizing that the book could be an inspiration and comfort to others. Today, ten years after Chris’s death, I am standing on solid ground. Of course I miss my son, but we have a relationship that endures. He is my angel in Heaven.
I choose to write a blog to communicate with like-minded people. In these times when families are often spread out and neighbors may be strangers, I can’t think of a more uplifting way to establish community than through the simply act of sharing stories and ideas through writing. I write first thing every morning; it is the mainstay of my life, and I look forward to making connections.