Today marks the 13th anniversary of my son’s passing. He died while rock climbing in Yosemite National Park when he was twenty-five.
I remember the year leading up to Chris’s death. Beneath all consciousness, the mystery appeared to prevail. He had visited relatives across the country and had collected his belongings from others. The weekend before leaving for Yosemite, he visited with old friends at the martial arts school that had helped him grow up. Those who saw Chris that year recall his joy, peace, and love.
Looking back, it’s as though, even as Chris lived with all his heart, the Earth couldn’t hold him. He was two when, on the eve of the birth of my daughter, he discovered stars. It seemed in that moment that a light went on inside him, which throughout life grew ever brighter. As I wrote in the book Freedom To Fall: I thought that Chris, if given the chance, would not go back and do anything differently. From the earliest age, he was always breaking out into new territory, new heights, new vistas—new realms of freedom. You could cherish Chris, but you couldn’t contain him….
I take comfort in knowing that Chris is where he is supposed to be. I know not what he is up to, how he serves God. Only that the love we had is the love we have and the love we will always have. The saving grace in loss is the soul’s endurance.
Chris was a shining example to many whose paths he crossed. May this day be a reminder that he is with us still, even as his journey (and ours) continue on.
Communicate with Carol or order a book via her website, morningsongbooks.com.
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.
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.