Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Finding Refuge From a Broken Heart

Whidbey Island 5

In the first months, grief stomps on our hearts 24 hours a day. Throughout the first year, it stabs us out of the blue repeatedly. Our hearts feel battered and heavy.

When the pulling on our hearts becomes too much, when our friends are frustrated with being unable to answer our unanswerable questions, where do we go? Where do we find refuge?

I head for the wilderness to let its wildness scare me into paying attention to something other than grief. Its immense power and grandeur drag me away from my preoccupation.

In the wilderness, I focus only on being attentive to my surroundings. There is a practical reason to do this — large animals with teeth live here. If I want to stay alive, I have to know what is moving in the forest around me, and be prepared to respond quickly. When questions and feelings of grief rise, I open them up and let the wilderness speak to them.

At dawn, I hold cold river water in my hands and splash it on my face. Coyotes trot through the meadows. Red-tailed hawks soar overhead.

On the trail, the warmth of the rising sun warms my face, then my shoulders, and eventually my back as the sun moves across the sky. The day is marked with encounters with wildlife and changing terrain, but I’m always aware of the bruised heart I carry.

At night I sometimes fear what animals are making the low, grunting sounds in the dark outside my tent. Some nights I don’t care.

Sometimes the hikes are hot and dry without any scenic views, and the day becomes a long trudge of frustration. Sometimes I see so much death in the forest, the remnants and carcasses of squirrels, deer, and birds, that I begin to think this is the reality of life, that everything is either dead or dying.

Then a yellow-bellied marmot will play hide and seek with me as I cross a talus field. Or an American dipper will fly to the rapids in front of me as I’m watching the sunset, and sing its beautiful, solitary song.

Does the wilderness pull me away from grief, or deeper in to its mystery?


  1. Since my daughter died, I increased my hiking from once a week to 3 to 5 times a week, depending on the weather and my calendar. When I hike with my inherited dog, something calms me, lets me feel like this world is going to take care of me.