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.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Finding Refuge From a Broken Heart

Whidbey Island 5

In the first months after a death, grief stomps on our hearts 24 hours a day. Throughout the first year, it repeatedly stabs us out of the blue, and 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. Nature's immense power and grandeur do a dandy job of dragging me away from my preoccupations because I know that 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 let nature speak to them.

At dawn, I scoop river's ice-cold water in my hands and splash it on my face. Coyotes trot through the meadows in front of me. 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 both my bruised heart and the wonder around me.

At night I sometimes fear what animal is 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 animals and birds, that I begin to think that this is the reality of life, that everything is either dead or dying.

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

Does the wilderness pull me away from grief, or deeper into 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.