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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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Courage In the Wilderness

Dark Night 2 of 4: Weaving the Shadows Together

Brené Brown, in her book Braving the Wilderness, writes: “The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”
For me, the wilderness of grief was paired with the wilderness of Yosemite because I went there after my wife died. There, in the solitude of nature, as the noise and rush of city life faded away, I could hear what grief was trying to tell me.

As I hiked alone, I knew that I was in a place I didn’t control, and even though I prepared as well as I could to deal with accidents, changes in the weather, mountain lions and bears, nature had its own set of rules. Every time a stick cracked, I was on edge, not knowing what creature might be getting ready to attack. I figured that if an animal was heavy enough to break a stick, then it certainly had big teeth and was enormously hungry. Yet the stunning beauty around me was leaving me in awe that such landscape could exist. I wanted to see more and wasn’t going to give this up just because of my fears, irrational or prudent.

I hiked alone not because I felt isolated because I was grieving, which I did, but because I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to hike 12 hours a day. Then I discovered that I liked the solitude of the trail. I could move at my own pace, spend as much time as I wanted sitting and watching the land and its creatures go about their daily lives. There were no conversations to distract me from listening to nature. As the Ahwahnechees and John Muir discovered before me, the wilderness felt like a sacred place, and it felt like home.

When grief sets us down in a wilderness we don’t know, we’re neither aware of the dangers nor of the beauty that we might encounter. Yet we fear the unknown because we’ve read too many tragic stories of those who lost their way on this path, and our imaginations go into overdrive. It is hard to stand in the wilderness and let ourselves be vulnerable to its reality.

When we face our fears and head into the wilderness, whether this is nature’s wilderness, or returning to school at age 50 to study for what we’ve always wanted to do, or standing up to our boss who is making a morally wrong decision, we find resources and strengths we weren’t sure we had.

Grief sets us down in a dark wilderness we don’t know. We cannot see where we are and we hear animals and the wind moving around us. Mystics would use this time of darkness to move closer to God. The rest of us take this raw material and form our new lives. When we are creative with grief and express our experiences in words, music, or art, then we take control of the narrative.

The wilderness accepts us as we are. I am at home when I’m sitting on the side of a mountain and looking at a hundred miles of wilderness. I feel the Presence that holds the wonder and chaos of this world together. As I explore the wilderness inside me, I discover hard truths about myself and learn how to soften the rough edges and how to trust my heart more.

It takes courage to face our fears and hike into grief’s wilderness. It takes bravery to set out each day in a new direction not knowing what dangers we might face or what will happen to us. The trails through grief’s wilderness are indistinct, sometimes I think on purpose, because they force us to take risks, step outside our comfort zone, and search an unknown path.

When we stand next to each other in grief, and help each other not drift into oblivion, we find kinship and create hope. The wilderness around us reveals the beauty of what it means to be alive.

What is the wilderness that you fear?



Dark Night One – Tim Farrington. Shattered Illusions

Dark Night Two – Brené Brown. Weaving the Shadows Together

Dark Night Three – Kathleen Norris. Losing Our Sandals

Dark Night Four – Mirabai Starr. Integrating Our Loss

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