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.
Eleven years ago, my son, Chris, died on a mountainside, pursuing his passion. On this anniversary day, I reflect on the blessing of his presence—God’s precious miracle.
God may take a life but never the love, which is the gist of relationship. What brings joy in another is invisible, eternal.
The light of Chris has known my grief and helped me heal. To become whole again avows our bond, while granting God’s calling.
Chris encourages me to live in essence, staying true to my vision. His voice has the tenor of life; he is a child of my heart.
I feel Chris close on his day of rebirth—in an aura of sacredness, in a spirit of celebration.
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.
I’ve expressed in a variety of posts how love allowed me to recover from the loss of my son. Here is perhaps one last post on this theme, which remains dear to my heart. These stories stand as one person’s testimony to the miracle of love, as it transcends from one realm to another.
Loss as a Journey in Faith
After my son died, I was sometimes told, “You never get over it.” But I had faith in a journey that could allow me to recover, believing that only good can come from love.
The difference between these two approaches may be illustrated by a story. My brother Bill, who is a psychologist, was working with a patient who had lost his daughter. Bill mentioned that he had a sister who lost her son and who thought of her loss as a journey. Some time elapsed, and one day the patient remarked, “Your sister saved my life. I had only thought that there was life before my daughter died and then there was life after she died. After she died was like arriving at a dead-end. There was nowhere to go from there. My life was over. It didn’t occur to me that my loss could be a journey. So thank your sister for saving my life.”
I felt humbled by my brother’s story because it had never occurred to me that I could possibly not be on a journey, and so had missed what is most important. That it is possible to step onto a path in loss and go places we have never been before, perhaps awakening onto a new dream.
We create our own realities by the beliefs and attitudes that we hold. In truth, life after profound loss is never the same. It is an experience that encompasses your entire being—mind, body, and spirit—and from that comes growth. It teaches you to appreciate the small gifts of life. It can change aspects of your character and personality. I became more authentic, less prone to want to prove myself. I simplified my life. Most especially, I learned what can’t be taken away. And therein lies the saving grace in loss.
When someone we love dies, we lose their physical presence, but the essence of that person lives on. The radiance of Chris’s smile is with me always, as a feature of his soul. And the love between us lives on, soul to soul—pure energy, a beam of light. It exists wholly, with holiness, in the moment unfolding. By letting go of what once existed but is forever gone, we can find the eternal bond. It takes a journey, one founded in faith, to arrive at this discovery.
Little by little, the light of love fills the void that loss leaves. You can become whole again. And you can know joy, in ways perhaps you haven’t known before.
For the past month I’ve been writing and preparing for a live on-line Hay House seminar. It was supposed to air June 11 but was postponed until Wednesday, July 10, 10:30 PDT. This is a free event, and I will be sending out a link later for registering. You will be able to call in with questions and comments, and I certainly encourage you to do so. This event is important to me, as it is my response to what I was given after losing my son 10 years ago. Following is the course description:
Freedom to Fall: A Spiritual Approach to Loss
This course is about loss and the redemptive power of love. It is designed to help people navigate through the loss of a loved one in the best way possible, whether the loss occurred years ago or recently. This live online event will help you come to terms with a loved one’s death, finding the courage to let go while holding onto what is truly important. By making daily shifts away from the past and into the present moment, magic can happen that engenders healing.
My book, Freedom to Fall, is the story about the death of my son in a rock climbing accident and how I was able to keep our love alive, allowing me to redeem my life. This is not a love that clings but a freeing love that is joyful.
We will explore ways of cultivating a sense of a loved one’s presence after they have died as well as ways of letting go. The two go hand in hand! In those two practices you will be promoting a deep spiritual truth: Love is eternal. You never really lose who you love. Once you develop that awareness, it is yours forever—for the giving and receiving every day.
You can begin benefiting from this dynamic approach to loss today. By learning to keep alive the bond with a loved one, you begin a process of recovery. There may always be an element of sadness for losing someone you love. After all, loss is real. But a more profound reality can emerge through practice and faith—a beam of light shining through the loss, awakening invaluable gain.
After my son died, I felt intuitively that he was still with me, would always be with me. But that sense was overshadowed by his absence, the sense of loss. The deeper sense of our enduring bond would take years to develop, through persistence and faith. Chris was there, but in order to sustain that sense from where I stood, I had to become an active partner. I had to cultivate it, to keep coming back to it, to believe in it. Most especially, I had to learn to let him go.
Keeping Chris alive occurred through many and often wondrous ways, which crisscrossed and ultimately formed a cohesive whole. Today there is deep gratitude, knowing that through God’s grace we never lose who we love.
Love Burns Eternal
From the beginning, there were simply ways of experiencing Chris without any thought or effort. He had been a lover of the natural world, and I felt him in the wind, the brilliance of autumn, rainbows, and crimson skies, knowing his spirit could be many things. I spoke to him each day, telling him how much I loved him and how proud I was that he had become one of God’s own. I would look to him for guidance and pour out my feelings. Chris comforted me daily in my sorrow, whispering, Mom, I am with you always.
I recorded memories of Chris, vignettes about growing up, and collected stories from friends, traveling to places where he had lived. Through the hearts of others, Chris came to life in ways I could not have known him otherwise, enriching my own memories. Our collective tales formed a kaleidoscope of perceptions, capturing his essence.
Though it felt wonderful to connect with Chris’s spirit, I could not have sustained it without letting him go as I had known him. I would have kept drifting back to the sense of loss as the dominant, tangible reality. It wasn’t a given that I could let him go—having raised him from infancy. You revel in the aliveness of your child and the miracle of his being. Releasing Chris, accepting his death, came in many guises over many years, in little steps and with frequent backsliding.
Letting Chris go meant the willingness to live again. To dance again, run with the wind, embrace hopes and dreams—when Chris could not. It meant admitting I still belonged to Earth, with more to learn and more to give. It meant risking our bond, for in reclaiming my life, I feared his spirit disappearing, when all would be lost.
For the first anniversary of Chris death, I journeyed to Yosemite, the place that had claimed his life. On the anniversary day, I hiked Half Dome, circling the 4000 foot giant by trail. Standing high up in the elements, in the deep ethereal blue, surrounded by the granite wonders Chris had so loved, I scattered his ashes, releasing him to God.
The ways of keeping Chris’s spirit alive are with me still. I share my visions and the news of the day. He quips clear, humorous one-liners, as he did in life. I see the calm, smiling nature shining through memory. I see him in the serendipitous way of things and in exquisite cloud formations. I feel the joyous giving and receiving of our love. Meanwhile, I keep letting go, stepping back towards life.
God never takes without giving back a hundredfold. Ten years after Chris’s passing, our love burns eternal—a beam of light, becoming ever more golden.
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….”