Today is Chris’s birthday. He would have been 38. Our love remains, a golden thread spanning the ages.
Chris journeys through the sheer glow of Heaven. A rock climber in life, he now climbs unbound.
Happy birthday, dear son. I feel your humble spirit and the holy heights that beckon. May you drink from streams of milk and honey and be garlanded with stardust. You have my heart, today and always.
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.
In the winter of 2005, a friend was vacationing on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. He implored me to come, saying that I would be enchanted.
It was a life-changing week. Under the sway of sea breeze and tropical light, deep feelings surfaced and a marvelous healing. My son had died less than two years before. I want to live here, I thought, and vowed to come back.
That spring I returned to look for land. Another friend suggested the Central Valley, where it is cooler, mountainous and lush. He knew of a cabdriver who would take me around.
Each morning Mamo, the cabdriver, picked me up and away we would go, driving the back roads of the Central Valley, looking for property, knocking on doors. I bought farmland in the agricultural belt above the sweet highland town of Atenas.
The soil, planted in peanuts, breathed a rich reddish hue and sloped gently down toward tree-dotted fields disappearing into velvety green mountains—wide open country. Standing on the land, my heart opened up. I returned that summer to begin building a house.
In those early years of loss, while the field was being cultivated into a garden, I could feel Chris’s presence in an almost tangible way, as if he had led me there. The heavenly light of the tropics and a profound sense of peace pervaded my home. I sought a local sculptor to carve an angel in Chris’s likeness.
Seven years have passed since first stepping foot on land that promised a home. Today I was feeling a little sad, seeing how the garden, though glorious, has grown up, the treetops partly concealing the mountain vista, the peanut plants long gone. And there is development—street lights along the rustic road…. I thought, How in the world can you complain? But I sensed there was something else going on, as in, All of life is in flux, constantly changing.
The early years of loss was a magnificent time, in a way. There were years in healing; there is no description for a mother’s broken heart. But so dear and precious, so divinely inspired, as if God was right there with me. In the depth of my grief, I found Costa Rica. And suddenly, looking around at the garden, I was faced with remembrance, realizing life had moved on. An era had ended, the new one not yet defined. The feeling of peace still pervades, yet something has changed. Was I grieving the loss of those magical, albeit painful years, when an invisible thread connected me to Heaven?
I wonder where the new life leads. I have a precious daughter, the light of my world. There are cherished friends. Beyond that, it seems more to do with a mystical path. I dream of a golden life for the golden years.
This morning, before the sun peaked above the mountains, in the cool, fragrant air, I was having an animated discussion with my gardener, when I began listening to the pure music of his voice and native tongue. For a moment, I stood, utterly spellbound. Therein lies the path, I thought later.
Often I hear my son speaking to me, in the way he spoke in life, simple observations accompanied by that little chuckle. Mom, it’s easier than you think. It’s just little things that make up a good life. You don’t have to figure things out or even have a plan. You just have to be present for the unfolding.
Freedom to Fall is a book about the life of my son as a rock climber intertwined with my life as a bereaved mom. To read more about it or to order a copy, click on the appropriate link above.
If I could be in Heaven, looking down, I would see more clearly the importance of making every effort—for the sake of Spirit. In giving expression to Spirit, life gains grace. In truth it is who we are, our very essence and soul!
There is no finer task than keeping Spirit alive in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. While nurturing forth Spirit while there’s still breath, I prepare for flight to Heaven. When I get there, I’ll smile deeply, seeing just how important that really was, for the newly burnished quality of my soul.
Spirit isn’t concerned with circumstance so much as wanting to participate, to come forward from underneath the rubble of distraction. It is often the something lacking, when we wonder what’s amiss. Its ethereal quality can make it easy to forget, yet there it is—that which finds the silver lining and humor in disaster, goes the extra yard—and sparks forgiveness.
Spirit is a loyal friend, no matter life’s conditions, content to ride the wave of experience. In awakening it from slumber, we enliven the will to live. In keeping front and center the only thing that matters, we transcend space and time.
Conditions may wash over me. After all, tidal waves are real! But I can accept life with grace, knowing this precious anima is always here to serve. Let me rise time and again, in the face of difficulty or hard times, with enthusiasm, encouragement and steadfastness—with joy and love.
When I’m in Heaven, looking down, I’ll smile deeply, knowing that I took God at his word when He gave me life.
Excerpt from Freedom To Fall
There is something beautiful asleep inside of me. I’m given a lifetime to wake it up. To awaken the kernel of beauty, I must free the reins of resistance and surrender to the Way of things—as each moment comes to light and passes on. Otherwise, I will never get over Chris dying. I will miss the joy of wonder, never know the dawn.
There is something here for all of us, something to overcome. Chris didn’t plan to die young, but he sensed he would. He would never see tigers in the wild. There were mountains he would never climb and races he would never win. He wouldn’t grow old with people he loved. He could have clung to sorrow. Instead he chose to live.
Tomorrow lightning may strike. It matters not that the tree lives a thousand years and the moth a single day. What matters is waking up.
To order a copy of Freedom to Fall, click on the appropriate link above.
Today I want to share the link to register for my free on-line event on July 10, 10:30, pacific time. If you can’t listen in then, it will be available for free until July 31. Just go to Hay House radio and to the title of my event: Freedom to Fall: A Spiritual Approach to Loss.
However, I encourage you to register for the live event, as it will involve interaction with listeners. You’ll be able to send in questions, and I’ll respond vocally on the show.
I am deeply grateful for being able to share my story for this seminar. I’ve always envisioned a day when I would be able to share with others my experience of loss, the journey it entailed, and the miracle of reclaiming the true bond with my son and my life. In putting together this program, I’ve come up with practices and insights to help encourage this journey in you. It can be the journey of a lifetime. It can change your life and in some cases, save your life.
Here is the link for purchasing a free on-line ticket that allows you to listen in:
I look forward to having you as guests on the program!
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.
When my son died, I believed in the durability of love. Yet it was never a given that I could overcome loss. I had to release Chris, mustering the courage to embrace our love in the realm of the sheer airborne present.
I had been on a spiritual path for a few years, my teacher, Dawn, having opened my eyes to a higher reality, helping pave the way to receive Chris’s death. In the aftermath of his passing, I had to learn to climb the sky.
Faith and Love
On the spiritual path, climbing is a mirror image of diving. The deeper you go into the inner wellspring of life, the closer you come to God. In the midst of loss, I brought myself time and again, albeit briefly, into the sanctity of pure communion—beyond timed existence, where love never dies.
In the early days, the sense of loss was so overwhelmingly real, spiritual awareness was like sand sifting through my fingers. I tried to keep to the higher road, but couldn’t.
The beautiful thing about faith is that once it takes root, it allows you to keep on. Without faith, I would have tumbled, perhaps forever, into the past, futilely longing to reclaim what couldn’t be.
As months passed and Chris’s life on Earth receded into the distance, I pushed through uncertainty, fearing the day his spirit would also disappear and all would be lost. As months became years, I witnessed the strengthening of our soulful bond. What once was faith became faith’s rendering. God set Chris’s death before me to help me grow, opening me up to things eternal.
Excerpt from Freedom to Fall
With the coming of spring, bleak days were followed by blessed days,such divine sweetness,when the light of Heaven streamed through, and I would see with fresh eyes that Chris’s death had been purposeful….
When all of life is glad again and bursting with exuberance, the tender buds of healing can peek through. Wondrously, in the midst of tumult came a steadying sense of closeness with Chris in my heart. I could be with friends without being overwhelmed with sadness. Most significantly, for the first time, I was taking a few of Chris’s framed pictures out of the drawer where I had placed them and setting the out. Amid the pangs and birthing of spring, I created a shrine, which included pictures, a St. Christopher stature, Chris’s climbing photo album, and an urn of his ashes.
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.
Looking back on the time of grieving the loss of my son, I feel gratitude for the experience. There will always be times of sadness, but the gains are immeasurable.
On the first day of knowing my son was gone forever, when I took to my bed with a broken heart, certain truths rose from within: Only good can come from love. Chris will be with me always. There is meaning and purpose behind his death. In the months that followed, I held onto the insights of that first day. They became my guide, my faith, my eventual resurrection.
The Road to Recovery
Grief, in those first unbearable months would come in waves. In moments of relief, I could feel Chris’s loving presence. He didn’t exist in our time anymore, but as a spirit in eternal time. Though I didn’t know if that sense could last, it was a revelation—the saving grace. I learned that my two states of awareness, that of Chris’s absence and his presence, could not exist side by side, but only in succession. Surrendering wholeheartedly to the pain of loss, allowing it passage, opened a door into God’s realm.
Though I’ve kept up this blog for a while now, I feel led to bring you all into me – into my life and my story. I’ve recently published a book titled Freedom to Fall, which chronicles my journey to healing after losing my son Chris. This is me.
I am beginning work to publicize the book and share my story with whomever will find it. Here’s to new beginnings.
Taking a Step Back – My Story
Born and raised in Louisiana, I followed my heart to Colorado, where I attended the University of Colorado and pursued a career in Special Education. After marrying and moving to the mountains to raise a family, I discovered a calling as a storyteller, performing original stories as well as myths and legend from world cultures. Ultimately, I divorced, and after my two children left home, I made my way down the mountains, landing in Denver around the turn of the century. Then in 2003, something happened that changed my life.
In May of that year my daughter, Kate, who was in college, had come home for the summer. Chris was rock climbing in Yosemite National Park. On June 1 we were awakened in the night with the news that Chris had been in climbing accident and was dead.
The devastation and shock of that summer was soothed by the presence of my daughter and by an abiding faith. I knew intuitively that Chris was still with me and always would be. I felt there was meaning behind his passing. I wrote every day about the raw emotion of grief coupled with whatever insights came. Those journal notes became the basis for Freedom to Fall, which I began that autumn.
The book chronicles my journey through the first two years of grieving, along with a portrayal of my son in a way that captures his spirit. Just as all people have special qualities and gifts, I felt that Chris, for his 25 years of living, had much to offer in the way he loved life.
The hard times of those first two years were also times of hope and redemption. I discovered the healing power of love. I did not think that my life was over. I knew that I would fully live again, and through that belief, found my way.
Writing the book was cathartic, and the blessing was in realizing that the book could be an inspiration and comfort to others. Today, ten years after Chris’s death, I am standing on solid ground. Of course I miss my son, but we have a relationship that endures. He is my angel in Heaven.
I choose to write a blog to communicate with like-minded people. In these times when families are often spread out and neighbors may be strangers, I can’t think of a more uplifting way to establish community than through the simply act of sharing stories and ideas through writing. I write first thing every morning; it is the mainstay of my life, and I look forward to making connections.