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.
Forgiveness sparks the soul—
when, in surrender,
I find strength to freely give
the love that God has given.
Love is for giving,
unencumbered by condition—
rendering blessed peace,
relief from stirring hunger.
May we truly spend this life,
with time still left to wonder
how forgiveness, humbly—
inspires the soul from slumber.
Turning from Presence, the path fades away—
until remembering, I follow,
intuiting how and where to step.
The wellspring rings eternal, finding entrance
as I peer through the entanglement—
to the radiance of fertile ground.
Presence lights the Way for eyes just awakened—
through the rowdy playing field,
up the still silence of Heaven.
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.
It started with a robbery in my Costa Rican home. The swimming pool worker called me outside saying, “Have you seen or heard anyone?” “When?” “Ahorita” (now)! A minute later we were walking together down to the garage, hidden from the house by the garden, where he showed me his open backpack and empty wallet. He’d been robbed. By the time I reentered the house, my purse had been opened, my money gone. So that was the beginning of an interesting week, stressful goings-on interspersed with bright moments.
On the 3th day of the week, I fired my gardener after the demise of a few beloved plants, and Fernando, a humble, lively campesino, agreed to be my new gardener. (As an aside, the tropical garden, in its tenacious, jungle-like growth, overreaches my abilities, not to mention the complex relationship between flora and insects, especially ants. Ubiquitous and among the more intriguing are leafcutter ants, which march off with razor-sharp slices of leaves, as if donning sombreros, leaving behind long trails through the grass.)
On the 5th day, in the same breath as the big sigh of contentment for water shimmering in the pool again, after a month long repair, the pool and irrigation pumps broke simultaneously. No big deal except that the pool guy left town; with the end of the rainy season, the irrigation guy is too busy; I’m leaving for Colorado, and vacationers are arriving in swim suits. (Before you blink incredulously, as in Oh please! please hear me out.)
What I’m building up to is how God puts things in our way purposefully and constantly for our discernment. On the 6th day I awakened, looked around, and thought, Life is where you put your focus.
I thought about how I take little thing to heart and—shall I say it?—turn them into big things. I thought about how much more important the blessing of life is than the events. How just about everything is transitory: If you need a change, wait ten minutes. And how the one thing not fleeting is the one thing to live for: to taste eternity while you live—to feel alive in the moment and to trust that when you surrender, you will be supported, knowing that God knows you better than you know yourself.
Fernando, my new gardener, lives right around the corner. When I had asked him to work for me, he lit up. He could keep an eye on his cows across the way while gardening. He could come and go as he pleased. He could literally “brincar” (hop) from his house to mine. “I should have hired you a long time ago,” I told him, feeling equally pleased. “But now is the time!” he said, suggesting that everything is as it should be.
On the 7th day, I told God that I was ready to make good on the promise to live in His light, adding “as I can,” just in case…. But truly something within had settled, as if a sunbeam had broken through, awakening trust.
I was sitting down to breakfast when a large, colorful form moving about in the berry tree caught my eye. It was a toucan, scooping up red berries by the beakful— a sight I had not witnessed before on my property. That’s it! I thought. Life really is what you choose to pay attention to. And it was as though God were right there, winking at me. I tucked the experience into a place where special memories are kept, as an omen of good things to come.
Living from the wellspring of the soul requires standing still—to know the truth of its resonance and wisdom.
The soul is a wayfarer, bearing witness to experience, gently whispering: Give life passage, living the freedom of love, holding the crossings of paths in light.
In stillness, the soul lifts into awakening. Through life’s fleeting nature, we traverse as one, standing our ground in God.
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 have embraced this life with all my heart, explored the breath of Earth, and still I long for more. The world has not bequeathed awareness of my Creator.
But from a precipice of crystalline panorama, wisps of cloud have caught my eye through shards of rainbow color, beyond Earth’s reckoning.
Before my mind can ponder, I leave this temporal sphere to soar, whereupon God, with sparkling laughter, catches me into the deep, buoyant net of Heaven. Home in Thee, my Lord; faith has no bounds!
Alone, I climb to Earth’s far edge and leap to pristine wonderment—until together we ascend, praising God as One.
To order a copy of my book, Freedom to Fall, the story of a son who lived without compromise and died following his dreams, click on the appropriate link above.
To walk the Path, one only needs to keep returning to the heart, free of complication and deliberation. To walk the Path is to allow life to be what it is: to be in this world but not of it.
There is a trail lined with dew-jeweled blossoms, the laughter of children in the distance. How do we reclaim innocence, away from the madding crowd? How do we walk with God and keep on returning as life pulls this way and that?
Today as I awakened, I heard: When the mind is troubled, keep to the heart. It leads you true. There is no calculation there, no clutter. The path is free and easy.
I came to this after a stormy night in which I had things to say to God for life’s plight. God, in His Mercy, did not even blink at my grievances. As long as words are sincerely spoken, God receives with infinite Grace. Just before retiring to bed, I asked for a sign that He had heard.
A light heart is good heart, as the sweet breath of earth after a torrential rain. Upon awakening, I felt the rejuvenation that only God can give. If God understands your heart, then you can be confident— through the morass, the snares, and ego’s sway—that the path opens again, pure and sweet with the morning sun. It’s always there. You only have to remember.
To read about my book, Freedom To Fall, click on the link, Morning Song Books.
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.
After a lengthy preparation for my on-line seminar last week, it’s nice to be back blogging again. The seminar was about loss as a spiritual journey. But that fits into a bigger framework of life itself being a journey, one step at a time.
It’s always nice when you reach a place where you can look back on where you have been, maybe what lies ahead—a place of perspective, those special times when something has been resolved, completed, or there is more clarity. But that can be short-lived. Something else comes up, and then there you are, in the thick of it again, not knowing at times quite how to respond or what is emerging.
The Journey One Step at a Time
I love the idea of one step at a time and allowing God to lead—especially when emotions rise to surface or the mind becomes murky. I believe that everything happens for a reason. And if you are like me, sometimes the challenges are hard. God never gives us more than what we are capable of, and if we listen to what God is saying, the way is at hand and usually gentle. We rarely, if ever, have to accomplish a spiritual or emotional task all at once. Truly, God will take us by the hand and present many situations, with room to falter. The same lessons can be learned more deeply over a lifetime.
The main thing is to keep stepping, to be an active participant in life, in Partnership with God. God’s voice comes through the moment, arising from within and also from the world around us. God cannot help us, if we don’t listen and respond. When we miss an opportunity, it’s gone. But another one will come along.
No matter how hard the road can be at times, the stepping stones are there. Each step of the way, life opens up. Any problem usually comes from looking too far ahead or assuming where the path leads. What lies ahead on the spiritual journey is quite different from what I expect. That is, the result of following through with this challenge or that and what I learn from it is something I couldn’t have imagined.
I just love the journey, the fact that we can have a journey. That there is always a way to respond to situations that present themselves and expand awareness within ourselves. When there is struggle, I’ll often hear, Don’t give up and other words of encouragement. Lately it seems that I’m coming to a place where the more difficult tests are behind me. Or perhaps it’s only a temporary reprieve. We just don’t know what lies ahead, even though goals help guide. We don’t know the gifts that will be revealed along the way or the nature of having arrived somewhere on the spiritual map. It is a process of discovery, a true adventure!
Excerpt from Freedom to Fall:
Every instant is a possibility, every second a potential, until I respond. Wherever I step, potential becomes reality, the substance of my life.
I can live for yesterday and tomorrow, and that will be my fate. I can release the past without grasping for the future, and that will be my fate. Either way it is a life of my own choosing. I can keep to the path of familiarity, leading nowhere, or I can step to the brink, overlooking the abyss.
How can I choose to live with no knowledge of where I’m headed? What anchors me if not my memories and expectations? I listen. Step this way, now that, trusting the voice within. Leaving behind old themes, I begin to slip into sync.
To follow fate is to recognize that you cannot direct your life. No matter how hard you try, life eludes. You can stop where you are, settling in, or you can keep going, listening and stepping. You have to be willing. You have to be strong and brave. You can’t afford to lose another moment. To strive is meaningless. It is rather the absence of striving and the simple act of living that way.
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!
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.
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.