Trying Something New
It has been said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I acknowledge that I am getting older (my receding hairline and shades of gray that accent my beard and hair, is evidence of that), but I remain teachable as well as open to different experiences. In fact as I become older, I am more anxious to do things that I have never done previously in my life. My desire to do new things intensified in the later phase of grief following the death of my 18-year-old daughter Jeannine in 2003. My desire for new adventures in the 59th year of life was not fueled by a fear of my own mortality. I simply wanted to expand my horizons; create opportunities to learn more about my redefined self. For example, this past summer I went kayaking for the first time and earlier this week I climbed Bald Mountain, which is a 1,000-foot mountain nestled in the Adirondacks region of New York State. After I completed the climb, I reflected on the teachings from my stone –encased friend, that I believe are applicable to our grief journeys. I need to add that I climbed Bald Mountain with my friend, a more experienced hiker than me. My desire to experience adventure did not include throwing caution to the wind. With that being said, here are the teachings that I discovered:
Teaching #1: A friend in the wilderness is always a good thing
I couldn’t have climbed Bald Mountain by myself due to my lack of experience hiking in the mountains. Thankfully my friend was with me every step of the way, encouraging me when I did not want to go any further and extending a hand when I needed assistance. I have been thankful for the many supportive friends and family who encouraged me and extended their love and support to me in early grief. There were many occasions where I did not have the energy or even the willingness to take even one step on a journey which I did not willingly embrace. My support network helped me during those times when I could not help myself.
Teaching #2: Mountain climbing and mindfulness go together
My friend told me that climbing a mountain or hiking challenging terrain requires your mind and body to be totally in the present moment. He also informed me that I could easily get injured if I didn’t focus on the task at hand. Heeding his advice, I was mindful of my movements and the general terrain and made it up to the top. I expended a lot of energy, both physical and cognitive during my hike. It was to be expected because I was working my mind and body in very novel ways. In early grief, I expended a lot of energy trying to achieve mindfulness because the past memories that I had of Jeannine consistently competed for my attention to the present moment. Plus the emotional pain associated with those memories, in early grief, contributed to extreme fatigue. Today, I find myself being able to achieve mindfulness on a more consistent basis because I view my past memories of Jeannine differently. The memories that I have now energize me because of their numerous teachings that have helped inspire me the present.
Teaching #3: The clarity we achieve in grief is worth the effort it takes to get to there.
As I mentioned earlier in this piece, I expended a lot of energy to reach the summit of Bald Mountain. Below is the view that I observed.
The view was unobstructed and vast. When we embrace the intent to view the death of our children differently, the possibilities for expanding our spiritual awareness grows exponentially. We begin to achieve a clarity that represents a higher level of thought, and as vast as my view from the top of Bald Mountain. The clarity we achieve in grief is worth the effort that it takes to get there.
Teaching #4: It is easier going down the mountain than climbing up it.
On the surface, this appears to be rather obvious. I believe, however that this has a different meaning in the context of our grief journeys. On the climb up, the territory and terrain were unfamiliar to me. I approached the climb with some uncertainty; some trepidation. On the way down, I saw the path that I clearly took to reach the summit and was able to more easily negotiate the terrain. I believe that it is essential to look at where we came from; the past roads that we took. For me, every decision I made in the past contributed to the road that I have now chosen to travel. Looking behind has allowed me to look forward and embrace transformation after the death of my daughter.
Teaching #5: Embrace nature and maybe nature will embrace you.
This is another perspective of the view that I experienced:
When I looked at this picture, I noticed the tree with its branches outstretched as if to welcome me home. Native Americans believe that there is spirit in all of nature. For me ,that tree symbolized the spirit of not only my daughter Jeannine but also every parent whose story of their deceased child touched my heart and my soul. That tree and all of nature also embodies the spirit of all of our ancestors who have died before us. They continue to live in pure, unadulterated form.
The summit and nature is our true home, it is there that we can be one with the universe, for however long we choose. When we become one with nature, we become one with ourselves. We become whole in a redefined way, our children physically absent, but spiritually alive. They live through us ; within us and they guide us throughout the redefining journey that we will travel for the remainder of our lives.