I’ll be the first to admit that I am an outdoor kind of girl. I enjoy the warmth of the sun and the wind on my face while biking or running. Hiking in nature brings me a real sense of God’s presence, whether in an open field or along a mountain path. My husband Trent and I were active nature enthusiasts before he died and I’m delighted his legacy lives on in our daughters.
I will also be the first to admit that following Trent’s death 22 years ago, nature — and life itself for that matter — turned harsh and cold — a veritable wilderness. Grief, I’ve found, can be like a wilderness stretched out before us with crooked paths traversing a vast emptiness and dark secret places where pain can hide.
I went from hiking two by two on a sunlit path to limping alone in the darkness. And in this wilderness of mine it seemed there was little, and sometimes no light among the trees and brush. The darkness brought with it a despair that resembled a heavy burden almost too difficult to bear.
And all the while as friends and family beckoned me with their consoling words, “Life goes on,” and “You’re strong, you’ll survive,” I realized no matter how I struggled, I couldn’t leave the path through grief’s wilderness that Trent’s death had set me on.
Initially I was so overwhelmed by the empty space Trent’s death left in my life that I had no vision of what the future might hold for my little family. Nor did I care. But my two sweet daughters reminded me daily that even in deep sadness life was for the living.
So I traversed my path through the dark nights, stopping here and there to face whatever challenge or decision I encountered. Many times my days were so dark that the only thing I could do was follow my heart. But eventually I began to discover treasures in the wilderness. Though I made mistakes along the way, each decision I did make showed me that I could create a life that was livable without Trent. I had tapped an inner strength that I never realized I possessed.
The torrent of tears I wept over my family’s loss forged rivulets along my path, exhausting me along the way. But in time I uncovered another treasure as I learned that my lamenting proved not only a physical release of tension and sadness, but a spiritual release as well. I cry now with gratitude and grace.
And after much more difficult grief work, I began to see other challenges — startling me like so many frightening noises in the dark, such as navigating as a single in a couple’s world, finding assistance with chores I was unable to complete and even meeting new friends — become for me precious signs of life as I limped out of the woods back into the light.
And as I became warmed by the light, I began to discover a new purpose for my life. Second only to my cherished role as single mom came my desire to reach out to others in grief. The ministry for widows and others in grief I have become part of is truly a treasure of the wilderness to me.
In grief we may travel through a wilderness where the pain of loss is very real and the emptiness vast. Hope may seem lost for a time. But as we move in the darkness, feeling our way as best we can, dapples of hope light our way toward healing. And those treasures we come to discover along our journey are those things that build for us a new life where we can once again find purpose and joy.
One of Trent’s favorite authors, J.R.R. Tolkien, once penned, “You can only come to the morning through the shadows.” Truer words cannot be found about grief and its dark path toward hope and healing. And eventually, life once again becomes a treasure — different, yes, but a treasure none-the-less.
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