“The canyon is so large that it’s size can be misleading without a frame of reference.” ~ Mike Knetemann
There will come a day, a shift, a change, a decision, a reckoning with your grief.
Although you’ll never stop missing your special person, the loss that carved your heart into the Grand Canyon will shift like sand and dirt and rocks.
You’ll climb, step by brutal step, even while for days you’ll hide from the storm in your tiny pop-up, one-man tent with only the small sterno can of memories to warm you.
You may not know your tears from the rain or a flood in the belly of the canyon.
Your person, tethered to your soul as they are, left the earth. Left you. Unbelievable. Unfathomable.
You may notice all the wrongs in the world now. Or feel as though your loss is the worst. It is. When it’s yours. When you’re in the canyon, cold, hungry, alone, without a map or a backpack.
A common, “How are you?” can pierce like a sword.
Be alone, if you need. Nobody knows this pain, the wretchedness. No, not yours. Yours is personal, brutiful, and deep with layers.
Yet, many have walked the Grand Canyon of Grief.
While I lived within its walls, I walked cemeteries to impress upon me the truth that people have been dying for a long damn time. The headstones sing their songs. Baby. Husband. Father. Daughter. Beloved.
I let the dead, and the angels I called on, witness my pain, in the canyon, in the cemetery, in the woods.
Nature kept changing her colors. My beloved departed in spring. Summer grew under my feet. Autumn painted beauty in my face, forcing me to see honeysuckle gold, granny-apple green, and red rich as Elvis velvet. Winter white seemed appropriate, although nothing was. Not anymore. Not in the canyon where I received the news.
When my beloved died, life threw me in the hole.
Survival. Even that instinct threatened to leave me. Maybe you question, too.
I offer no magical promises. No ridiculous predictions, like when my friend said, “It will take a year.” It took a year to get to one year of grieving. Then, I heard, “The second year is the hardest.”
Grief tells jokes, like the ones about getting married. Only experience teaches.
And, you don’t have to learn a damn thing if you don’t want to.
You can just do your time and come out on the other side like an ex-con returning to the game.
You can let grief take you down. Yes, people do die in the canyon. Please, my dear friend, don’t let it be you.
Think of one person you don’t want to have to walk the canyon on your behalf, because you can’t. For me, it was my sister. After my beloved died, I didn’t want to live.
I walked in circles in the canyon. I sipped water, and sometimes guzzled beer.
I communed with animals and howled like one. I curled up in fetal position and hid in small alcoves. I walked in my grief like in boots with blistered feet and a backpack full of canned goods—with no opener.
I abandoned much on my journey. You will, too.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find the waterfall, shower in it naked, and let it pummel feeling into your body. See, it’s easy to go numb in the canyon, or become disoriented.
Drink water. Keep walking. Rest when you need to.
If a man offers you a sip of whiskey, take it. If you want to. Even wanting that is desire for something other than the one thing you can’t have—your person back.
Some days, you’ll walk for miles. Others, you’ll be immovable.
Grief isn’t a race. Take your time.
The youth run ahead, desperate to escape the canyon. That was me when my brother died. And five years later, when my mother joined him. Then, I was 28.
I’ve both met and played the denier, too, drunk on illusion. I was not in the canyon—because I said so!
Wise women and men smiled.
Now, I speak to you, my grieving friend, not as one with answers, but one who’s walked much of the canyon and found no shortcuts to the switchbacks.
Grief never ends. But, the canyon? You can climb her walls.
How long will it take? I can’t say. I don’t know how deep in you are, how heavy your pack, what kind of boots you walk in, or if you have clean socks. I don’t know what kind of shape you’re in, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Grief tests them all.
I don’t know how many miles you’ll trek in a day, if you’ll enter that meditative state where you just keep moving.
I don’t know if when you become most motivated, you’ll find a side canyon and a little shack where they sell the best damn green chile cheeseburgers you ever tasted and Coca-Cola you swear is the original. You may fall in love with that tiny Indian village and convince yourself you want to live there, with them, in the canyon, forever, as an act of resolution.
Trust me, they don’t want you to stay. They’ll point you on your path.
I don’t know how long you might resist before you begin the ascent. You may stay, watch the seasons change, see how the sun rises and sets even down there, even for you, even after the death snatch.
Learn the value of water. Listen to your body. Quiet your mind.
Within despair, a golden butterfly may flitter your heart awake. An electric-blue dragonfly may perform magic.
Breathe deep, my friend. There will come a day, a reckoning, a rising.
Before this day, there may be hundreds of declarations, “This is it!” only to realize how far you have to go. Not a race. No points for arriving first. Some have to go back down.
Do what you’re there to do: grieve.
She’s yours. Born of love and loss. Grief’s your companion in the canyon. She is the canyon.
You’re human. You’ll learn the brutality of this and wish you were the golden butterfly.
Walk. Sip water. Rest. Listen to nature and your own instincts, which sharpen in the canyon like night vision.
One day, more than seeing, insisting, determining, you’ll know. The reckoning realization of how far you’ve climbed from the canyon floor will strike you like a clock strikes the hour.
You no longer belong to the canyon. You will, at an unexpected hour, and after you’ve run out of water and eaten your last apple, glimpse the rim. It’s the rim a new possibility.
11 thoughts on “How to Hike the Grand Canyon of Grief.”
One of your best. Thank you
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So appreciated, Alice. Thanks for reading, and sounding off as a fellow canyon walker.
This was very profound to me for personal reasons. I thank you so much for the thought char
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Thank you, Char. May you find comfort on your rocky path.
Char, may you find comfort on your rocky path. And thank you for commenting.
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I awakened to read this piece. Wonderful, my heart is softened. Thank you.
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Somehow I missed seeing this earlier, Alice. Words are inadequate for what I felt reading it so I will just say thank you for being open enough, honest enough, courageous enough, and gifted enough to write it.
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How lovely of you, Jan. Thank you.