When mountain climber Joe Simpson fell 150 feet into a deep, icy crevasse while descending from the peak of the Siula Grande in Peru, he found himself in a precarious situation.
A broken leg and overhanging ice prevented him from climbing up and out of the crevasse. Looking down all he saw was a black hole of nothingness.
With no one coming to save him and no way to climb out, the horrible reality dawned on him. His only hope for survival was to go down. To go deeper into the crevasse and hope for another way out.
Many of us have found ourselves in the same situation metaphorically when we lose a loved one. We find ourselves falling from our life as we knew it into a deep, icy crevasse of grief. We are alone here, broken, depleted and scared.
Some have the ability to climb out easily. For others, like myself, there is no climbing out. There is just sitting there with our broken hearts and our fear and our grief and our wailing that no one hears.
Then that moment when the horrible reality dawns on us that no one can save us from this place; that there may be no escaping this place; that there is no way out.
But there is a way in.
There is a way deeper into grief, deeper into the black hole of nothingness and fear; the last place we want to go. At first it may seem better to stay here, frozen in time and alone than to face the darkness and unknown of what's below.
I found my way into grief through my breath. My breath was the rope that I lowered myself down on. Our breath is always in the present moment, never in the future or the past. It is always in our body, never in our mind.
It helped me stay present as I navigated my way to the bottom of my grief. There I found a landing place. From that vantage point I could see a light. I could see a way through.
Choosing to go down deeper into grief, into the fear of not having the answers, of not knowing the way does not guarantee we will emerge from our grief intact and the same as when we entered.
I emerged broken, empty and forever changed but alive. Alive and learning a new way to live, to survive.
At the bottom of the crevasse Joe Simpson spotted a small opening and managed to pull himself out of it. He now faced days of crawling over dangerous, icy terrain without food or water. But he lived to tell about it.
When we share our stories of survival, our stories of courage, our stories of grief, we shine a light down into that crevasse of grief that just might light the way for someone else.
We cannot spare each other the pain of grief or the process of grief. What we can do is invite the conversation of grief out from behind closed doors. We can soften the stigma of grief by getting more comfortable with it, by not turning away from it, by not trying to fix those going through it.
We can wear our scars of grief proudly. They were earned touching the void of grief and surviving to tell about it.