Editor's note: This article first appeared in the February issue of The Mennonite, and is republished here with permission. The late Chloe Weaver, daughter of Cindy and Herm Weaver, was a participant in Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS), a program of Mennonite Mission Network, in Alamosa, Colorado.
It was early afternoon on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010, when the world stopped. Cindy had just returned from getting a few things at the grocery store when our pastor's car came up the drive. Herm was on an airplane. His phone exploded with texts and voice mails as it landed. There had been a hit-and-run bike accident, and Chloe, our beautiful, 20-year-old daughter who was in Mennonite Voluntary Service and whose joy was blossoming in the San Luis Valley in southwestern Colorado, had died instantly.
We both struggled to comprehend what we were being told. Cindy had to tell our 15-year-old son, Dillon. They desperately held each other as they cried. Herm slumped over in his plane seat as it taxied toward the gate, shaking with sobs. When we finally met, there were no words. Still aren't. We drove as fast as possible for an hour and a half to tell our oldest daughter, Hope. We didn't want her to find out on Facebook or by text. Remembering the depth of these moments and many, many more reminds us of the reality of our brokenness. Herm's first quote to Mennonite journalists later was, "It is an unspeakable loss, only matched by the unspeakable gift of being Chloe's dad."
Learning to live with the brokenness has been a journey we have been on for more than nine years. It is especially complicated when there is so much beauty and blessing in the middle of the brokenness. How can we live honestly with both brokenness and blessing? This has been our quest.
Scripture reminds us, "So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us" (Hebrews 12:1, The Voice). We seldom speak about those who surround us, this enormous cloud of witnesses who have gone on before, seldom acknowledge their presence among us, and seldom seek to be in relationship with them. Since Chloe's accident, we have sought to reestablish our relationship with her. She is often present with us. This is no accident; we have sought to be in relationship with Chloe and have decided not to be afraid of things we don't fully understand or can't explain. It is an enormous gift.
One of the reasons we hold grief, anxiety and stress in our bodies is that we are trying to navigate our experience of loss in a way that is acceptable to those around us. We feel our friends and family wanting us to heal, wanting to help us heal and be happy again, and so we hide, hold the grief inside, and it takes up residence in our bodies. Any grieving we do is done in the closet, where no one will see, or we ignore it all together. It feels easier that way. We say yes when our bodies are screaming no. How happy our people are when we accept social invitations. Yet often we are not telling the truth, and it erodes us even more, diminishing the chance for any healing at all.
We didn't answer phone calls, we deleted e-mails, and did not return text messages. We declined invitations to grief groups, though others said it would be helpful. We turned down or off the voices that told us who to be, what to believe, and how to live.
All these ideas are helpful, but not until all the moments of grief are felt. Life had to stop and bring us into a place where no feeling or experience was off limits. That is the gift of the woods.
Cindy began the journey to the woods first. She found a spot among three Aspen trees and lay down on the earth, her back against the dirt, then broke down and wept, feeling shattered. She returned to that place again and again and allowed anything to happen among those three trees — any emotion, any ranting, crying or silence, any laughter, joy or peace. She allowed anything to happen there, as long as it was genuine. It was in the woods she first heard Chloe's gentle whisper, and a new relationship began.
Cindy gathered wild sage in the forest and burned it, experiencing the cleansing power of this ancient plant. The two of us climbed mountains and sat by rivers. The healing power of nature permeated our lives, and we craved more of these experiences, eager to see how nature could become our wise guide and healer. We lay on the earth, poured out our grief, splashed in the river, hiked above the tree line, and sought Chloe.
Along with the Spirit and family and friends, the earth has been our primary healer. We are not through healing, but we are much better. We have made peace with the reality that healing is a lifelong journey we are all on. It does not require the loss of a daughter to be on a healing journey; we all have losses and all experience many challenges. We are embracing and reveling in this healing journey.
We touch the water, feel its life, and watch as it finds its way, listen as it sings through all the vicissitudes of its travels. Whether it is roaring during the snowmelt in the spring or trickling in late fall, the water finds its way and always sings. But even as the river journeys, it often has small side pools where the water rests. Learning from the water and letting it touch us, both literally and figuratively, has brought healing to our bodies.
We lie on the earth, breathe, sink deeper into its arms, feel the immense support it offers. The air connects us with the Spirit and encourages us to walk through the world more lightly, feeling held.
We have released from our cells the places that hold anxiety and grief, and we have softened. Better health is emerging.
Eventually, as an outgrowth of our experience, we offer retreats in the mountains of Colorado. We open ourselves and our space to continued transformation with others. We walk with our retreat participants as they explore next steps in their lives or navigate their particular life challenges. This has expanded our hearts and spirits. The healing journey continues.
Cindy and Herm Weaver continue their healing journey by experiencing nature and walking with those who seek to live joyfully in the midst of challenge. Their retreats can be found at dreamvalleyretreats.weebly.com.