gift of stopping

On July 13th, my friend Heidi gifted me with a hike in the mountains in honour of my mom passing. At the age of 17, Heidi lost her mom when she’d been murdered by her father. She understood my loss. Heidi asked me to choose a hike I had never been on before. I chose Ha Ling Peak because I have never hiked to a peak and so desperately wanted the accomplishment of reaching the top of the world. I knew Heidi was athletic enough to push me to complete a hike that was double the elevation I had ever climbed. We were joined by her friend Kari and my friend Susan who knew the trail very well having hiked it 88 times before because this was the hike where she has mourned the loss of her brother for the last nine years. These friends understood grief.

The climb is a relentless elevation with no reprieve or flat spots. We stop frequently to allow my heart rate to come down and stop the ringing in my ears. I’m exhausted a quarter of the way up. But I have a goal in mind, I push through the pain in my thighs, the burning in my calves, and the chaffing on my heels. I can smell my mom, and the birds are singing all around me like they did the morning she died. I know she is with me here on this path. Keep pushing, Tammy. I’m convinced that if I can just keep pushing to the scree and see the summit I will find the energy to complete the trek.


My friends are the perfect hiking buddies and amazing cheerleaders. They make sure I’m safe and hydrated and going at a pace I can sustain. As we start again after a short rest Susan says, “You can do it, with grace.” At least, I think that’s what she said. All I really hear is grace echoing through my brain. My business coach used the same word last week when I was setting an audacious goal. “Give yourself a grace period.”

Staring at the ground in front of me. One step. Another Step. What does grace mean? Why am I being told to surrender to grace twice in one week? My heart answers my questions. When are you going to do what you need to do for yourself? You can’t push past the grief. You can’t just take a cry break and then pretend that everything is okay. It’s time to stop trying to impress others and time to stop being the strong one. Don’t hide your grief to shelter the ones you love.

My body quits so I rest and then get back up to try again. But it won’t go. It betrays my mental plan of pushing through. I have a goal in mind, a summit to reach, an end in sight. Literally, I can see the end. But my body just won’t go. And then my mind catches up. And then my soul screams at me that I am meant to stop here.

I am not done grieving. I am not done with the valley. I am not ready to summit. And that’s okay.

The Gift of Stopping

I made it to the scree. I can see the peak. And I stop. I send the three others on without me and I sit at the base of the last three trees where the treeline ends. I meditate on the mountain side with the loud roar of the wind in my ears and the sun drying my sweat to a salty powder on my face. I open my eyes to see how far up I have climbed. Priceless. Something I don’t get to do every day.  I look around and am filled with gratitude for the bee visiting the flower at my feet and the chipmunk that crosses the path just a foot away from me. What an absolute gift to be in the present moment and see this view of the world.

I learned so much on this journey. I learned that, according to my Fitbit, I can climb 183 flights of stairs up and back down again. I learned the gift of stopping and looking around. And, I learned that I can’t rush through grief, there is no end date, there is no summit, and I am not done.