Medicine Walk with my Son

On Nov. 23 my 33-year-old son died unexpectedly in Denver after what was to have been his final surgery on the road to recovery from a terrible accident as a paramedic fourteen months earlier. I am still in shock. To prepare myself to speak at his huge “line of duty” funeral, I sought spiritual readiness in the solace of nature.

dscn56331x300Brian was young and adventuresome. I knew I had to go to a wild place to connect with him. My little corgi dog and I drove two hours up to the Cascade foothills covered in fresh snow. On that day we were the only ones on the Forest Service road. There were fresh tracks of critters everywhere on the trail: snowshoe hare, coyote, pine marten, squirrel, mouse, and deer. Gracie was an unusually quiet companion. Sometimes she would race ahead in sheer joy at being in the snow, but mostly she stayed by my side or directly behind me.

After a couple of hours of walking in the snow, she started boofing at something up ahead. It is her way of talking to me, telling me to pay attention. The hair stood up on the back of her spine and she continued to boof more loudly. I actually got a bit alarmed because we had been seeing a lot of coyote tracks and were a long ways from our parked truck.

Suddenly a dark shape flew low over our heads from behind and landed on a branch in front of us; an elegant, black raven. Gracie fell immediately silent and came over to my side. The raven began “talking” to us. It started to click its bill, and then it puffed up its feathers. Turning its head back and forth to look at us, it continued this routine for about five minutes.

Corvus coraxThe last thing I had spoken to my son at his bedside was, “Fly free, my son. Fly free.”

An enormous calm came over me. I felt certain for the first time since his death that he was OK. “Thank you,” I said aloud to the raven. It peered directly at us. Far away across the valley I heard the ethereal croak of another raven. Our raven lifted off his branch and flew directly at us and then veered off towards the sound of its own kind. That image has held me steady as I move along this unpredictable journey of grief.


10 replies
  1. Arlene Tallberg
    Arlene Tallberg says:

    Dear God, Ann, I am deeply sorry for your loss.
    What a Beautiful Story and pictures you shared with us. Your experience reminds me of your passage around Lake Superior and your connection with your friend who had passed away. I’ve mentioned to you how much your book meant to me. I think I had forgotten a little about the Spiritual piece, which was, of course the essence of the book. Your revelation today, another of your gifts however personal and tragic, helps remind me of the Daily Connection I must keep to the God of my understanding, who’s abundance of Love and Comfort is most present in Nature.
    Beautiful, but very tragic and sad.
    Thank you,
    Arlene Tallberg

  2. James Wells
    James Wells says:

    I am in awe of this experience you share here, Ann. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. It hurts like crazy to have a close one die. I hear you and I hold you from here.

  3. Meredith Jordan
    Meredith Jordan says:

    Ann. Mother. Partner. Sister. Friend. We cannot walk in your shoes nor know the full depth of your shock and sorrow at Brian’s death. What we can do is accompany you while you make this journey. We are at your back, your side, and all around you. Beauty above, below, and everywhere as Raven tells you the only thing you really need to know: Brian has flown free of his body, and is now a member of the Spirits Tribe. We love you, and weep with you.

  4. Pamela Sampel
    Pamela Sampel says:

    Thank you for sharing such a poignant and personal story, dearest Annie. May all creatures, great and small, bring you comfort now, and time a measure of peace. Brian flies free forever in the hearts of all who knew him…xoxo.

  5. linetteontour
    linetteontour says:

    I am so appreciative for your generous spirit where, in the depths of your grief, you can share with us your observations of the love and appreciation of nature and the solace it can provide. I am in tears reading this. Thankyou for this moment, my friend.

  6. Mary M.
    Mary M. says:

    Dear Ann, I am so terribly sorry for your tragic loss. And very touched by your story. I had the great fortune to meet and spend time with Gracie last year at Aldermarsh. What a special spirit to be at your side when you once again connected with the spirit of your beloved son in the land he must have loved. Peace to you, Dear One, as you walk this difficult path.

  7. Julie Mitchell
    Julie Mitchell says:

    Ann, my heart-body-mind reacted instantly upon reading of your loss and your experience with the raven: Head-to-toe goosebumps, tears rising and then falling… love and appreciation for you and wonder at the ways of Nature. I can’t imagine the depth of your grief. I can imagine what a great difference your son made in his short 33 years. I’m thinking of you.

  8. Jeanne Petrick
    Jeanne Petrick says:

    Your story, Ann, this particular one, keeps coming up in my thoughts – so I keep coming back to it and I find myself stilled by the end of each read. I am struck by the bond you and Brian surely have – to be, so immediately, communicating in this spirit way. I love how Gracie recognized him as well. (But of course) You sought a connection and he came. What a gift to hold in your heart as you continue your walk through this journey of living your life with Brian no longer in the physical world.
    I so love your last words to Brian. The permission to fly free. Selfless at a most profound moment for you both. Pure love in that statement. And then this Medicine Walk confirming that, in fact, he is.
    I hear your story and am stilled.


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