Updated: Feb 20, 2020
Climbing Mt. Rainier to honor Tristan and raise awareness for Substance Use Disorder was truly a life changing experience that occurred because of the most dramatic life changing experience I have lived through - the loss of our 21 year old son to overdose.
Training for this expedition was healing in ways I never expected. I would hike through forests, mountain paths, biking trails, on paved streets, along the lake and up steep hills in our community. I trained in freezing cold, rainy and blistering hot conditions. I was determined and committed. And in the end I was able to achieve my personal goals for this trip. It was a lot of hard work, but so worth it! Not only did I get back into some resemblance of 'shape', considering my age, but I felt empowered and a sense of healing throughout the journey.
My love affair with nature started as a child when I played for hours each day and evening in the woods behind our childhood home. My granddad was a forester. I use to imagine him out there, trekking through the forest by himself and wondering about all of the places he went and why he spent so much time in "the woods". And then Tristan came along, and he seemed to love the outdoors just the same. He rarely stayed inside to watch tv or play video games. If I couldn't find him I just yelled his name out the back door and he would come running up from the ravine behind our house. He was my nature boy. So after his death it seemed natural to want to go on a pilgrimage for him, someplace off the grid maybe, but definitely someplace serene. Mt. Rainier was suggested by my friend and coach, Kellie. She lives inside Mt. Rainier National Forest and wanted me to climb with her. So I said Yes! In the end Kellie had to cancel because of her participation with PKD - Preventing Kidney Disease - and helping to locate a donor for her long time friend Mark. So I climbed without her.
But the trip was always about me...and about Tristan. I wondered if I would feel his presence on that mountain, or if I would know he was there. What I experienced was heat, sweat, hard climbing and light air before being rewarded, at 9,200 ft, with a visit from a beautiful butterfly. Just as I plopped down on the snowfield on the approach to Camp Muir a small, solo butterfly passed just in front of me ! It startled the gentleman to my right. We had not seen any butterflies or birds up at that elevation. He burst out that the site of the butterfly must surely be "reassuring" to me ~ and YES, it was! It assured me that Tristan WAS there with me. The butterfly is our symbol. When we had to bury our sweet baby Drew who died four days after birth of heart defect I looked over to see tiny yellow butterflies swirling around Tristan's head. It was a sight I have never forgotten. Three days after Tristan's death, missing him and still reeling from shock, I walked out on the back deck to be greeted by a large black and blue butterfly. It sat on a leaf on my hibiscus plant for a good three or four minutes before taking flight and swirling above my head. My husband watched in amazement and I grinned from ear to ear, realizing that yes, my beloved Tristan would no longer walk this earth, but he is still here. And now, when I am out on my hikes, or at the lake or biking, many times when I am thinking about him, or Drew, the other kids or our work with Speakup About Drugs, and usually when I am missing him the most, a butterfly will appear. I've been visited by many other winged creatures since Tristan's death in ways I had never previously experienced including an owl, a moth, the blue herren and of course the cardinals ~ but the butterfly always comes when I need it the most. As I sat up on that magnificent mountain and pondered our future without Tristan in it, the future of this non-profit we created to help others on this journey and the experiences ahead for our family I felt a sense of peace and certainty that this is really part of God's plan and that we are all exactly where we are supposed to be. On the trail back down I saw that butterfly. It had died from lack of oxygen and laid on the snow field about the same area where I had seen it the day before.
The mountain was huge and scary. Life without my child feels the same way - so overwhelming at times. But I conquered that mountain ~ and I believe I can conquer this new reality as well. It's not easy. And there are days when I would rather go on to Heaven, or at least stay in bed all day. But I show up, and I train for this thing called life because the view at the top is magnificent! God created this beautiful world for us to enjoy, and sent each of us here with a purpose. I have always felt that Drew accomplished his purpose. And I guess, at least pray, that Tristan accomplished his. I think that he did. But if that is the case then his mission was just the beginning of what I am supposed to finish, and that's where this non-profit work comes in. This is NOT a journey I ever expected to take. Some days I wonder for a second if this is anything I really even want to do. And then I think of the mountain, and of Tristan, and I move forward with the conviction that YES, this is EXACTLY what I am supposed to be doing.
One of our favorite songs was Stevie Nick's Landslide. " I took my love and I took it down... I climbed a mountain and I turned around....and I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills, and the landslide brought me down" And so it is.....I've seen my reflection in the snow covered hills, and I've survived the landslide of death... and my love for Tristan and the life we shared will carry me forward to do this work that is so vital for the welfare of our community and those struggling with addiction. And the mountain is not so scary after all. Together, we CAN do this!