“I’ve thought of moving to Montana,” she said.

“I saw a photograph of a house there at the foot of the Tetons once….”

Her voice trailed off, but the dark pain was unmasked in her eyes.  I am helpless to ease her sorrow, kind words seem pointless, caring silence seems the only response.

My friend is experiencing life-altering grief following the death of her beloved dad.  I comprehend that grief is the loneliest path, and each learns to walk it with their own gait, at their own pace.  No matter how compassionate, how empathetic, not one of us can absolutely know the anguish of another; even if given opportunity to crawl into another’s skin to feel their pain first-hand, who would dare?

I consider her words….Montana is a place of endless skies, wide-open spaces…. an area of rough country, populated by vast ranches and few neighbors.  A person could get lost in that expanse, could wander solo in the wilderness.

When a heart hurts to the point of feeling hollow, when a soul aches with grief’s isolation,  maybe seeking the physical space of wilderness is an outward alignment for living in that kind of personal desolation.

Grief is an unwelcome visitor.  During the past year it has barged in, shoving open the door of my comfortable life, tracking in the sludge of darkness and lament; then it invites it’s pal, regret, which camps out in the middle of everyday, leaving debris and stains that cannot be scrubbed away.

It appears in every life lived long enough.   Grief is not partial to death…it appears when life-long dreams are unrealized, when relationships are broken; it arrives when private desperate choices cause pain for loved ones, when bleak diagnosis forces a change in direction.

Every one of us bold enough to engage in this world by loving another, will eventually suffer for it.    Unyielding grief is the reward of whole-hearted loving.  And who among us would trade that precious loving to escape the wilderness?  Good grief.

My friend already lives in her Montana wilderness even though she wakes and works and walks her days in Oklahoma.  Her task is determining how to forge ahead, bearing the grief-scars etched in her soul, step by baby-step into her new frontier…this unfamiliar world, absent of her father.

The ashes from the first day of Lent have been washed away from foreheads, but the dust is internal, part of every soul, ever-present, and reminding us of frailty.

I pray that all who grieve will feel Jesus’ constant vigil beside them while finding their own true path through the wilderness.  I pray in Christ’s name, the one who dared to take on human skin, walked in wilderness,  and absolutely knows our suffering.  Amen and amen.