The 48 mountains that held my sorrow

Posted by Jeff on Feb 21, 2021 11:30 am in Hiking News | 0 comments | Last change: February 21, 2021

By Carrie Thompson for the NY Times

On the first day of 2020, my fear roared as I approached the summit of Mount Pierce in northern New Hampshire. At a height of about 400 meters, the wind increased and visibility fell to near zero. I was about to turn around in defeat when I heard faint voices in front of me: two women pulling up their coats as I approached.

“Are you going to the summit?” I asked. “Could I come with you?”

Leaving the shelter of the tree line, we leaned forward slightly as gusts of wind swirled blinding snow around us over the open mountaintop. When we reached the top, they waited patiently as I held out a battered green hat, took a picture of it, and tossed a small piece of ash in the snow. It was only when we returned to the safety of the trees that they asked about the hat.

“It was my son’s. I lost him to suicide in July. “

There was a long silence. Then the older woman told me that she had lost her sister too. I remember thinking my son brought us together. We connected through our shared stories and they understood – something that was so rare for me these days.

My son Ben, 23, when he died, was always at home most of the time when he was outside. As I struggle with his unimaginable loss, I have found peace in the flood of rivers and creeks, the open majesty of the New Hampshire mountain peaks where he grew up.

The year after his death, I hiked 48 of the highest mountains in the state in his memory. Hiking was a way to hide from the trauma of loss, judgment and stigma of suicide and responding to my family’s openness. Every step, trail, and peak – wedged or wide open – was a way to heal.

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