Recently one morning, after a lovely winter snowfall, I ventured outside to feed and water several chickens, a bunny, and an assortment of hungry cats. After I finished my chores, I stood by the barn on our property captured by the calls of the birds in the woods and inhaled the crisp icy air. How beautiful the snow looked as it glistened on the branches of each tree.
Caught up in the winter wonderland and chiding myself for not getting outside to enjoy it more often, I suddenly noticed all of the animal tracks crisscrossing our property. Like a child distracted by a new wonder, I mindlessly set down my feed bucket and water pail and started to follow a set of prints I knew to be from a rabbit — two long feet coming first and then two little feet following. Glad that my husband was in the house to care for the children, I treasured the solitude and humored myself by following the rabbit trail into the woods where it went completely around a tree and then proceeded haphazardly into some underbrush.
Now deep in the woods with the cheerful birds singing their morning songs, I was amazed at the variety of tracks. I recognized dog tracks, dainty cat paw prints, and the light-footed spikey prints from small birds. I identified deer hoofmarks and large deep imprints that I later insisted to my laughing family came from a bear. (I still stand by that one!) Other tracks I wasn’t so sure of — opossum? skunk? raccoon? Many I simply couldn’t identify.
It amazed me that some animals traveled in a straight line and seemed so certain of their destination while others appeared to stop, change course, zig-zag, or even return to where they had been. It was entertaining to wonder where each animal had come from and where it intended to go.
Done with my exploration and feeling the chill of the morning, I finally headed back to the house. Having the curiosity of those animal tracks on my mind, I couldn’t help but think of my sixteen-year-old son who died by suicide in 2009. His death had also brought out the Sherlock Holmes in me and turned me into a sleuthing detective. Yet, although I had tried to retrace his “tracks” and study the clues of his comings and goings, I had come up shorthanded and totally bewildered.
Perhaps wild winds drifted snow over my son’s “footprints”. Maybe they melted too quickly into the mud or were smudged over by other factors before I could retrace his steps or decode their meaning. Maybe, simply, there were no tracks to follow.
Likewise, many people who suffer the loss of a loved to suicide struggle to completely understand the chronological events of their loved one’s last moments as well as their rationale during this time to end their life. Try as we might, some things will never be comprehended.
Perhaps true healing begins when we, the loved ones left behind, are ready to acknowledging that “not knowing” is often part of survival. Sometimes true healing begins when we resolve to accept that some tracks can neither be followed, identified, nor ever retraced.