The Cairn, Encouragement On The Path

The Cairn, encouragement for the path, Hiking, healing, child loss, Sedona, cairn, surviving loss of a child, evidence of God


The Summit-less Path of the Bereaved Parent

A few years ago we discovered the freedom and exhilaration that hiking in the mountains can bring. We find an enormous amount of peace and relief from the chronic pain of child loss there. Through the black fog of grief, we are able to see the tangible evidence of God and His presence when He otherwise seems so distant. That is no small gift.

Being emersed in the most beautiful parts of His world, being immersed in Him, shows us that He is,

and that is enough.


If He is, then Aiden is also, just not here. That is His promise.

As I’ve written before, the mountains truly feel like church to me. Church I can sit in, anyway. I commune with Him in my quiet, reflective way through His creation. Able to move and breathe, unencumbered, unlike in life. It has changed us in so many unseen ways, and we’ve been shown encouragement on the path.

The First Steps

I remember being timid at first. Fearful and not able to take certain steps or traverse certain paths, but I did what I could and the experience was still amazing. No societal expectations to meet or not meet. Just movement, beauty, space to breath! And God. We grew with each hike. A little higher, a littler harder.

We recently hiked Sedona, Arizona. What incredible, vast beauty! The rock scultpures seemingly forced through the earth, jutting out to the sky. Their severe red edges so high and so striking in contrast to the vivid blue sky. A work of art. Our favorite hike was Bear Mountain. Check out these google images of the hike.

I realized too how different we’ve become out there. We are not who we were on our first trip. We’ve grown and stretched, stepping and moving more assuredly. Very much like our paths as bereaved parents.

Jennifer Noonan, child loss, bereaved parents, Sedona, hiking, The Cairn

On our first day in Arizona, I guess I didn’t quite have my mountain feet under me yet. We were at what we thought was the end of a nice hike. It was high and it was beautiful, but not the wow like we saw in photos of this hike. We were sitting enjoying the view and the early morning sun rising over the mountains was warming our backs when D noticed a flat out-cropping of rock a bit away from us. He wanted to go explore and see what was over there.

I didn’t because it looked scary.

So off he went, of course, with a warning not to make me a widow besides…

An uncomfortable amount of time passed so I called out to him. He answered back coming from around the bend, calling for me to join him. You have to come see this. It’s unbeLIEVEable! This is nothing! (meaning my current location) You have to come. I could tell by his voice it had to be something special, but I was perfectly content.

I like it where I am, I thought. It’s fine right here. 

I didn’t know what the ground was like because I couldn’t see around the corner. I was unsure of the pitch and I was afraid. It was not ‘part of the hike’, officially, so that couldn’t be good, right? Sort of like every day without your child. It feels wrong, each step is frightening, I don’t want to do it today.

Take a step, or don’t.

It’s Still Growth When Your Steps Are Unsure

He came back to where I was and told me to just step where he stepped. I really didn’t want to miss out, so I did.

Just follow me, you’ll be OK. 

The blind turn was getting close and the fear was definitely building in my chest. That’s when I saw a little rock cairn sitting out on a flat spot in front of me. A familiar stacking of rocks and a communication tool hikers use to mark the path. A smile came over me.

Oh! I thoughtIt’s Ok. Someone has been here. This is the way!

It was so much more than Ok and it completely changed our experience. What we saw was enchanting, a kind of beauty we had never witnessed before.

Around the rocky bend was the most spectacular evidence of a creative creator I have ever seen. We were left speechless by the sheer magnitude and beauty of the world that opened up before our eyes. The rising sun bouncing off miles and miles of layered red rock mountains. The brilliant sky coming to life for the day made it surreal in the most amazing way. Jaw-dropping.

What I would’ve missed if I had stayed where I was!

Thanks to a heart a little braver than mine, I had a safe step to plant my foot into. I had a trusted, audible voice saying just follow me, you’ll be OK.  I had a message in the form of a little rock cairn from someone who’d been there or maybe from the Lord himself, pointing the way. The Cairn, encouragement I needed in that moment to make it a little bit farther along the path

and experience something breathtaking.

We Are Not Doing This Alone

We saw so many more cairns along our hikes that week. Each one felt like a personal message to me, from God? From Aiden? Who knows, I just know it lifted me. With so much quiet time in my head, I thought of all the things a cairn can mean to a hiker and what it has come to symbolize to me in my path as a Mom living without her child:

This is the way.

You are doing OK.

You’ve come so far, don’t stop now.

I’ve been here, so I can help you.

You are on the right path.

A cairn also means to me:

You’re safe.

Just follow me. 

Don’t look back.

You are not alone.

Just Keep going.                                                           

Thank you, Lord.

I took some time the next day to build a couple temporary cairns of my own. Each rock representing a child and their Mom who I’ve come to know and love and count on.  Each rock, a child gone too soon and the broken heart of the Mother left behind.

The Moms in front forging the path, the ones walking right beside me and of course, the ones following behind, looking for that safe spot to place thier foot and a knowing voice to follow.


Encouragement For the Path, Evidence of God, Sedona, child loss, surviving the loss of a child, The Cairn


Thank you for spending some time with me today. Please think about sharing this post/blog with another bereaved parent. For more insight on how we cope, please visit this writing piece, Living In The Gap .

Another you may find helpful about what I’ve learned since the loss of my child. 


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