How To Build Resilience Through Loss
Introducing my sister Kay, who lives in Arizona and undertook a charity walk the same day as mine in Holderness. Although I walked more miles, I would say that hers was more physically demanding with the hilly trails.
She came to help us in the last few days of Richard’s life. I didn’t ask, she just told me she was booking a flight, and I was so grateful. Caring takes its toll on all aspects of the self. I asked her to write this and when she sent it I knew I didn’t have to change any of it, just to give it a title:
A Trail Of Love
The morning was surprisingly crisp for Arizona and we were grateful for it as we walked up to the Gretchen Warren Chapel at Johnny’s school. An unassuming spanish-style Chapel in stark white that contrasts with the surrounding red rocks, it was named after the Mother of the School’s founder.
The Warrens founded the school after World War II to embrace cultural diversity after the horrors of the war. Community is big there, students come from all over the world.
Richard would have appreciated that, I thought. He embraced people’s differences: questioning, learning, building connections and he, after all, was why we were there at this god-awful early time on a Sunday morning.
Leaving the Chapel, we walked down the road out of the school campus. A lazy rattlesnake lay on the warm tarmac at the entrance to the school, not caring as we and Lucky, our border collie, passed by. The quiet was overwhelming, just the tap of Lucky’s claws. The school and its residents were still sleeping as we set out.
We turned onto the dirt road and soon were walking on Baldwin Trail, the first of three trails we would tread on our journey between chapels.
With red dirt underfoot, Lucky leading the way through the sage and cactus, we could see the majestic Cathedral rock ahead. We had to climb up that. It looked daunting.
We were still thankful of the cloud coverage keeping the sun at bay. It can be overwhelming.
Johnny talked about vocabulary, he loves learning new words and testing me on my knowledge, I often can’t remember the words he uses, like “didactic”: teaching something with an ulterior motive, particularly to teach a moral lesson. I laughed and thought about how little I know and how much we all forget.
Carrying on the Baldwin trail it heads downhill to the creek. The landscape changes dramatically: the cacti subside, and trees and bushes take over giving shade. The temperature drops. It is beautiful in a very different way.
Lucky couldn’t contain himself and jumped in the creek. I’m glad because the next trail, Templeton, is rough terrain and the sun beats down as you climb to a high elevation, scrambling over rocks and around cliff edges with sheer drops. We all needed to cool off!
Templeton Trail winds through the forest and then takes a sharp turn uphill. Back to rocks, red dirt, prickly cacti, steep terrain. I worried about Lucky, last time we were up here he came back a little lame. I told him that his cousin Miss Pickle had done 13 miles today so he can’t let the side down. He was just intent on climbing, not phased at all by the difficult trail.
Johnny and I were becoming out of breath, not much talking at this point. I thought about Richard and Julie climbing hills in Yorkshire and how much they would both have enjoyed this.
Cathedral rock is a sandstone butte just outside of Sedona Arizona, the summit elevation is 4,987 ft.
We didn’t climb to the top but the trail was busy with tourists intent on getting their social media shots, we’ll save it for a week day when it’s less busy!
I was contemplating how I had not hiked up here before and that it is probably one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen in my life, coming from the very flat landscape of East Yorkshire.
Johnny says he finds East Yorkshire and Hull very charming and special. He finds the desert rather boring. It is funny how our upbringing affects our perspective! Anyway, my thoughts were that I may not have ever done this spectacular hike had it not been for Richard. I was so grateful to him and so proud to be continuing the work he did to support Teenage Cancer Trust.
We started our descent down Cathedral Rock trail down to Back O’ Beyond and onto the road into Sedona, we were almost at The Chapel of the Holy Cross!
Sedona and many cities in Northern Arizona boast dark skies: no or minimal street lights, home exterior lighting has to be discreet, and this, along with the clear skies in Arizona, allow you to see the myriad of stars overhead. This attracts many astronomers from all over the world.
Then we were striding up Chapel Road, about half a mile to the Chapel, our feet were sore but our spirits high: halfway there and a beautiful piece of architecture to behold nestling in the red rocks, blending in and yet astonishing.
Designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright: Marguerite Brunswig Staude. She worked closely with architects to complete the Chapel in 1956. Minimalist and jutting up 250 feet from the rock it has become a symbol of unity in Sedona: respect for the land, respect for the history of the native people and a sense of the spirituality that the dramatic landscape imbues in us all.
Johnny chatted excitedly, feeling a sense of accomplishment that we had made it this far and wondering what delicious snacks Jason (husband, Dad, purveyor of all things tasty) had in store for us. Then we were there, in the car park, still a steep walk up to the Chapel.
It was busy, buzzing with visitors. After the solitude of our walk it was jarring but we pressed on noticing that people were taking a shuttle up to the Chapel since they had no desire to make the difficult walk. We joked about taking the shuttle but knew that wasn’t going to happen; we were in this and motivated to complete it under our own steam, with the integrity that it deserved.
Jason and Brenda (Grandma) met us at the car park pressing food and drinks onto us, we gratefully and gladly gobbled them down and then made our ascent to the Chapel.
The views were spectacular and inside the chapel we sat gazing and feeling the heat of hundreds of lit candles. I wondered who had lit them and who they were lit for. We felt a sense of peace and calm before the gruelling hike back.
Leaving the Chapel of the Holy cross we returned down Chapel Road and glanced up at the rock formation above us called “The two Nuns”.
Positioned next to the Chapel they have existed long before, and way before any of our ancestors. I wondered what the Native Americans made of these fantastical spires and the settlers after them also. Then we were back on the road towards Cathedral rock again.
Cathedral Rock looked daunting and far away, but we pressed on down the road and then down Back O Beyond. We were excited to see a family of deer, and stopped to watch them as they watched us.
Joining Cathedral Rock Trail, we met a lady on the steep ascent. She was coming down and asked if we were going up to the top. We said no, just skirting the mountain. She told us it was too scary for her. She’d frozen near the top. She had tried, it was more than we had done, and had experienced something she’ll never forget. We pressed on to complete our goal for the day.
Following Templeton Trail around the mountain and back down to the creek, we were glad to jump in at a swimming hole. It was warming up for sure at this point and Jason met us to dip in the cool water.
We didn’t want to leave, our feet were sore and not wanting to go back into the confinement of the boots but it was only had a mile and an half to go!
Finally back to Baldwin trail, on the home stretch, we had a surge of energy. So glad to be almost there. I thought about how Julie must have felt on her last mile to Hedon Church: longest but best mile! Then we were back at the school grounds: so welcoming!
The rattlesnake had vacated the road and the school had woken up.
Walking up the road to the Chapel the sounds of the school community echoed around us: teenagers excitedly chatting, horses neighing in the barn and music playing in the Hall.
We were on the path up to the Chapel and then we were there. Our goal accomplished! I teared up thinking about how proud Richard would be, hoping we could raise more money for Teenage Cancer Trust. We can’t wait for our next Challenge in December!
Thank you for reading. If you would like to find out more about how this all started you can download the short e-book Towers and Spires for free and get fortnightly/monthly/whenever emails about what we’re doing tips, tricks and trips down the rabbit hole of life and how navigate through.
If you’d like to donate for our efforts this link leads you to Richard’s Just Giving Page. All of this is done for him, in his memory. Please give what you feel it’s worth, and no worries if you can’t. We know how hard it is at the moment.
Julie is a writer and has worked in mental health for 34 years, supporting people through adversity. Richard her husband received a diagnosis of an aggressive cancer in 2021 and died in June 2023. He raised money for Teenage Cancer Trust through his Motorcycle Church Challenge. Julie continues this with the Church Walk Challenge as she navigates through grief.