For a while all the news was about the woman gone missing in the mountain wilderness two counties over.
It is rough land, beautiful for its remoteness and dangerous for the same. Hundreds have been involved in the search. Pleas have gone out from her family. Her car was found near a trail, abandoned.
Days passed. People hung onto hope, though that hope moved from one buttressed by faith to one guarded by optimism to, finally, a fragile sort of assurance.
Her remains were found last week, deep in the woods. Authorities have now said a suicide note had been found in the car.
It is a sad end to a sad story told too often. Those closest to her are now left to grieve and mourn and somehow move on. No doubt they will be haunted by questions of what sort of despair could wrench itself so deep and thoroughly into her that suicide came to be the only option, and why she felt she could not lean upon those closest for help. The pictures I’ve seen on Facebook show a bright smile and vivacious personality. They serve as a reminder to always approach others with equal measures of grace and kindness, because we may never know the battles they fight or the struggles they face.
Reading about this woman has gotten me thinking about all the others who came before her.
It may surprise you to know just how many people here have committed suicide over the years. It may surprise you more that a great many of them have chosen to take their lives not in their own homes but in the mountains that rise above our peaceful valley. They will often leave without a word or under some small pretext of an errand and drive, making their way along our streets a final time, passing friends and neighbors. They will climb the narrow backroads of the Blue Ridge and find a lonely place to walk, a spot to leave behind a world that somehow left them.
I’m not sure if anyone has ever questioned why it so often happens like that.
Ask the old timers around here, they’ll tell you folk have always gone into the mountains to die. Ask the farmers, they’ll say it’s proof man and woman aren’t so different than the animals, who themselves oftentimes sneak away to lonely places so they may breathe their last.
But I’ve always thought a deeper reason lay inside the broken hearts and exhausted souls of those who wish their living done.
To me it is as if they seek the bosom of the woods because the woods always embrace, and each step taken deeper into those ridges and hollers is a step away from their trials. And perhaps it is that they climb these mountains so they may glimpse a heaven they never imagined or never believed.
They say our mountains are filled with the spirits of those trapped between worlds, whose deaths were lonely and violent. Sometimes I believe those stories. But I pray that tired woman who passed on among the oaks and mountain streams has found a peace she somehow came to lack, just as I pray a bit of her remains behind to aid those who come after. To take their hands and gaze into their eyes and ask that they turn back.