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  • Writer's pictureKelly Neff

The Death Zone - One Step at a Time

I am still trying to soak in the wealth of wisdom and the personal growth challenges I received at the Global Leadership Summit earlier this month. It is easy to be inspired by someone who has overcome immense hurdles and persevered against all odds, and even human reason, at times. The difficult part is taking the seeds of inspiration and planting them, so they take root and blossom into life-changing personal transformation.

When Bear Grylls, of Man vs. Wild fame, shared his story at the Global Leadership Summit, I was truly inspired. His story of climbing Mount Everest was very powerful and spoke volumes to me. When he was recounting his story about the effort it takes and the extreme difficulty for both the mind and the body, I connected with that on an emotional level. In my experience, grieving feels much like how he described his climb to the summit of Mount Everest. It is an excruciating journey for both mind and body, and it requires a commitment to keep climbing.

Bear’s motto is NGU…Never Give Up! If you determine to never give up, eventually you will make it to the summit and drop to your knees as you behold a beauty that can only be seen from atop that treacherous mountain. A beauty you will never see if you give up. But climbing Mount Everest is no easy task, in fact, it is daunting.

I chose to use the word treacherous to describe the mountain because I believe it is also a good descriptor of grief and its symptoms. According to Merriam Webster, one definition of treacherous means, “likely to betray trust.” In our grief, we may feel betrayed by God and begin to question His love. Can he be trusted? Why would He allow this to happen to me? When we are gripped with grief, it is easy to let these thoughts settle in. May we recognize those thoughts for what they really are, seeds, that if allowed to grow, will spread like weeds, choking off our relationship with the One who loves us more than we can comprehend. Loving someone is a commitment, through the best of times and the worst of times.

Treacherous can also mean, “providing insecure footing or support,” and “marked by hidden dangers, hazards, or perils.” These are a few of the reasons no one is allowed to climb Mount Everest alone. Even experienced climbers would be crazy to go on this expedition without an expert guide and a group of fellow climbers.

When we are in the depths of the sea of sorrow, it is much like being in The Death Zone on a mountain. According to an article I read in the Business Insider, The Death Zone is the area above 26,247 feet, where the oxygen levels are roughly 40% less than at sea level. In this zone breathing is difficult, it can feel like "running on a treadmill and breathing through a straw." Your body essentially begins to die cell by cell. You may feel dizzy, disoriented, or even hallucinate. You may experience vomiting, insomnia, or decreased appetite. In The Death Zone, your body grows weak as muscle begins to waste away and fatigue overcomes you. ”Poor decision-making can also lead climbers to forget to clip back into a safety rope, stray from the route, or fail to properly prepare life-saving equipment like oxygen tanks.” The lack of oxygen makes it extremely difficult to think clearly, leaving you susceptible to danger. For me, this accurately describes what it feels like in the aftermath of great loss.

When life brings us face to face with Mount Everest, we must strap on our crampons for traction and sure-footedness, like a mountaineer who is forging a trail through the snow and ice to the summit of the mountain. Crampons allow a climber to grip onto the slippery slope and reach places they never could have without them. The sure-footedness gives them steady confidence to continue, one step at a time.

I am not a scholar of the scriptures, but when I read David’s words in Psalm 121, “I lift my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? ” I like to think his question is really a statement. I like to think he is reminding himself not to cower in the shadow of the mountain, but rather to lift up his eyes and face it because his help comes from above. His help is bigger and mightier than any mountain, even one the size of Mount Everest.

If you are grieving, whether you have already begun or whether you are just beginning the climb, this will undoubtedly be the most daunting mountain you will ever face.

Strap on your crampons and may you have the courage and strength to put one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, until you reach the summit!

NGU- Never Give Up! Remember there are many fellow climbers on this mountain, so don’t attempt to go on this journey alone! Keep climbing with me, my friend! We will make it to the top, TOGETHER… One Step at a Time.


What happens to your body in Mount Everest's 'death zone,' where 11 people have died in the past week: Aylin Woodward May 28, 2019

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