Seattle, June 23, 2005, Shannon Huffman received the devastating phone call that her father and step-mother had been killed by a rogue bear in Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge Area. Her memoir North of Hope: A Daughter's Arctic Journey chronicles a somber, but affirming trip to retrace and complete her parents' Hulahula River trip, a process that will be both an expression of her grief and a needed healing.
In recent years, I've read several memoirs that documented the grieving process after the loss of loved ones. Some deaths were expected after long illnesses and some, like the Huffmans, were totally unexpected. Some memoirs focused on treasured memories and others delved into the darkest corners of human emotion as the survivors are completely swallowed by their pain. Huffman shares her pain, but at the same time shows both strength and insight that will help others. She shares her faith in God, at a time she says would be easier to not believe, in a place that should be too far north for prayer, too far north for hope. But it is prayer that she seeks when she finally makes it to the campsite when the mauling occurred. She begins to find peace and loves her dad and stepmom even more as she learns the wilderness landscape, its flowers and birds, that they loved so much. Although her raft mates are a stranger and an estranged adopted brother, Huffman finds the trip to be a sacred journey, a pilgrimage to understanding. In the end, she knows we are never alone in our pain, and we must face that life is about living in the midst of what can't be understood.
Woven throughout the details of the trip are various asides, often about her participation in a classical chorus group who sang Mozart's Requiem. Through these, she reveals much about the power of music in our relationship with God, especially in times of grief. Another powerful passage was her description of emptying the family home in preparation for its sale. Another was her compulsion in the months after the death to learn as much as she could about bears until she could reconcile her horror of the attack with a developing awe for their legacy in the Arctic.
Like her father, Polson has shown a great respect and love for the wilderness throughout her life.
She shares more of those feelings on her website and blog. Those who are moved by her wilderness trip may want to check out her other postings. The book itself I would recommend to grief counselors, pastors, and those who are dealing with loss themselves. As Polson quietly points out, that is all of us. I received a copy of North of Hope from Handlebar Publishing for review purposes. All opinions of my own.