Healing after Loss through a Relationship with Nature and the Land

by Mark Miles

The month of September was very difficult for me. It was the year-and-a-half anniversary of Bobby’s disappearance, and it seemed there were memories around every corner. (Full story here.) This was distressing because I honestly expected that my feelings for him would have dried up and vanished by now. I thought for sure when we broke up in February of 2016 that it would take no more than six months for me to recover from the loss of our relationship, a year for me to forget he ever existed, and a year and a half to be in another relationship with someone who would treat me as an actual person deserving of love and respect rather than a piece of trash to be discarded at the nearest dumpster.

Yet somehow I find the loss of our relationship still haunts me from time to time. This happens whenever I encounter something that reminds me of Bobby, especially anything to do with skiing, fencing or freerunning, all of which he enjoyed. This also happens when I watch certain movies that remind of him for one reason or another, especially The Princess Bride, Sense and Sensibility, Music and Lyrics, or Howl’s Moving Castle. And most of all it happens when I listen to music that evokes the feelings which I harbored for him for so long, with two pieces in particular possessing the uncanny ability to reduce me to shambles in less than a minute flat.

It was the first of these, “Farewell to Stromness” by Peter Maxwell Davies, that triggered my latest relapse into sadness. I heard it for the first time about six months after Bobby and I parted ways. It’s an immediately hummable tune that many people recognize even if they don’t know the composer. The background is particularly resonant with me because of the way Peter Maxwell Davies used this song to oppose the mining of uranium on the Scottish isle of Orkney, where he lived for many years. “Farewell to Stromness” is intended to evoke the image of townsfolk who are forced to leave their ancestral home forever due to the contamination of uranium mining. It also evokes the sense of leaving behind a loved one who will be forever cherished and remembered, despite the pain of parting ways.

The other piece of music that’s become indelibly linked with Bobby in my mind is a work by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. “Spiegel im Spiegel” means “Mirror in the Mirror” in German, and the significance of this title is immediately appreciable when you hear the endlessly repeating melody that slowly but inexorably builds from the simplest groundwork into one of the most heartwrenching edifices of minimalist music. “Spiegel im Spiegel” is the sonic equivalent of placing one mirror in front of another, standing between them and seeing the repeating likeness of yourself stretching before and behind you indefinitely. There’s also the sense that the two mirrors could be two people, who look into each other and see the love they share reflected back in an endless cascade.

So with these two works floating in the background of my mind, I found myself thinking about Bobby throughout the month of September. It seemed I couldn’t go a day without a piece of conversation, an image of his face, or a snippet of his voice passing through my mind like a ship on the horizon. I was frustrated, sad, and lonely, and I didn’t know what to do.

But then one night in the middle of September, something changed. I was talking to a friend about how I thought I would never be in a relationship again. I am after all thirty-four years old in a small, religious and extremely homophobic town where the dating pool for gay men in their thirties looks like something out of a horror movie. Think Psycho meets Catfish with a side of Mean Girls.

Then I looked at my cat Heidi and my dog Bella. They were in the same room with me, gravitating toward me as if they knew I needed something, perhaps a gentle nudge in the right direction. I didn’t think much of it at first, but then it clicked. I’m already in a relationship, though obviously not of the same kind, with them and with others in my life who mean a great deal to me. It may not be the kind of relationship where I’m seeing stars every moment of the day and thinking about how much I hope we have children, but there is a healing relationship between us nonetheless.

Then I got to thinking about my garden, which isn’t much and hasn’t produced nearly the bounty of herbs and vegetables that I hoped when I installed it. But it has nonetheless provided a sanctuary for rosemary, fennel, zinnia, blackberry, strawberry, gourd, and sage plants who’ve given me a reason to be active in my own backyard. They’ve also given me something to look forward to from one season to the next as they wax and wane in growth, reminding me that it’s ok if I too experience a diminution in my energy and productivity from time to time. Usually it just means I need to rest, allow time for healing, and take better care of myself.

Finally I thought about the places where I hike and the relationship I’ve developed with the land as a result. When I started hiking on a regular basis in 2015, I never imagined it would come to mean as much to me as it has. Without hiking around Occoneechee Mountain, Eno River State Park, or the Hillsborough Riverwalk, I would never have discovered so many amazing places that are practically in my own backyard. I never would’ve come to love the rock formations, the curves in the river, the enveloping canopy of the forest, the musty smell of earth and sweat and all good things. This healing relationship with nature and the land–which has come to me through my animals, my garden, and my hiking trails–may not be the same as a relationship with another human being, but it’s absolutely necessary for a rich and meaningful life.


Farewell to Stromness, piano interlude from ‘The Yellow Cake Revue,’ J. 166,” All Music, accessed Sep. 27th, 2017.

Infinite Reflections: Pärt’s ‘Spiegel im Spiegel,’” The Cross-Eyed Pianist, accessed Sep. 27th, 2017.

Spiegel im Spiegel,” Wikipedia, accessed Sep. 27th, 2017.

The staggering simplicity that makes ‘Farewell to Stromness’ a work of complete genius,” Classic FM, accessed Sep. 27th, 2017.

The Yellow Cake Revue,” Wikipedia, accessed Sep. 27th, 2017.

62 thoughts on “Healing after Loss through a Relationship with Nature and the Land

  1. Keng October 7, 2017 / 5:17 am

    Healing is definitely a process. Good to know that you have Heidi and Bella. Just look at those eyes I can see love and trust. I know I’m biased, but have you considered coming to the west, young man?

    • Mark Miles October 9, 2017 / 5:12 am

      Thank you, my friend. I appreciate your kind words as always.

  2. Denzil - Life Sentences October 7, 2017 / 8:54 am

    Beautifully written, and a strong message. The healing potential of nature is so underestimated. Thanks for sharing Mark; stay strong.

  3. mycountryepoque October 7, 2017 / 9:43 am

    Hi Mark, I read both the posts you wrote. I hope at this time you have been able to cure yourself and that you have moved on with peace, quiet and tranquility about this person. Meeting people real face to face in life is the best way of finding love. I have heard the stories of many of my friends who have been to dating websites, and how much they tell weird stories and excuses of people they meet. I always have a good laugh about them and their mysteries. I have always given them advice to just live, wait and something good will come out of reality. I wish you good luck. Hoping to read soon again from you. Happy Weekend!

    • Mark Miles October 9, 2017 / 5:18 am

      I agree. There’s far more damage that comes from the unrealistic expectations of being emotionally involved with someone you’ve never even met. It’s difficult to avoid, however, given the degree to which our society has become dependent on digital technologies which encourage complete strangers to become acquainted.

      Thank you for your support once again.

  4. Cassie October 7, 2017 / 11:02 am

    Knowing you are better off without a particular individual doesn’t erase the feeling of loss: we still miss having someone special. All the things you are doing are good ways to heal, but there will always be ‘triggers’: trust me, I know! Knowing that sucks, but helps rationalise things when you are ‘reduced to shambles’.

    • Mark Miles October 9, 2017 / 5:20 am

      Yeah, it’s very true. I’ve learned to take time to grieve by myself in private when the need arises, and that certainly helps. Thank you for your supportive comment.

  5. maryannniemczura October 7, 2017 / 2:02 pm

    Suffering any loss takes time. Nature has a way of helping to heal the soul. These pieces of music do as well. I was transported to my mind’s ideas as I listened. Music heals as well. Be kind to yourself and just keep doing things to heal.

    • Mark Miles October 9, 2017 / 5:21 am

      Thank you very much. I appreciate your kind words. Music is indeed a great healer as well.

  6. WL Hawkin October 7, 2017 / 2:03 pm

    Thanks Mark. You show us how to find beauty in our grief and in our relationships. Sadness is also beautiful as revealed by these glorious pieces of music. I love the Farewell to Stromness. Thank you for sharing.

    • Mark Miles October 9, 2017 / 5:23 am

      Thank you, my friend. Realizing that there’s still so much in the world that’s worth cherishing certainly helps to refocus attention away from needless suffering and toward meaningful action. Hope you’re doing well.

  7. Ros October 7, 2017 / 3:36 pm

    I don’t know what to say. I have read your story and it pierced my heart. Not just for the pain that has been inflicted on you, but also for that inflicted on Bobby. His parents – and the church to which they belong – have so much to answer for. Forcing people to make choices they should never have to make just because they are too afraid to listen.
    I am so, so sorry that this has happened to you.
    For what it’s worth, I am not at all surprised that the pain is still with you. I wrote once that loss is like ‘the most annoying of good friends. You know the kind of people I mean. The ones you get to know really well. The ones who think they can turn up on the doorstep quite unexpectedly – often when you least want them.’
    At such times, we need to be gentle with ourselves, I think. Loss touches on our dreams, our loves, our sense of identity… none of which are to be taken lightly. Hence space is needed to process it, to understand it, to accept it. Not just once, but many, many times. Frustrating, but true, unfortunately.
    I’m glad you have found some solace in nature. I hope and pray that the healing will continue.

    • Mark Miles October 9, 2017 / 5:30 am

      Thank you for your kind words.

      You’re right that his parents and the ideology which drove their actions were completely destructive toward us. I too feel sorry for Bobby, even though I have conflicted emotions about his ultimate decision to remove me from his life entirely. It’s difficult to love someone and yet hate what that person did.

      Thank you again for your deep and thoughtful comment.

  8. Tracy Abell October 7, 2017 / 3:51 pm

    That is a profound realization, and I’m glad you’re feeling connected to your life. Thank you for sharing this and reminding me of the importance of those relationships, too.

    • Mark Miles October 9, 2017 / 5:31 am

      Thank you very much. I appreciate your kind words.

  9. Mother Hen October 7, 2017 / 5:25 pm

    I am happy for you,that you see what you have in your home and garden.. I am grandma age, and each day is a new opportunity to explore the world around me(our back yard and garden) feed and watch the birds and observe the sometimes annoying..And playful antics of our cats.. It brings healing to my soul and peace to what tries to disturb my joy.. It’s simple, gratitude for what we have. Enjoy this season of your life.

    • Mark Miles October 9, 2017 / 5:32 am

      Thank you. I agree. There’s so much to be thankful for in life, and I try to focus on that as much as possible.

      • Mother Hen October 11, 2017 / 12:25 am

        You are welcome Mark! We all need to these days..as there are many reasons we could drown ourselves in the downers of life.. Take care!

  10. ellie894 October 7, 2017 / 6:45 pm

    Music and nature and our constant companions…sorrow and healing. All so true, and you wrote of it so beautifully Mark. May your hiking bring more wonders than you can imagine. 😌

    • Mark Miles October 9, 2017 / 5:33 am

      Thank you very much. I appreciate your support.

  11. pennygadd51 October 9, 2017 / 1:59 pm

    Dear Mark
    In a very real sense, you’ve experienced a bereavement. Even worse, it was bereavement through a deliberate act. As you are finding, the consequences of this are long-lasting. You are doing all the right things – looking outward rather tan inward, looking for the good in the world, loving nature. I don’t know whether you have friends that you hike with, but human friendship without overtones of partnership or dating is a very important channel for healing.
    The pain will ease with time, it really will.
    Thank you for sharing the music with us. Those are beautiful recordings. I already knew “Farewell to Stromness”, but the Part was a revelation. I don’t normally like minimalism or Part, but that performance of “Spiegel im Spiegel” was stunning.
    With best wishes for your continuing recovery.

    • Mark Miles November 10, 2017 / 5:52 am

      Thank you so much, Penny. Your support means a great deal to me. I hope you’re doing well and enjoying the fall.

  12. Callum Clark October 13, 2017 / 9:42 am

    Hey Mark! I hope you’re feeling better with your newly found relationship. Music brings back many memories, but it’s also wonderful at empowering you when you find the right song. Try listening to Case Study by Jenny.O. She’s a cool artist but I think this song in particular may help resonate with you. You’ve got this Mark!

  13. quercuscommunity October 14, 2017 / 9:18 am

    Relationships are hard enough when you are face to face and able to see expressions and body language. I’m so glad I’m old enough to have avoided internet dating. It must be an absolute minefield.
    Good luck with the rebuilding process.

    • Mark Miles November 10, 2017 / 5:57 am

      Thank you, I agree. Online dating is quite honestly a disaster looking for a place to happen.

  14. sledpress October 15, 2017 / 1:30 am

    Jeepers. I love Arvo Part, and I didn’t know that one.
    There was a time when I had decided I was out of the relationship business for good, and was just destined to be the Bride of Iron. Picture thirtysomething ginger with off-key face in the gym at four in the morning, trying to become one with the Olympic bar. Except there has to be a quieter side to connection, and I used to half-asleep imagine myself in a stream so, so much like the one in your picture, feeling it talk to me with cold and warm currents and ripples of light. The earth and its critters are our family and sweethearts too.
    I’m culpably behind on your posts (and everyone else’s at this point). Somehow, a very draining several months. Carving out time to read the recent ones is now on my to-do list; I love your perspective.

    • Mark Miles November 10, 2017 / 6:01 am

      I totally understand falling behind in relation to social media. I’m frequently remiss about seeing the latest updates, mostly because I strictly limit my online time. The real world is and should be more important than a silly glowing piece of plastic and silicon.

      Hope all’s going well for you, my friend, and thank you the commiseration. It’s always good to know others have gone through the same experience and made it to the other side in one piece.

  15. atomsandstories October 23, 2017 / 3:36 am

    thanks for sharing this. makes me feel lighter after my own breakup.. healing is definitely a process 🤗 thanks Mark

    • Mark Miles November 10, 2017 / 6:02 am

      You’re welcome, and thank you.

  16. kellicraftstudio October 24, 2017 / 5:35 pm

    What a beautiful and heartfelt journey! Nature heals.

  17. the hanna Tree October 29, 2017 / 10:40 am

    I understood your story in the moment of reading about your relationship with your garden and the natural world around you. I live in the midst of a pristine arid wilderness that links the vast inland Australian desert with the damp mountain country of the Great Dividing range in South Eastern Queensland. Ito took me years to recover from the unexplained and confusing departure of my husband from my life, five long years of rebuilding myself from the rubble he left in the wake of a 21 year long marriage. I’ve always reflected on how the productiveness of my beloved vegetable garden and intensity of connection to wilderness seems to be directly linked to my state of emotional and physical health. You’ve written these heartfelt and beautiful words so that I feel as if there are others who are like me, a little alone though accustomed and comfortable with the peace and solitude it offers, and the opportunity to really pause and reflect on what it is to be loved and to love. I am now in a wonderfully romantic trustful but oddly long distance relationship with an old, old friend who held a candle for me for the 30 years that we knew each other since we were teenagers, although I never twigged, such was his sense of personal restraint and responsibility towards our friendship and his own marriage. It took much hard work and personal change for me to accept the difference that new relatedness with another human being brings to life, but there it is, this butterfly love that sometimes seems like it’s the first time I have ever truly been in love. You will find it too, because in learning the truth about who you are alone, you are also metamorphosing into the best version of yourself ready for new beginning.

    • Mark Miles November 10, 2017 / 6:09 am

      Thank you for sharing this. I’m so sorry to hear about what your ex-husband did to you. That would me an absolute nightmare, and the fact that you survived is a testament to your strength.

      Thank you also for your encouraging words about the future. I still occasionally struggle to see the possibilities that lie ahead, but that’s one more reason for me to strive harder today.

      Wishing you all the the best.

      • the hanna Tree November 10, 2017 / 6:55 am

        All the best of life and love and simply being your own particular self. I look after an elderly gentleman and he says to me when i am feeling a little down or confused to .”..go home and just sit. Just sit, DON’T THINK. Lol, I know what he means, and yes, it works but I’m not very good at it… yet. Try it. It delivers a perfect state of acceptance, fulfilment and happiness. Solitude is a rare state of being in our busy fantasy-reliant lives, an opportunity to grow and renew. Beautiful writing. Thank you.

  18. freedom writer October 29, 2017 / 1:42 pm

    Your words spoke to me on a deep personal level. I immediately resonated with this piece since it’s been almost a year now since I lost someone I loved deeply. Healing is a wonderful process, but difficult and not linear. I’m glad you found some comfort in connecting with your animals and with nature. It’s a good place to start. I managed to find comfort in painting and writing poems.
    Nice meeting you – and thank you for stopping by!

    • Mark Miles November 10, 2017 / 6:11 am

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m sorry to hear about your loss of a loved one. Time dulls the pain but never truly erases it. I’m glad you found solace in poetry and painting though.

      • freedom writer November 11, 2017 / 2:07 pm

        Thank you for the warm comment and for following my blog too! Time does not erase it, you’re right. And maybe we shouldn’t strive to cancel our past, but learn from it.

  19. dianewoodrow October 31, 2017 / 9:56 am

    That is totally beautiful. Thank you for sharing [and for liking my post so i could read this] X

  20. katkarradz October 31, 2017 / 11:56 am

    Strong and honest writing. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Mark Miles November 10, 2017 / 6:11 am

      You’re welcome, and thank you.

  21. Sudipta Dev November 5, 2017 / 6:02 am

    So beautifully expressed. Thank you for liking my page, the email gave a link to this beautiful story, which I would have otherwise missed.

  22. George November 10, 2017 / 7:28 am

    Enjoyable read Mark, have a good day

  23. Carolina Vann November 11, 2017 / 11:28 am

    Although we’ve never met, I wanted to reinforce your trust in the healing power of nature’s unlimited beauty. I survived cancer ten years ago and relocated from Miami to the Blue Ridge Mountains eight years ago. I was reborn in this place. You speak of being thirty-four as thou it was old age. It isn’t. You’re still very young and have so much life ahead of you. I’ll be seventy soon, and believe me, I am still young. The sound of a waterfall, or the call of the Whipperwill in late Spring keeps me that way. Relationships can be wonderful, but ultimately, it’s the relationship you have with yourself that is the most important and most magical. People come and go over the years, but nature endures always. Be positive, and be thankful that you have been given the opportunity of a new beginning. Vann

    • Mark Miles December 6, 2017 / 4:53 am

      Thank you so much for your inspiring story. It helps to hear how other people have managed to survive through hard times and make the best of the opportunities available to them in the aftermath.

      And I know just what you mean about the way nature makes us young. My life wouldn’t be the same without time well spent in the natural world.

      Wishing you all the best. 👍

  24. The Crazy Crone December 1, 2017 / 3:28 pm

    Beautifully written, Mark, and so sorry to read of your grief after your relationship ended. But lovely to read of your relationship with nature, it’s something that sustains me too. I wish you well in your life however that works out for you and happy to be in contact with your sensitive soul.

    • Mark Miles December 6, 2017 / 4:58 am

      Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. I wish you all the best as well.

  25. Novasutras movement December 1, 2017 / 5:35 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story in such lovely prose, and for sharing the beautiful music and your images. Seeking healing in the greater-than-human world is essential for our well-being. Agaya and ubuntu!

    • Mark Miles December 6, 2017 / 5:02 am

      Thank you for the encouragement. I certainly agree in regards to the healing that comes from the natural world. Hope you’re doing well.

  26. ekurie December 5, 2017 / 1:17 pm

    IT sound as though you have moved well in your healing process. I believe it is true that what we become through healing deepens our capacity for compassion, understanding and empathy. Thank you for reading my blog.

    • Mark Miles December 6, 2017 / 5:22 am

      Thank you. I agree that pain and healing, when comibined, can be powerful imperatives to enlarge our sphere of compassion for others.

  27. Ravensare December 22, 2017 / 9:33 am

    What a beautiful post, thank you for sharing your thoughts and story! I think that grieving is a lifelong process in some ways; although things do get better, it can always return to us more acutely again from time to time. I love how you are finding connection with your animals and the nature around you, so beautifully written!

    • Mark Miles January 14, 2018 / 3:30 am

      Thank you, my friend. I appreciate your kind sentiments. To borrow the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, “there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured.” Nonetheless I would add that there is still beauty in life, and it deserves to be recognized.

      Hope you’re doing well.

  28. sevenfauesisters March 4, 2018 / 5:00 am

    Just finishes watched Hans Zimmer Live in Prague- you may appreciate it as much as I did. Looking forward to following your blog posts. Life is such a journey. One step forward and sometimes you just have to curl up in a ball.

  29. Diana March 19, 2018 / 4:53 am

    How exquisitely you write! I do agree with you, kind soul, that nature’s ability to nurture after loss is both profound and surprising. Be well. 😌💜

  30. Something About Maura April 24, 2018 / 6:06 pm

    This resonates with me. My relationship with nature is saving me everyday from too much time mourning the past. The opportunity to remain in the present and appreciation for the future that will happen regardless of me missing “the one” I thought would be my “only one”. Thanks for sharing. Nature therapy. 😎

  31. MK May 8, 2018 / 4:40 am

    I completely relate to this. I get weepy driving by a Cheesecake Factory now and again. Funny and sad. The second half of your writing, reflecting on the non human relationships, helped me reframe my own perception. Thank you Mark!

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