The Toronto Sun
Monday, November 15, 2004

Journey through grief


NED LEVITT has endured what every parent dreads -- he buried his child. Then he descended into a purgatory of pain, anguish and self-persecution, the black hole of grief. "I left the world for a very long time -- I was absolutely devastated, torn apart and self-destructive," says Levitt, a 57-year-old Toronto franchise lawyer.

But salvation came.

Levitt transcended the grief by ascending a mountain of emotional and mental agony, befriending the pain along the way and then claiming the mountain in her memory. And Levitt chronicles his journey in No Mountain Too High: A Father's Inspiring Journey Through Grief (ECW Press), a truly uplifting story that is all about life -- but that which begins with death.

His daughter Stacey, 18, died tragically nine years ago when she was hit by a car while out jogging in Toronto. She was thrown 10 metres through the air, landed on her head and never regained consciousness.

That was the beginning of the end of Levitt's "charmed" life as he knew it: After identifying her body at Sunnybrook Hospital, enduring the funeral and sitting Shiva, he awoke into the unrelenting reality of grief, guilt, anger and sorrow -- and a shattered life without his daughter.


He could barely go on. He didn't want to go on -- but he couldn't bear the thought of his wife, Cheryl, and two remaining daughters suffering another overwhelming loss.

"I nearly lost my mind -- I called my brother in Florida six times a day. There was no relief from the grief, nausea and pain."

He faltered, raged, cursed, cried an ocean of tears, pleaded and bargained with God, and then, in his desperate quest to survive, he faced his pain head on and clawed his way out of the frightening depths of despair, devastation and darkness: "You must run into the fire, not away from it. You diminish the pain by feeling pain," says Levitt. "There is no way out of the pain -- you have to go through it, fight it and dominate it. You must find meaning."

Levitt's journey of survival, healing and redemption involved finding a reason to go on: First he published a collection of Stacey's poetry and entitled it I Am A Rose, and then he began to reach out to other bereaved parents.

Then, 14 months after Stacey's death, in his unrelenting determination to make meaning of his life and loss, Levitt travelled to Mexico to complete Stacey's unfinished climb up Mt. Ixta, where he left a memorial to her: A box containing copies of her poetry book, and note paper and pens for fellow climbers. Stacey had embarked on a challenging climbing expedition mere months before her death but was unable to make it to the top of the 17,000-ft. mountain because of stormy weather.

No Mountain Too High tells the story of who Stacey was, the special bond of love between Levitt and his daughter, and the joy of connecting with her spiritually -- on and beyond the mountain. Although gone physically, Stacey, an outstanding student, poet and athlete, became his saviour from the heart-breaking aftermath. And he emerged a crusader.


"I decided not to hold back in the book -- when your heart is broken, it's open," says Levitt, who is brutally honest about his journey to heal his broken heart.

"Now I live a very joyful life -- even though I have suffered greatly. I still carry pain, but it has transformed me and has given me joy. I've learned many lessons from my tremendous personal loss and I've gained compassion and understanding," he says.

"I miss her everyday and think of her all of the time, but it's with joy," says Levitt, who's been married for 37 years. "I'm healthy, ambitious and doing things. I paid the price and now I want joy and I carry a message of hope."

Levitt wants to inspire others to overcome their problems -- whatever they are. He has found salvation in helping others cope with bereavement, loss and survival and is a frequent speaker for bereavement groups.

"For me, the work I do brings meaning to an otherwise meaningless situation and has helped me get through it and move on," he says, adding that Stacey's poetry has comforted people all over the world and continues to do so -- on the mountain and throughout the vista beyond.

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(excerpt taken from http://www.canoe.ca/NewsStand/TorontoSun/Lifestyle/2004/11/15/715161.html)