A lady, Fern Anderson, called me last night telling me that her niece, Tabatha Craver-Unruh, who follows me on Facebook, called her all excited telling her that I was walking through McPherson and she just had to go meet me! Tabatha recently lost her brother to suicide. Fern took me to lunch today and we had a great conversation. She is real good people. I’ve many new friends on my Facebook and due to some of the questions I’m receiving I decided to give a brief summary of what I’m doing and why.
In 1999 I lost my only son to suicide. Stevie was operating my business for me while I attempted a “thru-hike” of the Appalachian Trail. I had traveled just over half the trail when I received word that my son had placed a gun in his mouth and effectively ended both our lives.
I am convinced that there is no pain equal to that of losing a child. The grief was indescribable. I felt as though someone had taken an ax and chopped out my heart while I was yet breathing! My son, this living, breathing, precious life, my beautiful contribution to the universe, was suddenly gone. I can in no way fully describe the pain, I don’t know how to scream on paper…
Eight months later I returned to the exact spot where I had stopped my hike and proceeded to finish the “AT” as a tribute to my son. I screamed and cried almost every step of the way but I finished, having walked the entire 2,175 miles. While out on the trail in solitude, surrounded by the magnificent, inspiring beauty that encompasses that soothing and healing footpath, my life took a turn. For me, the Appalachian Trail became a pathway back to life… Trail Therapy. After completing my hike of the Appalachian Trail I adopted a creed; I want no other parent to suffer the horror that I had to go through and I wanted no other young person to miss out on the chance to… “LOVE LIFE”
I came up with the idea of walking across the U.S.A. I put a sign over my head… “LOVE LIFE” and off I went! I conveyed my message to all I encountered during the 4, 858 miles. I felt it so successful, I did it again. Only this time I walked around the United States covering 9,752 miles. My beautiful daughter, Shelly, helped orchestrate both walks.
I was about four weeks from finishing my walk around the U.S.A. when I received word that my beautiful 36-year-old only daughter who suffered from M.S. had died from an accidental drug overdose. Again, my life seemed to be ended. Yet again I faced the horror! The answer was right there over my own head, I had to push on and… “LOVE LIFE”
In honor of my beautiful little girl I walked from corner to corner of the U.S. on my “Shelly Walk” covering more than 9000 miles with the words “LOVE LIFE” over my head. After that, I walked across America again, first going to Maine from Florida and then across to California. I called that walk my “Joel Kody Walk.” I have already walked through all the lower 48 states but I am now in the process of walking through all 48 in one continuous walk, my “Zigzag Walk.” I have worn out over 40 pairs of shoes covering over 32,000 miles. With the exception of my first hike of the Appalachian Trail, I carried over my head a large sign, “LOVE LIFE.”
In one of my son’s suicide notes he actually said, “Maybe something good can come from this…” I was not able to keep my own beautiful children in this life and loving it, but by God, I am going to do everything I can to keep the children of others in this life and loving it!! And some way, somehow, I will heed my son’s words and make some good come out of his death and the death of his beloved sister. I want to mend the broken heart while it is yet beating. LOVE LIFE my dear sweet friends and thank you for your support.