Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When Words Fail Us

Each of us goes through this life knowing that nothing is certain. We hope for the best, we pray for the best, and we take measures to keep ourselves healthy and safe. And though we are aware that terrible things can happen, it doesn’t make it any easier when they do.

On Friday night in Leavenworth, Mr. W and I had spent a blissful day and night completely cut off from the world. While we enjoyed our time focusing only on each other, we both began to get a little antsy, so we turned on the 11:00 news. I was shocked to see a picture of P’s older brother staring back at me.

An experienced backcountry hiker and avid outdoorsman, TJ had headed out for a two or three day hike the previous Sunday in the North Cascades. When he hadn’t returned by Thursday evening, his friends became concerned and notified the authorities. By Friday, the search was on. Sure enough, I checked my Facebook and found a message from P. She was heading to Seattle the next day, possibly to join the search on Sunday, and asked for my thoughts and prayers. I asked her to please keep me posted.

Ordinarily, this would have been a terrifying situation… and don’t get me wrong, I was worried for TJ and P and her family. But I knew that TJ was no ordinary guy. Almost exactly ten years ago, when we were seniors in high school, TJ was hiking through Yellowstone and interrupted a grizzly bear and her cubs. Mama Bear attacked. Not only did TJ survive, he walked four miles to the trailhead holding his scalp to his head. He was hurt pretty badly, but he made a full recovery. I still remember the relief the family felt after bringing him home battered, but safe. Surely if anyone could survive in those mountains, it was him.

I didn’t hear anything from P for the rest of the weekend, so I assumed the search was still on. Imagine my sorrow when, just as Mr. W and I were leaving Leavenworth, we got a call from my father telling me that I had better call P. He had just read the newspaper. TJ’s body had been found on Saturday. He had fallen to his death during the hike.

I am the daughter and the sister of outdoorsmen. This is our worst fear. No matter how smart, experienced or educated someone is, there are too many uncertainties where Mother Nature is concerned. There’s always a chance they won’t come home, and in our hearts, we know that. But we also know that, for some people, the outdoors is a passion and who are we to keep our loved ones from pursuing that passion? So they leave, and we wait and we worry and we hope. A part of us stops breathing until they return home safely.

A month ago, my father was in the mountains with my brother. They went their separate ways for awhile and after dark, my father turned around and found himself face to face with a huge cougar. He didn’t have a gun. He had no way of defending himself.

 My dad was lucky. He made noise, used his backpack to make himself appear taller, and scared the cougar away with rocks until my brother found him and they hightailed it out of there. It could easily be me in this position…. my family torn apart, my heart broken. I don’t know why some people get lucky and some don’t or why the world works the way it does. I will always be extremely thankful that my dad lived to see another day and hopefully another 30 years or so.

But now I have to be a good friend to someone who has just lost their flesh and blood. I have dealt with loss before. But I’ve never been in this exact situation. I don’t know what to say, how to act, or what to do. It’s a powerless feeling, wanting so badly to be a good friend but not knowing how. Words are my life, and yet somehow, I can’t find the right words for P.

I know everything happens for a reason. Although my heart is broken for my friend whose heart will never fully heal, I admit that a part of me is grateful. I’m grateful that P got to spend time with her brother while she was in town. I’m grateful that, just a week and half ago, P and I were on top of the world, enjoying drinks and catching up on life. I’m so glad we got to see each other under better circumstances and I know it’s no accident that fate brought her back into my life just before this incredibly difficult time. Nothing can bring her brother back, but I hope the precious time she spent with him is somewhat of a comfort to her.

I’m doing the only thing I can. As soon as I post this, I am driving to Seattle to be there for P. I told her I will do whatever she needs me to do, whether it be helping with arrangements or just sitting in my hotel room, crying our eyes out together. I recently reconnected with P and had so much fun,  I had a feeling it wouldn’t be another six or seven years before I saw my friend. I just didn’t want it to be like this.

For those of you on Twitter who offered your prayers and condolences, thank you. I strongly believe that we really are all connected in this world and although P doesn’t know any of you personally, she’s a wonderful woman who will appreciate all kind words and thoughts right now. She’s also a strong woman, but circumstances like this bring even the strongest of us to our knees. 

I don’t know if I can help her up. All I can do is try.

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