During my twenty four years of living, I have been spared from the awful tragedy of a close friend dying. This summer that changed for me. I chase adventure wholeheartedly and so do the like minded people I surround myself with. Sometimes our adventures are too big.
Many times this summer I camped in a canyon near my house. At times, it felt like I spent more time in Poudre Canyon than I did at my own house. I climbed, fished, ran, camped, even skinny dipped, and all of this surrounded my my closest friends. On one of those trips we took extra time talking about how wild the river was from the snowmelt combined with the increased rainfall for the season. The same afternoon I found out a close friend from work drowned in the river the evening before.
I struggled with grief. I wanted to cry, but couldn’t. Then I started crying and couldn’t seem to stop. And even after all of my crying it didn’t seem to make anything better and it didn’t bring Rebecca back. I tried to process through everything with logic, but what does grief even mean and what is it supposed to look like for each person? How do we console the loss of someone so filled with joy and a truly contagious zeal for living life to the fullest? I continued quietly dealing with this for the rest of the summer by being filled with emotions and sadness I couldn’t make disappear.
Being a transplant in a place like Colorado, like I am, means friends frequently come to visit. A fellow Tennessean who now lives here, Jonathan, told everyone one of his best friends was coming out for a visit before he went to Hawaii for study abroad. That instantly made Sean seem cool.
The time came and Sean arrived for his visit. While climbing one day we casually chatted about life until we realized we had met in high school through a mutual friend. We instantly became even closer friends. Sean was just stopping by on his way to Hawaii so his flight out for school came faster than any of us wanted. He promised to come back and we all promised he was always welcome and had a place to stay.
Several weeks later Jonathan received a call that Sean was in the hospital. He was involved in a longboarding accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. While in the hospital he eventually became stable and the doctors had high hopes of recovery and little thought of death even being a possibility. Two days after we found out he was stable, he died.
Everything happened with Sean much slower than the sudden news about Rebecca, but it didn’t make it any easier to deal with. Grief. Round two. I still hadn’t figured out what to do with my emotions, how to really talk about the situations with my friends, or really what I even thought about risk in adventure.
Slowly I have figured out a few things.
People mourn and grieve and say they want to honor their lost ones by living their lives better. What a great idea! The problem is, the idea is vague with little direction and it becomes easy to stop living like the person you lost without constant reminders or goals.
I’m trying something different; I’ve learned to pick out traits from my friends and implement those into my life. Rebecca had such a zeal for life, it was infectious. She was wild in all of the best ways. Right before her group went into the rapid that flipped their boat and eventually became the factor to take her life, she was fist pumping and shouting, “This is it! This is it!” overjoyed for the big obstacle ahead. The obstacle took her life. I want the zest she displayed.
Sean was gifted with the ability to engage well with people. He did not simply get along with everyone, he made them feel loved and important in his life. This was exemplified when over 1,000 people came out to his funeral. I now take the extra couple of minutes with the people around me to consistently let them know how important they are to me. I try to verbally tell them, but also show with my attention to them and their stories ask them real questions about their lives and care about what they are telling me. Neither of these things are easy to always do, but I’m trying.
Death taught me those things. I’m young, my friends are adventurous, so sadly Rebecca and Sean probably won’t be the only friends I lose to adventurous accidents outside. The difference for me going forward with life is always trying to live like them. Be zealous about life. Show people you care. You can change lives and make big differences with the attitudes that we convey to everyone we encounter.
Photo Credit: @JodyJohnston