Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Empty Space on the Mountain

Today I drove by the Highlands, and I watched the little dots of people coming down. I have friends up on that mountain today, skiing in the sunshine, some are struggling, some are training, some are playing, some are teaching, some are dragging pads and people all over the mountain. There's Barry, working hard to keep the MGR running, and Meesh cracking the whip at line up.

I haven't been on skis in a couple of days, because there is someone missing from that mountain today. His name was Jordan, and he was a bright light.

I feel fortunate to be invested in my clients, to make deep relationships with them, to be invited into their lives, to share their triumphs and their failures. I have been fortunate enough to work not only for SkiCo in this capacity, but also at the Jaywalker Lodge in Carbondale for recovering addicts, and in hospice doing massage therapy and providing compassionate touch and care for those who are at the end of their lives.

I am used to losing people, as used to it as a person gets, I suppose, because in all these lines of work, and in life in general, people die. They die of old age, of accident, of trauma, of avalanche, of mechanical failure of impact and of drugs.

Sometimes they die inside but they are still right there in front of you.

I got word a few days ago that Jordan had died. This was a kid who I worked with, who I wasn't particularly close to, no closer than any other individual I've worked with. He was a good kid, from a good family. He had a heroin addiction.

When we skied together, Jordan's smile was bright, his enthusiasm for the mountain was huge, and his affection for his sister was beautiful. His parents lost him to his addiction in the end of January.

I didn't ski with Jordan this year, I was busy and our schedules didn't mesh. I had a pending reminder to shoot him an email and see how he was doing.

For the last two weeks, I've been looking forward to getting out and skiing with my friends on Tuesday. We've all been working, and Tuesday was going to be the day. We had some national team members in town who I haven't seen in years, Kurt had the day off, so did Cindy, and we were going to make a rippin' posse of it.

Tuesday morning, almost as I walked out the door of the locker room, I learned about Jordan's death. Everything slowed down. I felt prickly all over my skin, I felt nauseous, I felt like I was floating. And then I felt normal. After all, this happens.

We headed over to the Highlands, and there was Cindy, smiling and ready to go. Hafer and Jeb Boyd were there, stoked to ski in Aspen, excited to catch up. We loaded up the lift, and Jonathan, our training manager, looked at me and said, "What's up, Kate?'

I blinked. "I had a rough morning." I answered. Even though I wasn't sure that was true, I had a surprising morning. But I felt decidedly unlike myself, a bit detached, floating. I couldn't hear what people were saying. I was happy to be with my friends, but there was this time-delay, I felt like I was about 45 seconds behind everyone.

We loaded the lift and took off, a group of happy, reunited friends freeskiing together. All I could think was that I wanted to go home and go to bed, I wanted to be under the covers, wrapped up in warmth, wrapped in arms. I wanted desperately to hug my kids. We poured down Mushroom in 9" of fresh snow and I couldn't muster the energy to make my legs bend.

I was skiing in a detached state, my feet lagging, the trees coming closer than I wanted them. I looked at each as I passed it and thought, I hope this one doesn't take my life. Suddenly, my goggles were fogging, I wasn't weeping, but I couldn't stop crying. I looked at Cindy. "I"m going to take a coffee break." I said.

She smiled at me, told me it was a good idea. I loaded the lift, and was shocked to feel a tidal wave of grief break over me, stealing all of my hope, making me feel hollow, lost, unsure and so very sad.

I don't know why it was that the loss of Jordan had such a huge impact on me. Maybe that will be some of the gift of his loss. His beautiful smile, his exuberance, his irreverence, his transparency his beautiful heart and his heroin addiction.

I spent yesterday trying to come back into balance, I stayed out of bed, walked around in the sunshine, found a way to laugh and to smile, and missed him still, tried to make sense of my feeling that I had let him and his family down.

I felt my sister in my heart, I went and looked at Sopris in the sun.

Today I feel more in my body, still shocked from the loss, but ready to move again. No one should ever outlive their child. I have far too many friends who have done just that. I do not know how they survive and thrive, but they do.

Today my project is to connect to those who I come across, hug my kids, and feel the breath going into and out of me. To send love and compassion to the parents and sister of this beautiful boy who we lost, and to thank the mountain for all that it gave us. Thank you to Ben for teaching me to be gentle with myself with loss like this.