Moving on after a tragedy - Mountain Buzz

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Old 08-17-2010   #1
Salida, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2006
Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 7
Moving on after a tragedy

I know that many of you have been close to a death on the river, so I thought I'd share my experience to see if others had thoughts or advice about how to move on. For the most part, I have moved on, I mean I'm on the river nearly everyday as a guide, passing the spot where the incident occurred. I have fun and enjoy my life, but not a day has passed that I don't think about the victim, and a brief spell of terror enters my mind, telling me I shouldn't take my chances out here, that the longer I do this the more likely I will be to encounter or become involved in another tragedy.

So 8 days into guide training this May, my boat of trainees (myself being a trainee at the time) happened across the foot entrapment that marked the first death on the Arkansas this season. It was another boat of trainees, and apparently 10-15 minutes before we came across they were doing swim practice at Last Chance/360. A young woman had gone over what looked to be a small pour over after the rapid and I guess somehow got trapped there. We did not enter the scene until probably after she had lost consciousness and her body had gone limp, because she had been flushed out and we saw her helmet as she floated downstream. A little confusion ensued, but her fellow trainees pulled her to the shore, where we proceeded to give CPR for about 45 minutes until an aid car came. We traded off compressions, breaths, and creating a shield around her body to those that passed on the river. The night before, myself and several others in my training class had gotten CPR certified. She was pronounced dead at the hospital. I had never met her, she was very young and supposedly a fun, outdoorsy person. The scariest part of this incident it that it happened on a calm section of river, below a rapid, to someone who knew at least a little bit about the river.

I'm not sure what I expect to get out of sharing this. But it hasn't stopped entering my mind everyday, and while all of us on my boat talked in great detail immediately after, we haven't mentioned it to each other since. Another young first year guide died on the Ark this season as well, and I was putting in at her company the evening she went missing. I love life on the river, and have a great respect for the river, both its beauty and power, but I want to relieve some of this burden of tragedy. If anyone has any thoughts, please feel free to share.

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Old 08-17-2010   #2
jonny water's Avatar
Geologist, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1991
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 615
The risk is always present. Stay certified, stay alert, and always be prepared to assist in any situation. Remain calm on the river and realize that being involved or nearly involved in 2 incidents in one year is well above the norm.

The river is a sanctuary and can put you at ease.
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Old 08-17-2010   #3
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 404
The Yin and the Yang is the only true rule in life. Everything has equal amounts of good and bad. The hotter your wife, the more of a pain to you. The more money you have, the more you worry about other stuff. Otherwise the earth would'nt spin so perfectly around the sun. Nobody is making out better than anyone else. Something that can give so much like a river must be able to take an equal amount away as well. I never thought I would see so much death on the river. It's pretty sobering because no matter how much people say "they died doing what they love" or "at least they died on the river" it is all bullshit. Just bullshit people make up to make themselves feel better about it.
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Old 08-17-2010   #4
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The High Ground, Colorado
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 1,328
I've always known that life is eternal and it shapes my world view. I am convinced this body, when I'm finished with it, will be an old beat up tent that I once lived in. Tents are temporary shelter for those on a journey.

When measured against eternity we are all here for only a moment and I've always lived by the creed that it's better to have been a "has been" than a "never was."

Every mans days are numbered and we in the brevity of our lives are like a breath or the wind so I don't put much confidence in my own plans. This morning is was reading a story about a journey of a couple of despondent guys walking the road to Emmaus. It reminded me again that we never walk alone.
"Let us cross the river to the other side and rest beneath the shade of the trees." ~ Last words of Thomas Jonathan ''Stonewall' Jackson
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Old 08-17-2010   #5
Helena, Montana
Paddling Since: 1982
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 7
Many people feel bewildered when it comes to the etiquette of death. Because
they don't know what to say or do, they don't do anything. But even
discomfort and ignorance are not good reasons for ignoring friends or
acquaintances at this difficult time.

Flowers and notes cannot be sent too soon, and commercial sympathy cards are
fine if you add a personal note. If you are puzzled about what to say, look
through the cards and find two with messages you like. Buy one card, and
write the message from the other inside. Better yet, just look into your
heart and write the words and feelings you find there.

At the funeral or memorial service, take your behavior cues from the family.
Don't suggest that the deceased is better off, and refrain from imposing
your religious beliefs on the mourners. Remember, grieving is a process that
takes time, and bereaved parents or spouses may not be able to respond to
your sympathy at first.

Follow up on your card or note with a phone call, another note, or social
invitation in a few weeks or months. And no matter how awkward you may feel,
how distant the relative or casual friend, death should never be ignored.
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Old 08-17-2010   #6
wannabe kayaker
Dayton, Ohio
Paddling Since: 2006
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 56
What are the thoughts that linger? Is it thoughts about what may happen to you on the river? Thoughts about what happens after death? Meaning of life? All of the above?

I used to lead a house church, and a young woman who attended a couple of times committed suicide several months after attending. While I barely knew her, she was someone that I prayed for because I knew a little about how troubled her life was and that she was searching for help. After her death it weighed on me a lot. I still have questions about what happened, and where she is now. I still think about her frequently. I know a lot of my questions won't be answered in this life. However, what happened has changed how I view a lot about life. Before I was a very religious person more concerned about Bible fun facts than broken people. Now I have wrestled with a lot of things in my faith, and have come to understand that God's concern is healing and rescuing broken people. It's a hard world out there, and people are looking for healing and hope. I keep the funeral card in my Bible to remind me to view the world in a more compassionate way. I don't view what happened to her as a good thing, but it has had the result of making me a better person.

Regardless of what your beliefs are, allow this experience to teach you and grow you. In the community on the river there are people who are there for the next thrill, and there are people who approach it with a reverence. The river is beautiful and fun, but even the places that seem safe need to be respected. None of us are getting out of this world alive, but we can enjoy it understanding that to be careless is to move up that departure date. As a guide you can be the hot shot, or you can show people a fun time on the river in a way that reduces your chances of one of them not going home. There are not guarantees, but we can improve our chances.

If the thoughts are about the deeper things in life, ask questions and seek answers.
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Old 08-17-2010   #7
mhelm's Avatar
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1996
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 294
Unfortunately, I have dealt with death a lot on and off the river. As a raft guide, one of my best kayaking buddies died in a body entrapment. That was 5 years ago and I still miss him every day, especially when on the river! His words of encouragement and advice live on in all the people he encountered.

The only thing I can say for sure is that everyone deals with tragedy differently. It always sucks, whether you know the person or not.

Live each day to the fullest and stay safe on the river!!!
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Old 08-17-2010   #8
no tengo
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Baytopia, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1876
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 1,853
I was on a trip with a fatality. you wont ever forget but you will cope. message me if you (or anyone else) want to talk.
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Old 08-17-2010   #9
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Fort Collins, Colorado
Paddling Since: '05
Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 394
I think that some feelings aren't supposed to get better. Thank you for your courage to post this; I think all guides, myself included need to examine some of the feelings that you are staring in the face right now. We become too accustomed to the river and too cocky. I think it's of the utmost importance to remember these accidents not so we can feel bummed or dwell on it, but so we remember that the river is king, life is short, and to live each day like you're dyin. Examining mortality is the best way to enjoy each day.

Thank you Magneto.

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Old 08-17-2010   #10
Kingston, New York
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 33
Talking about it is probably one of the best things you can do. As another poster asked, what are the thoughts that go through your head? What *exactly* bothers you and why?

A bit more than 23 years ago I was on an easy river and about half an hour before we got there two fairly new kayakers got to a low head dam and one of them paddled over and drowned. There were two different things that had slowed my group by about 20 to 30 minutes, and since we had a 17' canoe as a potential rescue platform I've always wondered if we might have been able to make a difference if we had arrived sooner. Of course I've also wondered if any of us might have become victims also, either while attempting a rescue or by paddling over it ourselves. As a new (and young) paddler myself the danger of low head dams seemed very abstract and that 2' drop didn't look like much from upstream; I "knew" they were dangerous, but I'd never even been in a sticky hole at that point. Wondering if you could have helped, or if you might have come close to making your own last mistake can be quite a head game. For a while I thought about it frequently, but I don't remember how long that lasted. It will always have some personal meaning, but after a while it became nothing more than a cautionary tale.

The simple fact is that we all die sooner or later. Most of us will die of illness or old age, and others will have some kind of an accident. Your experience is a reminder that sometimes those accidents happen in ways we don't think are especially dangerous. Take that lesson and use it. Learn as much as you can and work at developing good habits, and share that with others, especially when you see them doing something potentially dangerous.
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