For those of you who were not able to make John’s memorial on June 7th, below is the eulogy I opened with. John – I love you, forever.
I realize that it isn’t normally the case at an event like this for the spouse to get up and speak. Perhaps other people might have a close friend read a letter on their behalf. However, those of you who know me know that I do things my own way, and frankly you all have no choice but to listen to me!
There are a lot of things I could say about John. I could talk about what a wonderful father he was, how he wasn’t critical and never judged, how he used to eat fire and build pyrotechnic displays at Burningman, how handy he was in the woodshop, or what a phenomenal cook he was. For today, though, I’m going to focus on John and the mountains.
John was an amazing man. As many of you know, John and I fell in love in the Nevada Desert at Burningman 2003. Before I met John I had all sorts of ideas and rules about the man I would eventually marry. Of course he would have a good education. Certainly there would be a long courtship and engagement before fully committing to the man I would have children with. Somehow, however, from the moment I stepped foot on the playa for our first walk together, all of those rules went away. It was just me, John, the moon, the Man, and the dust. John was a wild and crazy fire eating high school drop out, and he did not fit into the image I had of the man I would marry. I realized that true love doesn’t have any rules. From that night on there were no rules, there was only John.
That very first night, John asked me two important questions. He asked me many other questions, but it was obvious that the answers to these two questions would determine if our first date would continue. First, he asked me if I ate meat. The second question was if I wanted to stay in the Pacific Northwest. He knew I wasn’t from the area and, he told me later, he didn’t want to fall for someone if they were going to pull him away, as his heart was here with our beautiful mountains. Fortunately for me I passed these 2 tests!
It only took John a couple of weeks to outfit me in new hiking boots and Gortex pants and jacket. He said, with a huge smile and obvious joy, “I’ve gotta gear up my girl!” We began to hike and backpack together and, as I experienced Mountain Man John, I only fell more deeply in love. Those of you who know me know that I can be a bit… bossy. The mountains, however, were one place where I never bossed John around. He was always in charge on the trail and I loved it. His competence and passion in the mountains made me melt like no other man had made me melt before.
John proposed several months into our relationship. A few months after that we were married and (just a week before the wedding) joyously found out we were pregnant. When our girls were little most of the more serious climbing stopped, but the outdoors were a constant theme. I will never forget when, at John’s insistence, we took a 5 week old Melanie on a 5 day camping trip. I said – “Really? We are going to deal with diapers and nursing out in the woods? ” He smiled at me and said “I’ll take care of you out there”. Which, of course, he did.
Some of the sweetest hugs and kisses I received from John were by campfires. We would stand by the fire out on our land after our girls were in bed. He would hold me and tell me he loved me with the special softness he had in his eyes for me when we were camping or hiking. Over and over again I felt, without words, how deeply fulfilled he was to be married to someone who shared the PNW outdoors with him. There are many things that John did, but all of those things were secondary to his nature as a Mountain Man. He was never hotter than when he was stinky and dirty, pushing for a summit, and I told him that all the time. I would frequently tell him that I really didn’t care if he got promoted at work, or was more successful in software, because I didn’t marry Software John. I married Mountain Man John.
Over the years, as we moved out of little baby mode, John began to ache to get back to more serious climbing. He talked about it all the time. I became very inspired and also began to train with a heavy pack in preparation to eventually climb Rainier. John and I trained together on occasion, but most of the time we trained separately because someone had to be home with the kids. Even though we didn’t train together, in the evenings after one of us had hiked or climbed, we would stay up late breaking down the climb, discussing conditions, hazards, mental notes we were making for the future about the costs and benefits of a particular piece of gear. He and I never tired of talking about climbing. We often talked about how it was too bad that we could never do any of the harder technical peaks together, because there were risks involved and we had to make sure that, should tragedy strike, one of us was still here for the girls.
Eventually I had my first successful Rainier summit, and John had his third. He had some other big recent climbs, such as Aconcagua in Argentina, but it was Rainier that always had a special place in his heart. He told me that he wanted to get into a rhythm of climbing Rainier every single year. In fact, he told me many times over the years that when he died, he wanted his ashes to be spread in a crevasse on Mount Rainier.
The man that I fell in love with and married was a Mountain Man. If he had been anyone else, I wouldn’t have loved him in the same way. John always supported me in following my dreams, and I supported him in following his. I do not have any regrets. If I had asked him not to climb the big peaks that he reached for then I would have helped to extinguish the beautiful light of life inside of him. I am full of gratitude that I had 10 incredible years with John, and I wouldn’t trade those 10 years for 50 years with anyone else.
When John died, he was happy. He was doing what he loved. He died knowing that he was truly adored by me and many others. He died having lived life fully and having reached for more joy in 40 years than many people reach for in 80. John and I exchanged some texts on Wednesday evening, May 28, the evening that his team is believed to have perished by avalanche or rock fall during the night. His last text to me at 7:04pm was “Got to power down now, I love you.” In turn I responded “I love you forever.” John is at peace now. If he couldn’t be here with us anymore then he is where he wants to be – on Mount Rainier.
Yesterday I got back on the trail for the first time since I learned that his team was missing. It was hard to get back out there to a trail that John and I had done many times. I knew, however, that I must do it. I knew that John would want me to get back on the trail. I won’t be doing any climbing on glaciers for the sake of my girls, but still – I WILL get back on the trail.
I ask you all to honor John by getting back on the trail. You may take this literally or figuratively. If you are a climber, then keep climbing. Follow your dreams. Express your true spirit. We must continue to live, whatever that means for you. I celebrate the man that John was, and I celebrate all of you.
And now, I would like to play you one song.
Shortly after I learned of John’s passing, I was drawn to play this Pearl Jam song. John was the biggest Pearl Jam fan there was, and in fact – sometimes I truly overdosed when he incessantly played their albums. This is the song that expresses how I feel about him. I ask that you all place one hand on your heart, close your eyes, and fill with all of the love that you can fill with as you listen to every single word. I will stand here and do the same.
(Play Backspacer, “Just Breathe”, Pearl Jam)