In the last month, I’ve received an outpouring of emails, cards, little gifts, flowers, letters, texts, tweets, facebook messages, baked goods, meals, visits, phone calls and help with everything, both from family and friends, and also from this community of climbers, jumpers and readers whom I have never met. A friend living in France drove through the night to Italy to pull me out of the Dolomites and to Switzerland to fly home, taking care of decision making, changing flights, returning the rental car, etc. I found out later that not only my brother but 4 other friends booked next-day plane tickets from the States and Canada to Italy just to fly home with me (I told my brother to cancel/refund, it didn’t seem practical–though once I got on the plane I realized why people do that). There were three friends who called me and in absolute sincerity said, “If there was any way possible, I would change places with him.”
Losing Mario is a nightmare I could never even have imagined–at least not right now. Honestly, I always thought that if one of us would die jumping or in my case, climbing, it would be me. Of course. It was actually impossible for Mario to die jumping, in my mind. I’ve heard the same from every jumper he knew or who knew of him. It’s impossible, and it doesn’t make sense. But it is.
Usually when someone dies jumping or in aviation (and at least somewhat in climbing, though loose rock and avalanches are just those wild cards), you can track the events and figure out the chain of events or the one thing that went wrong. In this case, everything was perfect. I was having a perfect morning with the person I loved the most. We were not there to push the envelope or do anything extreme. We were there to be safe and fly together like we always do. Mario followed me off the edge, I flew ahead, then I landed and I was alone. Though I was there with him until the very last seconds, I still can’t begin to understand it or find any explanation. It truly never entered my mind that the most experienced, skilled, careful and respectful jumper I’ve ever known could die base jumping, and I’m completely unprepared to have lost Mario now and like this.
As Mario’s best friend Martin reminds me, death will come to all of us at any time, and there is not always an identifiable reason when it does. Martin was in school at Polytechnique in 1989 the day the shooter arrived. And he lived through the aftermath when many other students took their lives out of guilt and grief. The students who went to class that day and the people who went to work at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday never expected that they would not come home. Sometimes awful things happen that no one could ever see coming, when we are simply living our daily routine the way we always have, and they happen to good people who have worked hard to live as well as they can.
The hard truth is that it’s only naivete and wishful thinking that makes us somehow feel we can stay clear of the end through some kind of recipe or formula or that we can ensure a peaceful death in bed at age 90 beside our spouse if we stay healthy and careful and good. That was my dream: I won’t have it. For those of us who want the world to make sense, or to at least be minimally fair, this is incredibly difficult to accept. Losing my soul mate, best friend and partner is incredibly difficult to accept. And no, nothing will ever make it better. We all understand that the only thing I want is to have Mario back, and I can never have that. But what helps me is that nevertheless all of you have reached out your hands in whatever way you can think of all the same because that is innate kindness and that is really all we have to give.
I realize I have 2 choices–not live, or live. Being the analytical person I am, obviously I have considered them both carefully. I have decided that existing in sorrow, in a half life, is not a choice.
Right now, it’s kind of like this:
“When life instantly and drastically takes you completely by surprise, the first reaction is confusion. If one minute you’re following a normal routine in an airplane, motors roaring, and a couple of minutes later the plane crashes and you’re on a raft, lost and adrift in a vast, loud silence, the disorientation is, at best, intense. Then a new world unfolds. You need time to understand and figure out what’s happening.”
Louis Zamperini The Devil at My Heels
I’m working on adjusting. I’m running, base jumping, climbing. Doing hangboard workouts. I ask myself what Mario would do: I’m painting the outside of the house. I bake. I read lots of books about people who have endured. Moab Base Adventures is operating–no tandem jumps anymore, that was something that only Mario could do here in Moab, but I’m continuing to base guide and instruct and of course continue my Indian Creek clinics. I’d always thought about offering women’s specific base instruction, and interestingly enough several women are coming for it this season.
I’ve been quiet here for a while, but thank you for continuing to send me your questions and thoughts about the things we love to do (especially gear and food questions, which I am going to answer, and the pictures of your dogs and cats, which make me smile each one!), and for your kind thoughts and patience.