Thoughts on Honoring the Dead, and the Living

Well, shit. JP and Andreas and Liz, gone. More friends dead. JP Auclair, Andreas Fransson, Liz Daley, killed in two


Liz.

Liz.

JP.

JP.

Well, shit. JP and Andreas and Liz, gone.

More friends dead. JP Auclair, Andreas Fransson, Liz Daley, killed in two separate avalanches in the same day, same part of the world.

They follow Shane. And Craig, and Doug. And, of course, Trevor. Some of the best and brightest from the already bright world of snow and mountains, their lights snuffed out far too early.

It’s not a mystery why. You play with fire, you might get burned. Some extreme skiers live to be old, some don’t. Shane used to say, “There are no injuries in BASE,” by which he meant if you screw up you’re dead, and he was right. We’re not surprised that it can happen, we just are when it does. The only one whose death on skis really shocked me was Doug. He was so fucking precise, so strong, so in control, the idea that he would lose an edge and slide off a cliff still leaves me uncomprehending. Doug Coombs, really? Doug?

But, yes. He’s gone. And so’s my dad and so’s my beloved mother in law and so’s my dear sweet niece and so are too many people, gone, their passings adding up to far too great a total the older I get.

And what’s left, in all this absence? That aching disbelief, the intellectual struggle to understand, the black sense of loss in losing a friend as well as the knowledge that another amazing spirit is gone from the world, taken from everyone. And let’s not forget the existential echoes, the mortality. Coulda been me. Wasn’t. Let’s hope it isn’t, for a while.

The social media profiles are filling up with all kinds of well-intended condolences. RIP, mountain brother. RIP? WTF. What does that even mean, RIP? Who wants to rest? RIP is just a stupid thing we say because we don’t know what else to say, because death is the biggest mystery of all next to life, and also because it terrifies us and who really wants to talk about that?

So, we pretend it won’t happen to us and we pin our platitudes onto these digital bulletin boards, we leave our flowers at the grave as best we can, and none of it is adequate, but that’s okay. We want, we need, to mark passings, to give back in some seemingly meaningful way, even if it’s just three little letters that don’t amount to much except as a gesture. But those gestures, they’re important — not just for families and friends to see the impact of their loved ones in some tangible moment, but for us, too, to know that we did something. Lit a metaphorical candle or whatever.

And then we vow to go on, carrying that person’s spirit inside us and trying to let it guide us. I didn’t turn to my dad much in life, but in death I think of him all the time and I regularly try to honor his strengths. I work to be more like Lynn, my wife’s mother, in how she touched countless people with love, in so many big and little ways, wherever she went. And all the time when I’m skiing, I think of Trevor’s ferocity or Doug’s cool strength and I try to own that as best I can, as me, with them inside me.

Lots of people will now do the same with JP and Andreas and Liz, to remember and honor them by emulating them, and they should. Two incredible men, one incredible woman, three charismatic spirits, have passed from this plane, and we owe it to them to live their strengths, to incorporate parts of them into us, so that our world is a better place because of it, and we are better people, too.

But it isn’t enough. It’s something. It’s not nothing. But it’s too little, and it’s too late.

Last month, my son turned 17 and after dinner, over cake, his girlfriend shared with us one of her family traditions, how the family takes turns telling the birthday honoree something they admire, love, or like about the person. They share one thing, then the next person shares something, and so on, until they’ve shared one trait for each year.

And so we did that, we told him 17 separate qualities that we loved, and though at first embarrassed, he sat there and took it with a smile, and by the time we were done he’d heard not just that we loved him, but some of the many reasons why.

The extra thing that I did, though, is tell him not just that I admired, say, his patience, but that I actively try to copy that patience, that I actively try to be like him. That he is a role model for me, and not in some fuzzy idealized way, but in a proactive, I’m-working-on-this-every-day kind of way.

It was a small idea, perhaps, but it felt profoundly important to me, and in the five weeks since his birthday I’ve found myself acknowledging my friends and family out loud, telling them not just that I like their good qualities, but that I’m working to be more like them, too. That I don’t just think warm thoughts of them, but that I do warm things with them as my guide.

We take for granted our time on earth. Even when we don’t, we do. We spend our precious moments on trivialities, on contrivances, and we lose sight that far more precious than our dollars are our minutes. I wasn’t super close to JP or Andreas or Liz, but I did tell JP how much I admired his vision, and I did tell Andreas how much I respected his intellectual passion for skiing the steeps. I just wish I’d told JP that I liked his photos so much I actually looked at them before shooting my own or said out loud to Andreas that I was working to bring his same kind of mindfulness to my own skiing.

It’s good to honor the dead. It’s better to honor the living. It’s good to use words. It’s better to take actions. And really, there’s no time to waste.


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Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal.
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Showing 66 comments
  • Tait Wardlaw
    Reply

    From a guy who writes wonderful essays and thoughtful commentary on a regular basis, this may be in a league of its own. Not just thought-provoking and inspiring, but concrete and specific, too. Thank you so much Casi. TW

  • Sam
    Reply

    Thank you Steve.

  • Soph
    Reply

    Poignant and with purpose, thank you

  • Carla Smith
    Reply

    Thank-you for the timely reminder to honour the living. Thank-you for giving words to loss and grief and gratitude. Thank-you for giving us something to ‘do’.

    For me, the RIP acronym is particularly apt. They did rip. They latched onto their dreams and ran with them. I didn’t know any of those who died personally at all but was surprisingly shocked. I had heard their names bandied about in a band of brothers (and sisters), New Canadian Air Force kind of way. Those who did what seemed impossible, making our own impossibles less so.

    It’s all so tenuous. I think that it’s one of the signs of getting older is that it feels like people are ‘falling’ all around us and are we going to be left as the last man standing, wondering ‘why’ and ‘how’. And when we remember those who have died what we remember is how they moved about their world. What they did.

    If there is anything at all to be retrieved from loss I think that somewhere within those days of grieving we are given a window to reflect, to shed the peripherals that accumulate in our lives, the small day to day worries about the past or the future that clog the present. We are given the opportunity to re-connect with our deepest longings. That which is central to becoming whole again or even whole at last, becomes more readily apparent. We renew, yet again our vows to live more purposefully, more in the present, more grateful, more alive.

    But it all takes time and allowing ourselves to be sad, first.

    “This awareness of our transience, our minuteness, and the paradoxical enlargement of our aliveness that it produces seems to be the sole solace from grief’s grip, though we all arrive at it differently” – Maria Popova

  • Mike
    Reply

    Poignant.

  • Jopopo
    Reply

    Touching essay. Très touchant. À l’image de ces esprits charismatic comme vous le dite. Québec will miss this great underground ambassador. Every man’s utopia will certainly also miss this guy.

    He only lived till is thirdies but his lifestyle and the decisions he made regarding it has certaintly nourrished his soul as if he had aquired the wisdom off the 70 year old computer banging, pensil pushing, insurance worker you’ll find by thousands in every towers of the cities.

  • Pete Roggeman
    Reply

    That was a fitting tribute and a well-delivered message, Steve.

  • L Dakota
    Reply

    I’m not sure if my brother ever knew how much I loved him or how proud I was of him but I made sure I told him as much as possible. The same goes for my kids and the rest of the loved ones that surround me……. your thoughts on your own son are indeed generous and special. In years to come, his initial embarrassment at your affections will become the concrete foundation in which he builds his own life.

  • Mike H.
    Reply

    This is the most thought-provoking, relevant, inspiring piece I’ve ever read on AJ. Thanks.

    • Seth
      Reply

      I second that emotion. Thank you, Steve.

  • Rick Hunt
    Reply

    Steve, great essay. Your comments on Doug ring true with me as well; for him to loose an edge and fall was uncomprehendable. Doug’s death rocked my world for years and still affects me today, seven years later.

    So true your points about embracing our friends and family now while you have a chance. Living in the moment like Doug did is what keeps the passion alive.

    When we make a mistake and get hurt, we learn from it, when we make a mistake and die, other people learn from it. I’ve learned from this recent tragedy a new way to celebrate birthdays – its a little lesson but it spreads love which is critically important for our survival.

    Thanks again Steve

  • Miriam
    Reply

    This was very moving, thank you. That birthday tradition is a great one.

  • Steven
    Reply

    “It’s better to take actions. And really, there’s no time to waste.” – Absolutley.

    Explained so well in Andreas’ last blog post, reflecting on Magnus’ death:

    “I’ve learnt a few things the last few months; Life goes on and how we want it to go on is a choice and even if we want to escape, there is no-where to escape so we might as well make right now awesome.”

  • simone blei
    Reply

    great explanation Steve! we probably all think or should think like this, but are drivven by all this social obligation towards participating on platforms that are fakely social and bring us more apart than together. we should be responsible enough to each of us learn from these great losses, the more they touch us the more we can change because of it. i find myself in a similar situation, when you talk about Doug, as i learned so much from him since i met him the first minute till today and whatever future is left for me, hopefully a long enough one. take care and keep shouting loud
    simone

  • Rick Petersen
    Reply

    Well said Steve. I would only add how much I appreciate my good fortune to have also been able to celebrate my son’s 17th birthday – a young man who never met his uncle Trevor, but who reminds me of him often. And to challenge ourselves to imagine our children’s future – as my brother did with his son Kye – and to make sure that we pass on the love and support we can while we are here.

  • Josi
    Reply

    Thank you for offering your thoughts. Our culture of fully lived living is nestled deeply in a bigger one that quakes at the idea of death. That makes it very hard to navigate these loses. I suppose that we all do the best we can.

  • Michelle QP
    Reply

    I am going to start doing this with my skier sons who are 9 and 11. Great for them to hear. Thanks for sharing.

  • The Truth
    Reply

    Bravo Cas. Everyone should speak from the heart as much as possible.

    3 incredible people living amazing lives had a very bad day.

  • Ben Kaufman
    Reply

    Thank you Steve for speaking from the heart. I’ve read your writings through the years at Powder and now at AJ – I was actually looking forward to what you’d have to say about this tragedy as a touchstone for my own processing. I’ll bring up the family tradition at the next bday in my household. Thank you for wringing some good out of it.

  • Jamie
    Reply

    Well said. Thank you

  • Paul Done
    Reply

    Well said, Steve.

  • Jess S
    Reply

    Brilliant piece. Thought-provoking and beautiful. Thanks for your words, for inspiring and touching so many of us with them. That’s what I’d like to thank YOU for.

  • Tami
    Reply

    Thank you, Steve. Just….thank you.

  • WhiteWolf
    Reply

    Thank you Andreas, JP & Liz.

  • Craig Richwine
    Reply

    No words can express my thoughts on this. Well written. Thank you for sharing.

  • Adam Olson
    Reply

    Alex Lowe…….

  • Ashley Herod Tait
    Reply

    I am glad I found this piece. While I didn’t know the three of them personally, I have crossed paths with JP through my role in the media, the ski industry, and as a former member of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Team – the team and the sport that was a stepping stone to his impressive career. Still, without that personal connection, but as someone who has lived and breathed the sport, both on ski runs and in the backcountry, it has made me sad that another amazing skier has been lost to the mountains. It also made me send a mental message to all those that I care for who spend weeks and months in big mountains, to stay present out there.

    Thank you for the message to remind me to stay ‘here’ – I will be implementing that lovely birthday concept with my own child – and well before her next birthday.

  • John DiCuollo
    Reply

    WOW.

    Thank you for sharing Steve!

  • brody leven
    Reply

    awesome, Steve. Thanks for this tribute, and I love and appreciate the ties to your personal life, family, and experiences.

  • Geoff
    Reply

    This process of saying good bye to friends, family or Inspiring people after their gone is not easy and always invokes deep introspection. Thanks Steve for taking the time to write this essay. Oh, and I admire and respect the way your stories and photos often go deeper than the superficial splender of the sport, action or location. Please don’t rest.

  • Dave Cumming
    Reply

    Thanks, Steve, for taking action, and sharing your very well crafted thoughts and words to do so. It’s up to us all, to be present, be grateful, give thanks, and to take action. Cheers.

  • Connor Greene
    Reply

    By far the most thought provoking essays I have ever read on AJ. After tragedies like these it helps to read something so thoughtful, moving, and straight forward as this. Thank you.

  • Michael
    Reply

    Your best writing yet Steve. Thank you for sharing.

  • Jeff
    Reply

    Wonderful eulogy and deeply personal remarks that inspire. Thanks for writing this.

    I can’t claim to be an insider in ski culture, but I followed JP through film and social media, and even via those narrow exposures, I could see a great person, who lived his life to the fullest, and had a great appreciation for the landscapes and people around him. To those people I want to express my sincere sympathies for your loss.

  • Scottie Ewing
    Reply

    Well said Steve, thanks for the contemplation.

  • Dana Sullivan
    Reply

    Beautiful, Steve. I’m adopting that tradition.

  • Inge-Maria Cabanilla
    Reply

    Thank you for all postings. The “NO RIP” comment article is so on! Andreas and all who dared to go the limit and enriched so many lives: LOVE and “keep shredding, flying and sharing the Cosmic ETERNITY”. Always and all ways, Inge-Maria/ Christian Cabanilla’s aka CAB’s mom.

    • Inge-Maria Cabanilla
      Reply

      Thank you Carla!

      • Carla Smith
        Reply

        Thank-you Inge-Maria. RIP used to seem shallow to me. Now death comes to those who seem to live with fewer veils, vulnerable in their reach and exuding such visible passion, RIP comes with respect, grief and the recognition that words fall so short. Thanks for ‘getting’ what I was trying to express.

  • Kay
    Reply

    Humbling, beautiful, and true.

  • Inge-Maria Cabanilla
    Reply

    – and thank you STEVE!

  • Hillary Procknow
    Reply

    This is the best articulation of how to honor our friends that I have read. Thank you. I also think instead of saying RIP you can honor a friend or casual acquaintance by taking the extra steps to reach out to family and tell them about a favorite memory or story they might not know, even if it’s a small moment. Those anecdotes will be treasured.

  • Hi
    Reply

    thanks Steve – I remember JP in the late 90’s in a borrowed room in a friends place with that same smile and humility … even though In my mind as a Canadian skier he was already legend to me. Who knew so much more was to come and so many more connections and paths crossed. He makes me miss Whistler and that life every day I put on a suit and get on a train.

    Meanwhile Steve… Before those times, I picked up your magazines and found the words for the love that I felt when TJ Said ‘do you want to get out of here’ … and thank you for keeping it real for so many years and inspiring the words that came between the love and the loss.

    Cheers Brother

  • Jen Fox
    Reply

    What a lovely concept to put to paper. Thank you for taking this idea from cliche to practical application. I have personally had a lot of loss in my life, for my age, within my family. This has never struck me as a tragedy however these outdoor recreation deaths of friends or acquaintances increasingly do. Why? Maybe it is our own mortality surfacing. The small questionable decisions and the probability of an accident catching up to us after so much time spent in the mountains. Or how fast it happens!? In any case, no matter what one believes happens after we pass it holds true that by speaking of, reveling in a memory, traveling etc we can allow those who have gone on to have continued influence in our lives. But as you say so well, speak your love and admiration to those who are here so that your words may have a positive effect on them and you. Respect.

  • Colin
    Reply

    Wow, that is an incredible tribute and piece. You just ripped my broken heart out and put it back somehow no less broken but more whole and with a clearer mind.

  • Ray Cassidy
    Reply

    Such an important and movingly put observation Steve. We are only here in the moment and so it’s incredibly important to remember to acknowledge the good things and people in life now! Adventure in Peace.

  • Tracey C
    Reply

    That was so well written especially that minutes are so much more important than dollars! I love the birthday tradition and incorporating it into daily life. Thank you for sharing.

  • Liane Amendy
    Reply

    …those words are soooo true, I will try and follow the advice and be more positive with my family and friends!!! Thanks for putting the text out!!!!

  • tj
    Reply

    That one is a keeper.
    Thank you.

  • Philippe Bouteille
    Reply

    Beautifully accurate. Thanks Steve.

  • Sulli
    Reply

    perfect Cas…just a wonderful and thoughtful piece…

  • Steven Threndyle
    Reply

    Great job of connecting the dots between life and death in a profound manner. I learn from my kid every day.

  • Ray Mongeau
    Reply

    Yes, honor the living as honoring the dead is not for the dead but for the living. It is a way for us to deal with our lives and our foreboding death. As I get closer to mine I realize it is not the fear of nothing afterward but the fear of facing something after death that worries me.

  • Japhy Ryder
    Reply

    very well put, I couldn’t agree more. During the passing of Robin Williams I pondered, “what if all these people across the globe said what they’re saying about him now, to him when he was still here.” Life isnt to be lived as a what if, and you said it so eloquently in this article. Thanks

  • BoonesDaddy
    Reply

    Wonderful. Thank you. My family will be embracing that birthday tradition as well. Getting choked up just thinking about it. Brilliant.

  • cindy parnham wiegerink
    Reply

    Steve,

    Thank you for writing such a wonderful tribute to such dear friends. My daughter Francesca put it up on her Facebook page. She lost her brother Leighton, my son 19 years old 2 years ago in a tragic accident in NYC. He was an avid soccer player, snowboarder, long boarder, hiker and lived life to the fullest every day. He grew up in Michigan but was studying at FIT to become a menswear designer, his dream.

    I heard from so many people after the accident that he touched their lives in so many ways. His spirit, zest, kindness, huge heart, sense of humor, no fear and just the ability to touch people to make them feel special. I knew this about my dear sweet boy but yet how was I to know just how many he touched in just such a short time. I told him every night I loved him, how proud I was of him and who he was as a person.

    Let’s hang onto hope that out world is a better place and because of it we can be better people too. Cause in this short time that we have here wouldn’t it be wonderful to make such a difference.

    Thank you, Cindy Parnham

  • echo
    Reply

    Thank you for this. I lost my husband in an avalanche, and I feel for the families of these three adventurers- it is a long and difficult road ahead. May we carry them with us, and honour them, and the living, as best we can. Beautiful article.

  • Anthony Bonello
    Reply

    Thank you.

  • Carey
    Reply

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything so incredibly heartfelt. Your essay has given me perspective and given me cause to examine moments where I could also do better.

    Thank you.

  • Kelly Blake
    Reply

    Steve, tears. This one made me cry. I am still, to this day, in denial about Doug. This is inspirational, thoughtful and heartfelt. Jackson is so lucky to have had that birthday with you. I have always told you how much I appreciate your essays and your writing, but thanks for just being you! xo

  • Ryan
    Reply

    I had been struggling to find the words to describe what Roner, JP, Doug, CR, Shane, and all the others have meant to me over the years. This article really gave me some perspective on it all and that those of us that go into the wilds share a similar light. Thank you for the thoughtful words.

  • Jeff Hill
    Reply

    Well Said Steve. As a cinematographer I was constantly reminded of death in the mtns. Alex Lowe was the first person I had worked with and interviewed about the dangers of climbing. Next fall he died in an avalanche. Doug Coombs was more than just someone I had filmed, he was good friend and the one who took me to the hospital in Valdez following a close call for me in an avalanche. That was the last time I saw him. the guy who died in the 2nd World Extremes, went sliding right by me, leaving a trail of blood. Hans Sarri and Trevor Peterson are two that I will always remember for their incredible stoke of skiing. I guess I was fortunate to be able to share that in some way. These guys will live on for us

  • shelby
    Reply

    Awesome piece. My new favorite of yours. Thank you for writing with authenticity and sharing part of your heart.

  • Kyra Scholl
    Reply

    Thank You !

  • Joe
    Reply

    Thank you Steve. I admire you for your enduring passion for skiing and skiers and you insightful writings.

  • Bret
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful essay. Your reminder to honor the living is a powerful message for me. It hits home hard. My kids are 7 and 9.. I try to cherish each day w them. I will now honor your words and emulate their wonderful spirited characteristics that make them so awesome … I’ll Try to follow their lead in joy and adventure.

    In Japanese culture, Bushido, there is a phylosophy that reads “Ichi-go Ichi-e.” The literal translation can be described as ‘one look, one meeting.’ I aspire to follow this daily, treasuring each moment and encounter with someone as if it were your last. It is not just being present as you spend time with loved ones, but really what is in your heart as you have a fleeting encounter with someone you will never see again; a glance at a stop light, holding the door for someone at a store, walking by someone on a sidewalk. I believe this is the root of the meaning. Treat each moment with people as if it were the last time you will see them – squeeze every drop out of the encounter.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t have the honor of making turns with JP, Andreas or Liz. I watched a movie recently with my kids… Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. I can’t help but correlate a part in the movie to this loss. Dustin Hoffman is dying and his loved one grabs him and says “I want you to live!”

    He calmly smiled and said, “Sweetheart… I have lived.” I believe JP, Andreas and Liz smiled and said the same thing. Thank you again, BB

    As I read your essay and resonded I wanted to mention our friends Jarad Spackman (’13) and Joel Roof (’00). Peace to you all. Umumshiba

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Philippe-Noth-CC-e1412087319298-730x350Video of the Day: JP Auclair Street Segment From All.I.Can