Experiencing Loss

Tragedy has hit close to home this past week. I don't know how many of you heard about the 3 missing climbers on Oregon's Mt. Hood last weekend into this week. One of those climbers was my sister's best friend, Katie Nolan (above picture: my sister Amy on the left, Katie on the right). The sorrow I feel in my heart is deep... I didn't know Katie very well but I do know the impact she had on my sister. She was that friend that just "got Amy." We all have that friend. That friend that just gets it, gets us, knows us, shares our passions, our heartbeat, not just in one area of life, but in every area. Those friends are a rarity. Friends to be treasured and held on to. To Amy, that friend was Katie. My sadness runs deep for the loss my sister is experiencing, the lack of closure, the devastation her family and friends are feeling only days before Christmas.

Here's a short re-cap of what happened: Katie and her two friends, Luke and Anthony started climbing Mt. Hood on early last Friday morning (1am). They were only doing a short trip and were expected back Friday afternoon. My sister was expecting a call when she got to the bottom. No call ever came. Friday night the mountain rescuers, etc., were alerted that something had to be wrong when the three climbers had not returned. The weather started getting very bad with white-outs and high avalanche danger which made ground searching difficult. The body of Luke was found on Saturday morning, but no sign of the other two climbers. Luke had a digital camera which they looked at to get clues as to where on the mountain they could be. After finding Luke and investigating that situation, it is believed there was some kind of accident and Luke was going for help while Katie and Anthony built a snow cave. Katie had the skills, experience, and ability to survive on the mountain this long, even in subfreezing temperatures.

Each day from Saturday to Wednesday was a lot of terrible waiting for family and friends as ground searches were continually called off due to the dangerous weather. Helicopters went out several times, but it was so difficult due to the weather and over a foot of snow fell Monday into Tuesday. Conditions continued to get worse and were not planning on slowing down. The search was closed on Wednesday afternoon with the doctor on the case concluding their chances of survival now being at 1%. What a difficult time for family and friends receiving the news that Katie and Anthony are gone. I had been praying all week that no matter what the outcome that God would provide Katie and Anthony with supernatural warmth and physical comfort. I have a great peace in my heart that he did just that.

(Here is Katie and Amy after climbing Mt. Hood last year).
My sister captured the feelings of pain quite well on her blog:

"This has been a painful week. In my experiences with religion, even as a child, it has angered me to hear the ways some speak of pain. People falsely claim that because they believe in God, they will be shielded from harm, and if it finds them it will not hurt too badly. Equally insidious is the false claim that if pain finds you it is evidence of a failure in your beliefs. That is a lie that I think we may sometimes tell ourselves so that we can feel like we are in control. That an unexpected tragedy could be avoided with effort. I do not believe that is the message we were intended to hear.

Life is full of beautiful people, believing in God, yet experiencing dire pain. No, our lives will not be absent of pain, but the way we process that pain is what will be different. The journey of those experiences is what differs. I am a student right now, and spend hours a week thinking about perspective, and the way that the context of someone’s experience shapes the meaning they impute to the narrative of their life. A friend who is on that student journey with me, is constantly saying, “It’s about the process, It’s about the process.”

No, no, no, your faith or your beliefs cannot change your odds. It doesn’t hedge your bets, and it doesn’t build up a buffer zone that will keep life’s circumstances from finding you. BUT, it can shape your perspective on the narrative of your life. In I Thessalonians 4:13, those in our tradition are told, “We do not want you to be uninformed brothers about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others who have no hope.”

Tonight, I have some hope, but it is coming from a really dark place. Please keep praying & encouraging those of us who love Luke, Katie, and Anthony, we received tough news today."

I am so proud of Amy. So proud of the way she has encouraged and inspired others during this difficult time. So proud of how she clings to Jesus, despite confusion, fear, pain, and sorrow. I have learned much this past week through such a devastating circumstance.
Please don't allow your mind to go to criticisms of these three climbers like many have, saying things about them being stupid or irresponsible. I am not a climber and don't know much about the mountain, etc. But I do know this...All three of them were experienced, skilled climbers, who have climbed all over the world. They did not go out in terrible weather conditions. The terrible weather came after the fact, when they were already supposed to be back. They knew what they were doing. No beacon/locator would have helped, etc. There have been some terrible, hurtful, and awful things said about theses climbers on the internet. Painful things I hope their families never lay eyes on. Bottom line: we are not in control of our lives and if God wanted Katie to be with Him after 29 years on earth, going up the mountain that day or not going up on the mountain that day wouldn't have changed a thing. Do we live our lives in a closed up bubble to try and control the outcome? No. Besides, we still wouldn't be in control. We just like to think we are.

So, I will end with this: Life is not supposed to be this way. We were not created to experience pain like this. We were not created to experience death. God did not create the world and life to be this way. Then sin entered through Adam and Eve and it all changed. Death, pain, and sadness is now interwoven throughout our lives. It is because of this, that Jesus came. He came to be a rescuer... to rescue us from this world that is not how he made it. He sent Jesus to die for our sin, to rescue us. And one day, he is returning, but not as a humble, gentle baby this time, like we celebrate on Christmas day. This time, he is coming as a Warrior, coming to complete His rescue mission, coming to make everything right again. One day, the pain of losing Katie will be made right.
And so.... we have HOPE.
(This is Katie climbing Mt. Hood with my sister Amy. Amy is taking the picture, telling Katie to slow down and wait for her! hehe)


Eryn said...

We live in Vancouver, WA, just across the river from Portland OR. We have heard of this loss over and over this week, and prayed often for those affected so close to our home. Sorry to hear that your sister is so close to the pain. I've read your blog before, we're also adopting from Ethiopia. Any day we expect that call! do you guys live in portland?

We will continue to pray for the Nolan family and now your sister as they grieve the loss of dear Katie. It's evident her life had great impact on those around her.

Eryn said...

Hi Rachel...we are waiting for a referral of a 0-6 month infant girl ANY day. We are with Gladney, and the current average wait is about 7 months. We are almost at the 7 month mark, and believe we're very near our turn for "the call".

Right now it seems about 3-4 months from referral to travel, of course depending on how smooth everything goes.

Shonah said...

My heart breaks for your sister, the families of the climber and those that knew them. We will be praying for them all!

Amber said...

how awful Rachel... I read about that story and my heart just broke for their family and friends. I am so sorry for your sisters loss.
You commented on my blog in regards to wait times. I am with wacap and its a 7-10 month wait for infants and toddlers, and girls are on the longer end. We are at 2 1/2 months and I don't expect to hear anything until spring. We are currently #16 when I called at the end of Nov.
Again, I am so sorry about your sisters loss.

Mom to 9 Blessings! said...

Rachel - what a beautiful post. I'm so sorry for your loss and for Amy! I'll be praying over her and the families of those lost. Praising God that you all have Him to cling to now and trusting Him to bring peace where things don't make sense and simply hurt. He understands!

With much respect and love - Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

So very sorry to hear of this loss. There are always people who will say nasty things in the face of tragedy to shore up their illusion that it couldn't happen to them. None of us know how long we get to enjoy this life, and I have huge respect for those who get out and climb mountains or whatever and really live instead of sitting on their backsides criticizing others. I lost a very dear friend in a rafting accident years ago - a very experienced rafter with all safety gear. These things happen. I hope and pray the friends and family find some closure and healing soon.

- Irene, Daragh Yosef's mommy and former Portlander