Saturday, May 8, 2010


Good Ole Jim
Circa 1985

 That which has died
Does not drop out of
The Universe.
It stays here, It also changes here,
And is dissolved into its
proper parts, which are
Elements of the universe
And of yourself.
                                                                                      Marcus Aurelius
                                                                                         161-180 AD

My brother-in-law had come to my father's funeral as my escort, but only, he said, "out of respect for you, not him."     There had been a dispute I had not been informed of due to my health issues.  I would not find out until years later that it had been a result of the actions of those who had taken advantage of my parents.

My daughter and I were living apart.  We both happened to be watching the evening news one night.  The anchor came on and said that attempts to take a body down from  the top of Bald Mountain in Tenn. were being hampered by the freak snow storm that had hit the area the night before, a storm that had not shown up anywhere on national radar, but left two inches of snow and below freezing temperatures on that mountain the night before.  The body had to be brought down to a level where a helicopter could take it the rest of the way down.
Then the bomb dropped.  One of the reporters was talking to a hiker who must have been raised in a barn.  After he described in detail the "weird, gurgling noises" my brother-in-law had made during the night, he said his name.

I couldn't move.  I must have heard this incorrectly.  The phone rang.  It was my daughter.  Screaming.   "I heard but it can't be right. It has to be a mistake."    It wasn't.

 I reprint the eulogy I wrote for his funeral.     For Them.     Always.

                                                                      For Their Friends

     May I first apologize for not having a photograph of Jim alone to place in his memorial card.  I found two, most recent, photographs, the first is Jim, alone, in front of his truck.  There is no vitality in his position, nor his face.  This served to remind me, not just of how lonely he truly was since my sister left us, but that this was how he chose to be.  Without the presence of of his wife, he was a solitary being communing with her on a higher scale, his facial expression the only indication of how deeply his sorrow was rooted.

Yet in the company of those who knew both he, and his wife, he was, as my sister used to say, "Good ole' Jim."  When I compared this photograph with the one of Jim and me, I not only saw the difference - but understood - and knew the photograph of Jim smiling, showing the vitality he had for life itself, is how we remember him.

Of Memories, St. Augustine wrote  ' had not entirely escaped our memory, but part of it remained, giving a clue to the remainder, because the memory, realizing that something was missing and feeling crippled by the loss of something to which it had grown accustomed, kept demanding the missing part be restored."  My brother-in-law survived on his memories, constantly restoring his missing part, maintaining he and 'Kelly's' unity of spirit, despite the logistical deviance; his soul being anchored to this ground by gravity, a physical encumbrance "Kelly' no longer endured.

When my sisters illness had progressed to the stage of needing twenty-four hour care, Jim's uninterrupted courage at facing life's crucial challenges allowed him to calmly, firmly, assume her full care.  He was never surprised by collisions of life, understanding that the order in life is what we, ourselves, make it.  At times, I felt as tho my heart would break, yet as Jim's courage in enduring my sister's precisely worsening illness grew, so did the walls of my heart expand; and I came to know love, in it's boundless abandon.  Although he would infrequently surrender to the confusion of discouragement, he did not view the world's ability to crush and suffocate as a threat. Instead Jim drew upon the the immutable force he and my sister had achieved through their marriage, a force called love, that transcended physical properties, and entwined their souls.  Jim knew death would not be nebulous, nor could it be postponed indefinitely. While caring for his wife he realized the concept of death should not be catastrophic, nor destructive, despite it's appearance of finality.  Although it is difficult for me to accept the fact that my family's numbers have dwindled, and not in the specifically traditional order one would expect, I am able to look upon the circumstance of his death as a natural one.   For his truly heroic life here, Jim was spared any awkward physical deterioration.  His soul set free in spring time.

I am content in knowing that before he left, he was secure in the knowledge he had taken care of everything he needed to do here.  In his opinion, his selfless actions were simply what needed to be done, to prevent others from suffering, as he had watched his wife suffer.  Yet what he did in his time of suffering, was an incredible feat of determination and will power, not easily found in humans.  

When he had finished all of his official business he called us all to let us know he was leaving, to do the hike.   In the message he left on my answering machine , after giving exact dates (good ol' Jim), he stated, "I know if you need to get hold of me you'll find a way!"

Last week I suddenly needed to touch base with him.  I had nothing specific to tell him, the news he was waiting to hear from me was still unknown, yet I was overwhelmed with an insistent need to speak to him that got worse as the days went by. I had a co-worker helping me surf the Internet for Appalachian Trail sites for three days.  Finally on Thursday night, after leaving work at eleven p.m., and after three more hours of surfing myself, I found a search engine named Northern Light, based in Maine that is the server for the Appalachian Trail Message Board.   I posted my message to Jim.  Northern Light's computers had to reformat the message to accommodate it's browser, the the message was finally posted on April 29th, at 17:18 hours.  I could relax.

I knew his approximate whereabouts, figured he would be doing 10-16 miles a day, knew that foresters would post my message in huts within the parameters, so I sat back to wait, having no idea  what on earth I was going to say to him when he called, aside from,  "Hi. How are ya doing?"   The call I ended up receiving was from the police  calling to tell me my brother-in-law had passed away on top of a mountain..

After the initial shock wore off, the first thing that came to mind was a discussion I had with Jim a few years ago.  I recall no precedent being set for him to tell me the story, no context to take it from, it just spilled out of him one day and I share it with you now, hoping it will help those of us left here, but not necessarily, behind.

Jim blurted out, " Ya know Joni, I'm remembering....,"  and he went on to say he and my sister had been having a terrible argument one time, he couldn't even remember what it was about it was so trivial of a thing.  My sister walked out of the house.   Jim sat.  And sat.   And sat some more.   While he sat, darkness fast approaching, he thought for the first time he may have really blown his marriage.  He thought that way for what seemed an eternity until finally his wife, tired and bedraggled, lurched through the door.  Jim said, "Well.... what happened to you?"   His - normally  totally put together no matter what - wife's hair was practically standing on end, mud covered her  hiking boots, and her shirt was un-tucked.   They both collapsed into hysterics.   When she was able to speak coherently she told him she had gone out to climb a certain mountain near their home. Jim was incredulous as she continued.  She told him that by the time she had finished climbing, and reached the top, she realized that she had completely forgotten the content of the argument, and was suddenly clear on the reason.  She had found the answer they both needed in that climb.

Last year Jim told me that he had finally climbed that mountain.  Then he told me of his plans to hike the A.T. soon.

And so...  I realize now, if there is anything more beautiful in what happened on the Appalachian Train that night, I haven't heard of it, and don't think I ever will.  I know he found his answer, his anguish here is finished.  I know that his wife knew it was time to come and get him.  I stand here knowing that those who stand with me, are not united in death.  We are united by an everlasting love, a love united again in joy;  For Eternity.


Addendum:     Jim's heart had given out during the night, when temperatures had  dropped below freezing quickly, but he had succeeded in his attempt to raise awareness for early breast cancer detection.  He made national headlines.  The small town of Irwin Tenn., just off the A.T. put a brass plaque in his name, with his story, on a building there that thousands of hikers stop at each year to replenish supplies.

I had one more piercing done in my left ear.


  1. Your last paragraph says it all.. Love is what binds us forever...What a beautiful, final piece..showing how we all have to endure what life gives to us... and what's important is what we do w/it and how we pass it on.

  2. I read this and just stopped...and reflected. Maybe that is the point. Thank you.

    And Jim.

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