Two weeks ago, I cleared away clutter to make way for more life. Instead though, life brought bitter news. The largest avalanche in Colorado in the last 50 years wiped out five young men, and one of them was Rick Gaukel, my boyfriend’s brother. We had just read about the avalanche online, he sent a text to his brother, and we watched a video of Rick mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada.
Then, the phone call came.
There is a time in life when words will not suffice. This was one of those times. I didn’t write anything last week, because I honestly could not think of an adequate response. Some trite quote or cliché can’t encapsulate the full life of the spirited man, who I’d just begun to know. Instead, I showed up in Colorado and in California, hopefully at the right times. I read about how to care for people in the midst of grief. One article, in particular, clearly articulated the role of a community and of individuals in helping others out.
Dr. Phyllis R. Silverman suggests, “We must know how to listen, to not recite platitudes, or be fearful of other people’s pain. We need to be able to say ‘I am sorry’ that this person died. We need to be able to ask about the person who died and to learn something about what was lost.”
So I’m listening. I’m learning. If there is any solace here, it’s this: Rick Gaukel lived one of most full lives I’ve ever heard about, and I’m now retroactively experiencing it. He climbed, he snowboarded, he sailed, he surfed, he biked, he hiked, and he taught others about the outdoors. He shared his greatest passions freely, among competing sports and friends. He listened often. He loved many, and he was a generous man. There aren’t too many people like that on Earth. Of course, we like it when those people stick around.
What can we do? We can come together. In his honor, we’ll be climbing, surfing, hiking, biking, talking a lot, sharing often and eating a lot of spicy Mexican food, with a healthy dose of Tapatio Sauce.
Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.—Maya Angelou