I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Goodbye Emily

This is not at all what I had in mind to write about today, but yesterday evening I got a call from a friend in Boulder, who wanted me to know that Emily, pictured above with me in 2004 on her graduation jump from student status, was in critical condition. Emily grew up in the years since this was taken, becoming proficient in every single aspect of the sport of skydiving. Thousands of jumps later, an instructor herself, she had far surpassed anything I had accomplished in skydiving.

It was in 2003 when she got a job in the office at Mile Hi Skydiving, a non-jumper herself, and quickly became fascinated with the sport and the people she met. She went through the First Jump Course with several other people and made her first jump with me and another instructor. She was very nervous and readily admitted that she was "high maintenance" and appreciated the extra attention that we gave her. In the plane on that first jump, she balked at climbing into the door, so we sat her down and talked with her as the pilot brought the plane around again. We figured if we gave her another chance and she didn't go, we wouldn't try again. She showed every indication of doing the same thing, but at the very last second, she got into position and we all three floated out the door. I can still see her face in my mind during that skydive.

I went to many parties and gatherings at Emily's home in Denver, which she shared with her husband Lee (a New Zealander usually called Kiwi) and her numerous rescue dogs. Other than the time she spent studying for the bar exam, every moment of every day became devoted to her passion for the sport. She and Kiwi planned and executed a wonderful going-away party for us when we left Colorado.

Emily became a beacon to many timid souls who wanted to skydive but had fears that she easily understood. She told me she wanted to be a caring instructor like me, which flattered me and made me realize how important it is to treat each person with compassion, rather than seeing them simply as generic students. When she received her instructor rating, she called me and cried tears of happiness as she told me of her determination to pass the course.

She already had received a "pro" rating for canopy control and was learning to make more and more aggressive maneuvers under her canopy. I had noticed on her Facebook page that she had traded her docile canopy for a more high-performance one. I learned yesterday that she was making a "swoop" into the landing area when she miscalculated her distance from the ground and hit very very hard. Apparently she had severe head and neck trauma, along with both femurs broken. She was taken to the hospital and flown to a trauma center in Denver.

I read in an email when I woke this morning that her family, Kiwi and her parents, have learned that she is brain dead. They are keeping her body alive until suitable donors for her 38-year-old organs can be found. She is gone and I find myself almost unable to comprehend the loss. She leaves a huge hole that can only be filled by the passage of time.
I snagged this picture of Kiwi and Emily, taken a few days ago at a holiday party, that she had posted along with a hundred others on her Facebook page. I had studied every picture, looking at my old friends and remembering when I was there with them too. This one shows what a beautiful spirit she had. I cannot imagine how Kiwi and her parents are holding up. I know from experience that it's just one breath at a time, one step at a time through the haze of pain and longing.

When I know the details, I will be heading back to Boulder for the first time since I left, to attend the funeral or memorial service or whatever is arranged to honor Emily. It will be bittersweet to be there under such circumstances, but I must go, since she is family in my heart.

35 comments:

Gigi said...

Oh DJan! I'm so sorry to read this. Emily sounds like she was a wonderful person. You, and her family, have my deepest sympathy.

Buz said...

This is just too sad. I'm so sorry, Jan. You'll be in my thoughts as you travel to Boulder.

Linda Myers said...

Oh, what a terrible accident. I am so sorry for all of you.

Tsegay said...

DJan! I am sorry to hear that. What a sad story and lose to friends and family.

Robynn's Ravings said...

Oh DJan.........I'm so very sorry for her, her family, for you her dear friend. What a horrible shock and tragedy. I can't imagine what everyone is going through to cope. You have known much tragedy in your life and yet live life to it's fullest. Now, to face the loss of one so special to you and so lovely and caring. I can't tell you how sorry I am.

That her family wants to donate her organs speaks of their selflessness. As one who prays for no ones death but watches a dear, wonderful friend who is a husband and father struggle through intense liver failure and waits, nearly hopelessly for a rare type B liver, I can't tell you how many people I wish there were who were willing to give the gift of life like your friend will do. From your description of her, it is no surprise. She will become, in her passing, the person she has been in her life: committed to helping people, through love and compassion, to fulfill their dreams and hopes. May there be a last minute miracle and may God be with all of you. I love you, DJan.

Robynn

Jo said...

What a beautiful girl, and what an awful time of year for this to happen -- as if there is any good time... My condolences to all her friends and her family. But, because of her, other folks with get a much-needed gift of life. God speed, Emily.

Anonymous said...

Emily had a special energy. I remember when she asked me to help set up a new Colorado Women's Skydiving record. She was talking a mile a minute about what we could do. I'm sad that I had to leave Mile Hi before the record could be done. DJan, thanks for sharing.
Mary

gigihawaii said...

This is so unspeakably sad! I feel sorry for her husband and her parents. Such a tragedy. But, she died while doing something she enjoyed with all her heart. That's something to consider. Thanks for sharing those beautiful pictures of her.

PeterDeMan said...

Jan, that makes me feel so sad. Way before her time. Kind of ironic that this day we each are feeling such a sense of loss in our lives.I wish I could find more comforting words but they fail me right now.

#1Nana said...

I spent some time on your site today and read some of your older posts. You have experienced much loss and I am amazed at your strength to carry on with such a positive attitude. It is challenging to focus on the gifts that life has brought, when the pain is so raw. I am so sorry for your loss.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

This is unbearably sad. I'll light a candle for her so that she can find her way easily through the afterlife.

Norma Jean said...

I can't help but think how close we came to having this happen to you. What a sad story and what a tragedy for her family to have to endure.

Whitney Lee said...

How awful. There's never a good time for loss, but losing her here at the holidays must carry its own special brand of agony. I am sorry for you and for her family.

Anonymous said...

Djan,
Thank you so much for sharing this. I hope to be able to write a memorial at some point also, but am so in shock and unable to see through tears that I can't manage it yet. I imagine her spirit will always be around, reminding us Chihuahuas to stop milling.

I love the idea of seeing you soon, but truly hate that's under these circumstances. Family.

Love,
Sarah

Lily Robinson said...

I am so sorry. She must have been kinda like a daughter to you.Thanks to you, she lived a full life even in her short years, and she died doing what she loved. It's still too young. Prayers for you and her other loved ones...

Linda Reeder said...

I send my deepest sympathy to you and to Emily's grieving family. It sounds as though this is almost like losing another child for you. You have had too much tragedy.
Emily was a beautiful young woman. My her spirit live on through the organs she donates so that others might live.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

I'm so sorry to hear this. You had a wonderful influence on her life, but how sad to lose her at such a young age.

Retired English Teacher said...

So, so sad. I am so very sorry for all those who were touched by the life of this beautiful girl. My heart breaks as I think of the path that her family will be on for the next year. I'm glad you will be there to show your love for her and support for those she leaves behind.

wendyytb said...

Oh, DJan... I am so sorry for your loss.

musingegret said...

I am so very sorry for this brutal shock and loss in your life and the lives of all who loved Emily. My thoughts go out to all of you and to her indomitable spirit. She will live on in the recipients of her healthy and much-needed organs. Safe journey, Djan.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Hi DJan, I am so sorry..my sympathy to you and to Emily's family. She sounds like a wonderful gal, who appreciated you and your expertise in Sky Diving. Accidents happen..she died doing what she loved..that must be some comfort to those grieving. How marvelous that she is a donor..many people will get to live normal lives again because of her.
The loss of a friend is never easy..sending you a hug:)

Grandmother said...

What a tragic loss of a young and exuberant spirit. Blessings on you all at such a time. How fabulous that she'll continue on through her organ donation and so bless others. A well lived life.

joolzmac said...

I have come across from Robynn's blog. I am so sorry for the loss of your beautiful friend.

Organ donation is a rare gift from one grieving family to another, in despair of losing their loved one. It is the most beautiful gift to give and I can only hope more people in the future give thought to organ donation.

Your fond memories of her will keep her alive in your heart,

Joolz

gayle said...

Oh my heart goes out to you! This is so very sad!

Hilary said...

My heart aches for you. I'm so sorry for the loss of your dear friend.

Mel said...

I am saddened by the loss of such a beautiful life, and sorry for your loss as well. Organ donation is the greatest gift a person can give, and I'm sure those who receive her gifts will be grateful always. Take care.

Nancy said...

She was absolutely beautiful. Rest in peace, Emily. Love and light to you, DJan.

Donna B said...

Oh DJan...I am so sad to hear of Emily's death. I cannot even imagine so close to the holidays, making it so much more intense. I am so sorry for her loss. To lose a friend who shared so many good times... This is just too tragic and too sad. Safe travels there and back to mourn her properly. Big hugs...

The Retired One said...

It is horribly tragic, and I am so sorry for your loss!

TechnoBabe said...

Emily lived her life pushing all to the max, didn't she? She must have been a wonderful person to know and love.

Star said...

So sad and at this time of the year too!
Blessings Star

charmine. said...

What sad news.She's pretty and so young ...Hope her family and you find comfort at this time.Looks like she lived life to the full.May hersoul rest in peace.

Bragger said...

As a former skydiver myself, this story hurts my heart. I dreamed of achieving the level of proficiency that Emily obviously had. I know you will miss her, and I grieve for you and her family.

The Good Cook said...

I will keep Emily's parents, her husband and all of her extended family in my thoughts and prayers. I too know the heartache that they experiencing. The numbness, the shock, the sheer agony of grief. Oh how truly sad I am for you and your loss.

deb said...

sending my heartfelt prayers and cyber hugs and wishes for comfort.
I am here via Hilary, and didn't want to leave a comment without knowing a bit of the story.

How very tragic and sad.