Saturday, July 5, 2008

Last hours

She had never seemed well. Always quiet, she was pale and subdued. She was the very last of the group of twenty-eight that I got around to meeting. It turns out that I never got to meet her.

She was 65, the mother of three children. She had come on the eight-day Grand Canyon rafting trip with her husband of 48 years. They apparently were inseparable at home. Sweethearts since age 15, married at age 17, on the trip they were always curled up together at the back of the boat.

(We encountered beauty...) On the fourth day she was more languorous than ever. At the lunch break, we put ashore at a little side stream that emanated from a small waterfall 200 yards up the shallow, rock-strewn stream bed. Everyone waded up to it to stand under the warm plunging water.

I was last off the boat. I could see that she was having trouble getting up the stream bed. It was only ankle-deep to the left, but the bed sloped off very gradually to the right into chest-high still water. She seemed caught up in that gradual slope and couldn't get out of it. Further and further to the right she went as I came along, into deeper and deeper water. It was odd. Absolute safety in water only inches, not feet, deep lay a few centimeters to her left.

Suddenly she was in water up to her chest and she seemed flustered. I reached out a hand for her and brought her back to the shallow side. Her husband was twenty feet ahead, waiting for her. Neither one spoke a word to me.

Then she was having trouble manipulating the shallow part of the stream bed so I extended my hand again and guided her a few steps to her waiting husband. I went on ahead to partake in the cascading shower of the waterfall and when I returned, she was seated in six inches of water, resting, while her husband stood guard over her.

She died four hours later.

(...and danger on our journey.) Later I heard that reportedly, she had a bad heart. But she had undergone a battery of tests in preparation for the trip, a stress test, an MRI and others, and passed every one of them.

The Colorado River where it passes through the Grand Canyon, with its boiling rapids and broiling heat, is a harsh taskmaster.


jeanne said...

she was so young. it's a sobering story. i can't help thinking of russert.

Lisa - Slow & Steady said...

I'm so sorry. Reading back, I understand how distressing this must have been for you.

ShirleyPerly said...

Very sad but we all know that medical tests are not 100% foolproof. At least she left while doing something with the love of her life in perhaps one of the most beautiful places in the world. If only everyone could be so lucky ...

Bex said...

Only 65?! Wow. I agree with Jeanne - very very sobering.

Sunshine said...

To have, with a known heart condition, potentially put others at risk in a remote area seems irresponsible to me.
It was odd, wasn't it!
How fortunate that no one else was critically endangered.

DawnB said...

Peter I'm sorry to hear of such a tragic incident on your trip. God Bless her for doing exactly what she wanted to do>

CewTwo said...

What an experience. I would like to have your cool head and great attitude toward life (and heroes) if I were to experience such an experience!

I have rafted the Colorado River, but when it was still in the infancy stages (near Glenwood Springs). A simple float more or less to and through a mountain town.

I do look forward to many stories from you on that trip of a lifetime.

Don said...

I hope that the good memories, the beauty of the river and the companionship of boatmates, will be etched as deeply in your mind as her passing will be.

All in all, a life-changing experience!

Jade Lady said...

So sad to hear. And, just 65 - I've got to believe the man upstairs had some urgent plans for her that couldn't wait.

Petraruns said...

So sad - so sorry to read this.