“That Dreaded Call” – Part 1

Today , I’m going to return to the beginning of the tragedy.  The feelings and emotions are almost unbearable, even now, over 7 months later…..

On March 29, 2010, I got one of those phone calls every parent dreads “Tommy is on a climb up Mt. Shasta (northern California) and is in trouble.  Better turn on your computer and check it out.” (not exact words, but the essence).  This was the start of a journey I never asked for and didn’t want and would do anything to avoid.  My heart sank.  What to do?

I started searching around online for “somebody who was in charge”, some official beyond those words I was reading on my computer screen about this climb-gone-bad. The very first notice online was on an Australian site (word gets out fast, and this word seemed to have been around the world before I even knew there was a problem).  I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing online, because it would most surely mean I had lost my only son.  And that just couldn’t be.

I finally did connect with a detective and initially felt I was being admonished for the possibility that his climb was a mischievous-prank-that-went-bad and was now about to endanger rescuers’ lives.  I know my son and nothing could be farther from the truth. So we established that.  Whatever Tommy was, irresponsible was not part of the description.  Something must have gone terribly wrong for him to be sitting over 14,000 ft up Mt. Shasta, ?unconscious? it seems, in horribly freezing blowing stormy weather that was not expected to break for days, alone, in a snow cave, without even a sleeping bag to keep him warm.  My God.

What does all this mean? What to do?  My son in trouble and I can’t get near him, can’t hold him, can’t get help for him, can’t say goodebye to him, don’t even know if he is alive? or suffering?  I feel so powerless. So helpless.  What if…?  no, don’t want to even go there.  My mind can’t process the unthinkable – not yet.

I was afraid to go to sleep that night,because I feared my mind would wipe out the trauma my soul was just handed, and I would wake up thinking all was O.K. Well this didn’t happen. 
All I could see in my mind’s eye as I drifted in and out of sleep was cold, ugly,blinding, snowy weather, howling wind, a small shape of a snow cave with my son lying inside and nobody there with him.  My God.

And, adding to the stress, while I was desperate to get my head around it all, seems some “younger and more learned” had already determined Tommy was dead, and had bolted ahead and notified a huge list of people, online, before I even had a chance to make family aware. My God.  

Two things stick in my mind from my “pilgrimmage” down to Mt. Shasta a day later.  One, the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) which was picking up on the story because my son is from Vancouver,  contacted me several times while I was in and out of airports etc in transit that day and kept me apprised of current rescue efforts (I had no access to media most of my travel time) – and were the ones to advise me when the rescue was aborted. The other thing I will never forget was I promised my family “I’ll bring him home – whatever that means”. My heart was breaking as I promised, but, I meant it.  And I knew I would not cross back over the border to home until this was accomplished. 

At Vancouver airport there was a whole group of us, circled around, praying, crying, hoping and just not knowing.  And off I went-my brother came with me, because nobody should have to make this kind of journey alone.  

The outpouring all along the way, as I travelled, mostly from people I did not know showed a level of care and concern you don’t often encounter.  Complete strangers offered prayers and words of support.  Those who knew anything about Mt. Shasta shared their all to give me a better idea of that mountain.  There were  many, many  kindnesses extended”above and beyond”. 

Their prayers, wishes, desire to know a bit about my son, buoyed me up for what I was about to face when I arrived in Mt. Shasta.  And even with all their support I was not prepared for what came next….. I guess nobody could be….. to be continued (part 2)

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