Fundraiser in Tom’s Memory – August 28, 2011

Just a few minutes ago, as I was running along the dock across the street from home, watching the early morning float planes take off, viewing boats coming and going into the marina against the backdrop of the mountains, and chatting with Lighthouse Pub’s manager, Dale, an idea took hold.
We finalized plans for Tom’s memorial birthday party/ fundraiser: For more information; see the Events Page.
TIME:  1 p.m.
LOCATION:  Lighthouse Pub (Lighthouse Marine Pub)
5764 Wharf Av
To celebrate memorial 28th Birthday Party for Tom (You may already know that Tom would have been 28 this August 28th.)
All proceeds will go to Tom’s Scholarship Fund, being set up at UBC for a final year engineering student.
WHAT: Special on the menu will be “Tommy’s Thai Burger” (Eddy Cooper’s Award Winning Burger from 2010 BBQ Competition)
50/50 DRAWS
Additional Details to be worked out and information passed along early next week.
TOAST: Details to be worked out.  But there WILL be a Jameson’s toast (what else?)
Help us put his fund over the top.
We have passed the $8,000 mark of $30,000 required for Tommy’s scholarship to be endowed.  With your help and everybody’s help, we could be much closer after the 28th.  Help us succeed!.. in Tommy’s memory.
^^^^^ Watch early next week for more details.  Including a letter you can download and use for asking for silent auction donations.

Welcome to All

You are embarking on a journey through all that is “Tom”, his essence, his spirit.
3 times a week, Monday/  Wednesday/ Friday (sometimes more), you will find updates and information on relevant memorial events, pics shows, scholarship, parties, what Tom’s friends are up to, family, etc. right here. We are trying to make this a main gathering spot for all things “Tommy”.  And we want it to work for YOU.  So, your input is most welcome.
Tom’s many friends, including those who gathered at the most recent Whistler Canadian BBQ Competition, July 30-31, 2011, have such a love for this guy, that this outpouring has translated to a desire to help organize this site about Tom….  thanks, especially to Lana.
This is the beginning.  And it will continue on for a very long time.  By you coming to this site often and keeping informed, and helping out from time-to-time, you’ll be helping Tom “touch a future” where he cannot be; keeping his spirit alive in the hearts and lives of friends he knew and loved, and friends he had not yet met.  (stories here will be revealed in good time).
And remember, “live your life to the fullest”  – Tom wouldn’t want it any other way.  We all know that. In his gentle, humble way, his spirit is shining on us, hoping we do exactly this – just as he would have, had his life continued on.
Welcome to all, old friends and new.  and of course family.  We’re glad you’re here.

I Know I Have Not Been Writing Consistently – Sorry …..

Hi To Those who are trying to follow what I am doing.  I am sorry I have not written in awhile.  I have found it very hard to continue – I found the first year of my son's death a very difficult time.  I am "back" now, and will be writing to you on a regular basis.  And trying to connect together many things about Tommy that you might like to know.  His irrepressible spirit, his way of "living life to the fullest" keeps me going, and has brought me back to share what I deeply wish to share with you, about an unforgettable person who can inspire for good-even now.
Thanks for your patience.


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Winter Mountain Climbing Brochure – Your Comments

Download this file
Here is winter climbing brochure being done in Tommy’s memory.

The Autopsy

What do I say?  Nothing is going to bring him back, but at least maybe I can get a few answers about what happened to him. 
After waiting a whole long weekend and into the next week, this, too, was finally complete.  To be told that basically, the kids did not make any mistakes, they did all they could in the circumstances was less than an answer to me.  I asked “If they did everything right then why is my son dead”?  Nobody cold answer that.  And so this is what I went home with.

Looking Through His Documents ….

The days between my son's descent from Shasta and Easter were spent getting the feel of the town he called home his last few months and collecting some of his persona effects that I and my family might want, from his impoverished collection of "things".

Tommy was never a collector, always a net eliminator of possessions, even as a child… guess even years ago he had a different perspective of what was important in life and began seeking a more "spiritual collection" of keepsakes.  For example, he had no T.V. (in fact I can't ever remember him having a tv once he left home), he had a computer that had seen its best day long ago (used one from work),and absolutely no fancy furnishings or trinkets of value. 
Tommy always valued a well-stocked kitchen and tons of sports equipment; he had both in his apartment.

He also had one single file box with all his important papers and documents in perfect order.  At 26, he put me to shame in this regard… like he was the one with the whole life of experience on organizing. 

Checking each file and determining just what had to be done was a job I had to separate from myself to do.  I went through the motions, mechanically, doing what was needed, without stopping to think about "him".  Otherwise I could not have done it.  There was one simple division in taking care of a Canadian's final affairs, a Canadian who was in the U.S. on a one-year work permit, and who lived in CA for a few months before dying there.  And who had no will and nobody appointed to take care of these affairs for him.  So, parents it was.  Dad in the States for all U.S. related requirements and mom in Canada for Canadian dealings.

Not only was Tommy organized in how he filed his papers, he was organized and on top of all that was contained in that file box.  He had no huge outstanding debts, and had taken care in the way he set up loans.  His would be a model for anybody, at any age, who aspired to simplify the clutter in their personal files.  And all at age 26.  Blew my mind a bit.

His car was a bit of a discussion.  I knew its "pedigree", but had to convince others I was right.  "Betsy 2" was a forest green Subaru station wagon with tan interior, standard ignition, and her sole purpose in life was to transport Tom et al to trail heads or wherever else their sport wanderings took them at any time.  And she did a good job of it.  I later came to learn that Tommy was not the only one of the "tribe" with this car; seemed like it was almost a right of passage into the "climbing tribe" to have a car like Betsy 2.

Taking or sending death certificates to a host of organizations, recounting the circumstances of his death to others, all meant just one thing – he wasn't coming home anymore.  No matter how organized all his papers were. Pushing through the minutia to wind down his earthly affairs is one thing; putting it all back in context with his death is quite another matter.  The latter was far harder than I imagined.

Even months later, as calls straggle in and the circle of those needing to know of his death widens, it causes me to pause and think of the futility of it all.  Somebody who could actually rule the whole world, banished from the world just as his prime was about to begin. At times like this when I get these kinds of thoughts, I don't really understand.   Not sure I ever will. 

It has all been a lot to take in, in a few days.  In my mind's eye I keep seeing you when you came down the mountain – lying there, motionless, all your climbing gear still on.  Because if I don't keep seeing you this way, my mind just might refuse to believe you are dead.  But I see your body, so I know you're not coming home anymore. 

"Love you Tommy, I never blamed you for anything in life, and I don't blame you now.  I miss you. I love you always.  If you ever need anything or want anything done, you know I'll do it.  I'm the right one for that. Just let me know.  And give me what I need to do it."   Wow.  Where did that come from?  Straight from the heart. And I mean every word of it.

I Understand The Empty Tomb

It would be at least two weeks before I could keep my promise to “bring him home”.  In the meantime, if it weren’t for consoling strangers, compassionate hotel folk, extended check outs, and generous phone privileges, all the planning that had to be done -obituaries, funeral, wake, reception, notifications, etc etc – would not have been done so effectively.  I guess it’s good that all these details occupied my mind,.

There’s one thing I have to do, even before I worry too much about all this.  Need to take a day and visit Tommy’s apartment.  I’ve never seen it.  Never been there.  And now I would see it without him…..

It was a challenge going through his possessions at his apartment.  He hadn’t been there very long, only a matter of a few months really.  He had moved in with his girlfriend when he took a job with his company’s office in Oakland.
He lived very simply. He had very little, really, but he had everything. He was never interested in all the big fancy things in life – never.  His was a spiritual life, or at least he was on a mega search for what spiritual meant.  I had known that for sometime.  And his sparse possessions and journals confirmed this. 

All his clothes fit in a small closet in the second bedroom.  He used a small plastic 4-drawer unit as his only dresser.  He had books on one shelf, family pictures from last Christmas, and all the cards and written messages he had ever been given by family.  His shoes were all shined, and his clothes were all hung up in an orderly fashion.  His journals were all there. I hadn’t expected him to be the journaler in the family, but there you go.  He even had the orange leather-covered journal I gave him for his graduation nearly 3 three years. His inscription inside the cover spoke volumes for who he was “this is a gift from my mother for my graduation.  If found please return it to me.”  And he put his name and phone number.  He never lost it.  And now it is the most precious thing of “him” that I have.

Looking around an apartment where he will never walk again …. is almost unbearable.  Looking at all those bicycles he had, all that climbing equipment, skate boards, snowboard, Whistler competition cooking equipment and smokers, etc. etc.  Sure know what he did with all his time. 

He was such a “chef”, I could not really enter into his kitchen, it was such a centre to his life.  Guess he learned this from his childhood where the kitchen was always the heart of our home.  He had bits of mail, a few envelopes were for charities that involved kids.  Wow, I didn’t even know that about him.  On his dining room table, laying still half in the envelope was his St. Patrick’s Day card from his papa – his last mail from home.  And the last time he talked to anybody at home was on St. Patrick’s Day.  And now, two weeks later, he is gone. 

I can’t write anymore today, because it is too painful.  All I feel here is emptiness.  That lonely, painful part inside me is really there again. This apartment is like a tomb now, lifeless without him.  I miss him!  All I can say is, I understand the empty tomb – the empty part anyway.

“The Dreaded Call” Part 2

“The call” that came Monday evening, saw me on my way to my son early Wednesday.  From Redding, CA airport, drove to Shasta – exhausted, weary and emotionally drained.  Conversations had already been going on, funeral homes visited, and “instructions” given to me (do not talk to the press.  Tommy was still up the mountain.  Either this funeral home thing didn’t make any sense or they were listening to a different story than I.  Didn’t “rescue” imply alive?  In my mind, I sure hoped so.  At least this is the term that was used in my presence. And nobody would say “not alive”, but seemed they all were planning that way.

That night, as I tried to sleep, mostly unsuccessfully, all I could see “in my mind” was that same little cave way up high that I “saw” the night before I left, but this time backlit with a glowing, soft yellow light with an image of the Good Shepherd (you know that one from childhood) standing nearby watching over the cave, staff in hand.  My God, no.. 

Early the following morning “rescuers”, family, officials and press gathered at the airstrip at Weed.  Soon circling in was a U.S. military Chinook helicopter, set to ascend Shassta.  

But life wasn’t that smooth.  Someone had calculated that this chopper could not fly that high without oxygen; a decision that was later overturned.  Then there was the matter of the weather.  While prayers were flowing non-stop in a huge variety of places, including a little convent of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, the impossible clouds seemed to open up just a crack and the rescue team of 9 was whisked away.  The chinook that looked so big on the ground was hardly a speck at 14,000 ft.

Then my world crashed for real and forever – I thought the first “dreaded call” back home was hard; this call from the team atop Shasta was permanent.  No more doubt.”The victim is deceased”.  The weather turned immediately vicious, threatening to strand the entire rescue crew up the mountain with my son. No, not 10 people up that mountain in this weather.  No, can’t be.  Tommy would never want this.  I don’t want this. Guess the Sisters and all the others praying kept their “foot in the door” just enough – the team made it down, my son’s body in tow, about two minutes before the weather once again sealed in the top of Shasta. 

Deep in my heart I guess I knew there was no real chance to survive all those days of that vicious weather and cold – alive. There is no textbook on this, but there is one thing to do. I MUST see my son.  Discouraged from this by many, my resolve was firm.  So they complied.  And there in an airport hangar, he lay dead before me. 

There is a reason I had to see him. This was the only way I knew for sure to convince my mind that Tommy was gone.  I had to have that image of him lying there, dead, touch his cold body, kiss him goodbye.  He was in his climbing clothes with ropes still attached, hat still on and face looking perfect.  I always loved his nose – thought it was the cutest from the day he was born. I stroked that for a moment or two. He looked so perfect, like he was just sleeping and could wake up.   How was I ever going to let him go? I was afraid.  I was sad.  I was more alone deep inside than I can ever remember in my whole life, in spite of all the people around.

The emptiness and loneliness inside me will never completely go away.  Can’t think of any of that now.  Later… later…. right now have to be brave and keep things going.  There were interviews to give to a waiting press, tears in their eyes as well as mine. There was family to call – imagine being a grandparent 1000 km away and receiving that information.  There was my daughter somewhere in that crowd at Weed, too upset with me for talking to the press to even acknowledge me.  And too grief-stricken to do anything but sit on the ground outside the hangar once she bade her brother goodebye.

Sometimes we get support and strength from unexpected places.  Contrary to what I was “briefed” upon my arrival, I found the media a great support throughout those hours at Weed.  They were truly touched by the scene that unfolded before them.  And I was touched by their kindness and sensitive reporting.  In fact a few friendships came about as a result of this day.  Some of these folks had problems asking their questions or writing their notes, because of the tears in their eyes and sadness in their hearts.  Somehow their sharing my grief helped; they risked and cared enough to put their collective arms around all of us, and cry with us, as they struggled to do their job and report on this sad human tragedy.

This Easter weekend would seem like that good friday tomb – only this time it was my son my son laid in it. And nothing would change until his autopsy on Tuesday.

There were “debriefing” meetings of rescuers that included family.  What did all of this matter?  Tommy was dead.  I would just as soon this type of dramatic rescue would not ever be needed again for other mothers’ sons and daughters, so why talk about perfecting the rescue logistics?  Guess they have to.  They just sent in the military with one huge helicopter and its crew.  Guess they have a right to want to analyze it. I’ll have to save this one for now.  Have too much to attend to. When I can think, I really want to make sure whatever happened to Tommy doesn’t repeat itself.

Then all those who had gathered set out for home, including the Chinook with its crew.  Life is starting to slip away.  I can’t imagine Tommy not in life.  Not sure how I’ll figure that all out.  Well I won’t today, that’s for sure.  Just keep busy right now, keep things going.  Keep a clear head. 

That second “dreaded call” from atop may be over, but there is so much left in its wake – so much minutia to deal with, so much to work through.  And then there was the matter of grandparents, who are inconsolable.  To say nothing of his sister, his best friend, whose journey through all this even I can’t imagine.

Well, I guess it’s on to Oakland to visit his apartment and collect a few of his things before heading back to Redding for the results of the autopsy.

“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)

Free Spirit

Free Spirit describes Thomas Edward James Bennett.  Just twenty-six and a half years old when he made his final tragic ascent up Mt. Shasta in Northern California, in late March 2010, he was – and always will be – a wonder.  He is described by many as “having an old spirit”, by others as “living more in 26 years than most of us do in a full lifetime”, and still others as “having a flair for the dramatic in life that was far more valuable than having a lifeless quantity of years.”

Tommy’s motto for himself AND his challenge to others has always been and will always be “live life to the fullest”.  I’ve yet to meet the person whose life he touched who was not changed as a result. At my son’s funeral, several young people described Tommy as “their best friend”.  And, that he was, to each and everyone of them. I know this for a fact, all felt special in his presence.


Hearing the call to the mountains as a very young child, his free spirit led him to become one with his beloved mountains as soon as he could in life.  And this call, this passion he had for the mountains intensified with every climb he took. His search for the spiritual in life among the mountains was touching for one so young in these matters.  I must admit, I did not really understand his call until months after his death, when something special happened.


His life and his journey into death is no ordinary story; it has elements of the dramatic, the extraordinary and the spiritual.


Together, three times a week, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we will explore his journey and all the lives he has touched.


You’ll get to know Tommy and his free spirit as I have been privileged to. You’ll learn many of the details about his death. And you’ll “feel” his challenge to you, personally, to “live your life to the fullest”.


Along the way you’ll  learn about mountain climbing, alpinism and the many other sports and activities, both extreme and not-so-extreme, that were part of the fabric of his life. You’ll also gain insight into the plans he had to help humanity, throughout his life and as a chemical engineer. Guest bloggers of all descriptions and from all parts of his life will be invited to join in and help tell the story.


You are embarking on an incredible journey.  Welcome aboard.


See You
Mother of an Incredible Free Spirit