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Jared's loss leaves a void, and some words to live by

Hood, anyone?”

Posed as casually as someone offering to fetch coffee and cream, that query was Jared’s final post on Facebook, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012. Those two words set in motion a Sunday evening drive up to Timberline Lodge and a second summit in as many months of the mountain he loved to climb.

Only he didn’t come back, and everyone in my family was left to scream a one-word question into the ether: “Why?”

A month, and then a year, after Jared’s death, it still didn’t seem real. Now, 22 months later, I’m beginning to doubt whether it ever will. From what I’ve read about the trajectory of grief — as if there is a single pattern or path to it — the sharp edges of this gloomy place we find ourselves in might begin to soften after a long time, start to recede bit by bit, like melting snow in the Cascades’ lower elevations during springtime.

I hear from friends who’ve lost children that one day we’ll wake up and the pain won’t be so visceral, so vexing. Fond memories of happy times spent with Jared will tip the scales in favor of recovery rather than tipping us toward despair. Maybe so. But in a way, hopefully not.

At risk of sounding awfully indulgent or hyperbolic, these pangs are appropriate companions along the road right now, with a lifetime to go before we rest. Somehow, they serve as an antithetical comfort, assurance that we won’t forget, won’t move on, won’t actually live without him.

Because the truth is, we can’t. His presence seems nearly as profound as his absence, even inside the walls of our house, miles from the circles he traveled in just south of Portland. From the large color portraits of him with his kids and his wife that hang on the walls above the stairs, to the hiking boots that rest on the floor of our bedroom closet, to the laptop I’m typing on, which he gave me the year before he died, Jared’s marks are everywhere.

And though they’re difficult to deal with on the one hand, they’re indispensable on the other — icons through which we can reach for him and feel him, feeling and reaching back.

Last night was clear and cold. A full moon lit up the sky, almost to the level of brilliance depicted in a photo of the Feb. 6, 2012 sunrise over Mount Hood Jared captured on the day he died, likely snapping the shutter less than an hour before he slipped from the Steel Cliffs and into a new dimension we can only envision with our eyes half open, squinting into the abyss.

A large, lone bright star sat suspended in the atmosphere to the moon’s north, and I pretended it was him, just as I imagine another smaller, more twinkly star I occasionally see is my grown children’s grandmother, playfully peeking at us from a celestial perch she’s turned into party space for future visitors.

“I see you,” I said to him, hoping he could hear. “We all do.”

They were just words, right? But words connect us, for better or worse, to the significant people in our orbit. They embolden us, challenge us, inspire us, remind us.

The breezy way Jared would care for me, asking “How’s it goin’?” pretty much every time we met, immediately recalls for me the smiling, inquisitive, wise and gentle face that belonged to a man who wanted little more than the genuine happiness of those around him. If he had that, he knew he had it all.

Jared’s words speak to me through the mists each day and most evenings, and I’m grateful. Longing for better times ahead and wishing for the will to race as he did, strong and true, I cleave to the notion that in the end, three sanative syllables, spoken over and over and over — amen — will suffice: I love you.

Nancy Townsley is managing editor of the News-Times and the Hillsboro Tribune. Her stepson, Jared Townsley, died in a climbing accident on Mount Hood in February 2012.



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