I am a very private person. My mom has always found it so interesting that I kept everything to myself as a child and teenager, whereas Tyler and Josie were wide open books. That being said, this is very new and unlike me to share such personal experiences with people that I may not even know. However, Tyler was special to so many people, and I’m not the only one hurting without her. So if it helps those grieving to continue to read about her life, then it helps me to share it.
The day Tyler died, I remember telling my husband that I hated Jackson and I would never, ever go to that place again that took my sister. So many selfish “if onlys” filled my head. If only she hadn’t moved there. If only she didn’t have a spirit for adventure. If only I could have convinced her to move home earlier. There’s no one I can blame for this horribly unfair situation, so I’ll blame Jackson Hole. Yes, Jackson is where she was when she died 2 months ago. But in a way, it felt like we actually lost her to that place 6 years ago. We knew she had found her home there and she wasn’t coming back.
In the weeks after her death, our family knew that we needed to go to Jackson together. We struggled to decide on the “when” and the “why”. We wanted to see her friends. There were things that needed to be done- packing up her belongings, donating her car, skis, bikes. We knew her ashes belonged there. But these were things that I didn’t feel ready to do at all, as I was dreading anything that would feel like closure. I was not looking forward to this trip at all, but I kept telling myself it would be good for all of us. So we headed out West last Wednesday, Milly the wonderdog included.
You may have already read how mountain people believe that when a climber passes away on the mountain, their souls go into ravens so they can fly above their mountains for eternity. The day after the accident, a climber saw two ravens sitting on the summit of Teewinot. In the past two months, Tyler’s friends have found ravens in the most beautiful places. We finally got to see our first raven the very first morning we were in Jackson. It sat on top of this roof and looked down at Milly (she’s sitting in the white suburu) and Milly talked (barked) back to her.
Both Tyler and Catherine work at C Bar V Ranch as residential counselors. In fact, they were actually shift partners in the same cottage with the same children. This community lost not one, but two, of their beloved employees, colleagues, leaders, mentors, friends. Not to mention that the children at this school have already dealt with more grief, trauma, physical and psychological abuse than any person should ever experience.
The school is using the memorial donations to build a new playground for the students. Right now, their playground consists of 2 swings and 1 set of monkey bars. And remember, this place isn’t just their school but also their home. The hope to have the playground completed by next summer. On Thursday October 15th, our family, Catherine’s parents, the students, staff, and friends gathered at the ranch to celebrate the groundbreaking of the playground. They planted two trees and dedicated them to Tyler and Catherine, reminding us that with time, the trees’ roots will intertwine. As soon as we arrived, two of Tyler’s favorite kids presented both my mom and Mrs. Nix with a corsage of flowers for them to wear.
These are just a few of the beautiful testaments and stories that were said about Tyler from the children and staff:
“Catherine was the first person I met here, and Tyler was my best friend.”
“Tyler taught me how to knit. I know boys aren’t supposed to knit, but I thought it was cool.”
“Tyler loved to introduce the children to new foods that she loved- avocado, beets, pomegranates, kale, papaya. I will never forget watching her try to crack open a coconut.”
“I will always remember Tyler’s beet lips.”
“Tyler was such an intelligent girl, and shared her wisdom and love of literature with the boys by reading to them. Nobody had ever read books to these kids at night but Tyler did.”
“Tyler taught me how to ski. She always took me higher and higher up, and I will never forget it.”
“Tyler was a shining light to me.”
Staff members spoke about the incredible work ethic and dedication both girls had for the school. Their supervisor admitted that managing Tyler and Catherine could be challenging at times. Some people may think the term “challenging” as being offensive, but I proudly smiled when I heard that. It had taken a long time for Tyler to realize who she was and what she stood for and to not be afraid to voice her opinion.
Their friends talked about the companionship and quirky friendship that Tyler and Catherine had. They were so competitive yet so supportive of each other. Catherine would put Tyler in her place when necessary, but always had her back if anyone else tried to do so. They told stories about watching Tyler and Catherine try to canoe together and them just ending up going around in circles. One of their friends ran a 100k ultramarathon 4 days after the accident, and attributed them as being her inspiration and motivation.
For me, the highlight of the trip was this fifteen minute moment. At the ceremony, the first thing one of the boys asked us was “Where is Milly? Is she sad? Can I see her?”. How could we say no to that? So we brought Milly back later to say hello. The boys were ecstatic. They took turns holding her leash, tried to offer her some of their dinner (chili and baked potatoes), and told us about their memories of Tyler and Milly. One of them showed us where he had hidden flowers for Tyler behind the air conditioning unit outside, “so nobody would find them.” Another boy told us that he had buried two crosses under the newly planted trees in honor of Tyler and Nix. I get why Tyler had such a strong bond with these boys.
Friday was a tough day. We had to bite the bullet- go back to her house, be in her room and pack up her things. Obviously this sucked and I don’t really want to dwell on those long, painful hours. We shipped the most important items back to NC and left the remaining to be donated. She was the most organized hoarder ever. I know “organized neatfreak hoarder” sounds like an oxymoron but Tyler had saved every note, card, receipt, medical file, pair of tennis shoes, electronic cord, t-shirt, picture, book, etc- and all were neatly organized by date/alphabet/color. We found a folder that held detailed documentation of every single piece she ever knitted- the yarn that she used, the date she started & finished it, and who she made it for. Even her DVD collection was in alphabetical order. Her music collection was equally pristine- each mixed CD was labeled with the date it was made, who made it, and every single song’s artist & title). Tyler was truly one of a kind for so many reasons.
Later on Friday we took Milly to the Snake River to let her swim. Tyler used to take her there often, so Milly was thrilled to be back. The water was pretty rough, but that didn’t stop her from fetching sticks twice her size.
On Saturday morning, we met with Tyler’s friends at the base of Snow King mountain. Tyler always had a special bond with Snow King. All of her numerous different rental houses she lived in were close to the mountain. In the winter, she and Milly would “skin” (hike with her skis) up the 2 mile, 1500 vertical foot climb, and then ski down. When the snow was gone, she would run up and down the mountain as a quick, easy workout. The best views of town are from the top of the mountain, which is 7800 feet high. Her friends told us a story about how Tyler came home one day and casually informed them that she had ran a race up Snow King and won it. They assumed she was joking, so they looked it up, and she wasn’t kidding. Not only was this mountain where she ran, hiked, biked and skiied, but she also went to multiple concerts, including Bob Dylan, at the base of the mountain.
The first summer she lived in Jackson was in 2008, and she immediately found her spot at Snow King. We all visited her that summer- first me, then my dad with Josie, then my mom. She forced/asked each of us to hike Snow King with her. Like I said before, for Tyler this was like a simple afternoon stroll, but for those of us that were out of shape (I had just gained my Florence 15 from 6 weeks in Italy) and not used to the altitude, it was sheer physical torture. Josie honestly didn’t think she could finish the hike, telling Tyler “her little body just couldn’t make it”. But she finished it, as we all did.
We started the hike around 11 am. Saturdays at 1 pm (east coast time) are particular painful moments for our family, as this is around the time that she fell. The last picture on Tyler’s phone was of Nix and had been taken around 10:40 am. Something felt right about hiking that mountain, with those people, at that time. Of course Milly joined us for the hike too. She led the way for us the whole hike.
It’s certainly not an easy hike, as it is a very steep incline the entire time, but getting to the top makes it all worth it. Once we reached the summit, my parents read a few poems and prayers. We were surrounded by beauty, stillness, and so much love. I know Tyler was right there with us.
It was hard to leave Jackson. The trip was so comforting and healing for our family- for us to be together, to be around those that loved her, and to be present in the place that she loved most of all. I wish it wasn’t so far away so that we could go back more often. My resentment of Jackson has gone away, and that’s saying a lot from someone who holds lifelong grudges. Like my mom said, if she had the chance to go back to 2009 when Tyler decided to move there, she still would’ve told Tyler to do it. This place brought out the absolute best in Tyler, it’s where she truly discovered who she was, and more importantly, discovered that she loved the person she had become.
As I sit in heaven and watch you everyday,
I try to let you know with signs I never went away.
I hear you when you’re laughing, and watch you as you sleep.
I even place my arms around you to calm you as you weep.
I see you wish the days away, begging to have me home.
So I try to send you signs so you know you are not alone.
Don’t feel guilty that you have life that was denied to me.
Heaven is truly beautiful, just you wait and see.
So live your life, laugh again, enjoy yourself, be free.
Then I know with every breath you take
You’ll be taking one for me.