Love Rocks

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It was clear to us early on that beyond excavating the shores of the riverbed and signposting the irrigation canal near where our son Parker lost his life, we wouldn’t be able to change much. Locals explained that there were dozens upon dozens of other canals and rivers in those parts and some, according to Idaho Search and Rescue, were at least as dangerous as Monkey Rock. Still others, they said, were many times more dangerous. Death’s jaws.

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The hydraulics engineer argued that Monkey Rock’s Bernoulli effect (created by the small canal narrowing and dropping precipitously into an even narrower and deeper culvert hidden beneath a single-lane bridge) could only be eradicated by eliminating the steep drop altogether. This would mean blasting out the concrete canal walls and broadening the entrance into the natural river flow, which would necessitate rebuilding the small bridge.

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It’s the plunging drop into the culvert under that bridge that’s treacherous; first, because the water as it falls and narrows gains speed and suction; and second, because its suction is completely invisible after passing under the bridge heading downstream, and creates a hidden counter current, pulling things upstream and pinning them in water twice as deep as the river bed and hidden in the darkness beneath the bridge.

It is a violent, dark barrel of a big washing machine. Once sucked in, you’re trapped. If trapped, no one will see it happen. No one will hear your screams when you try to come up for air. You won’t get out unless you’re pulled out (which is a unlikely). Or unless you’re knocked out and sink, lifelessly, into the lower current. Or unless you’re killed.

One might say you’re then out for good.

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We were given to understand that a major reconstruction was not going to happen at Monkey Rock. The missionary from St. Anthony had already hinted at that; “Well,” he’d told us at the end of our phone conversation, “I sure hope you’re not going to go in there and change our canal.”

If we couldn’t change the physical nature of the place to at least protect future visitors, then what?

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“I’m going in,” our friend Bo said gravely, his tone flat. “Middle of the night. Dynamite.”

Randall and I raised our eyebrows. “I’ll rig it, blast it,” Bo added, animated. “Get rid of this joint forever.”

Too grief-drenched to laugh, we shrugged. In that state, I can’t honestly say I’d have had the energy to forbid Bo.

This was “Bo”, or Glen Bowen, our lifelong friend, our brilliant Huntsman Skin Cancer Center Dr. Bowen, one of the most hilarious, outdoorsy, authentic friends either of us has. Bo would maybe never self-advertise as your poster-perfect most-conservative mainstream Mormon, but for my family and for me personally, he embodies faithful. Bo defines friendship.

So this Bo guy, he came up with another idea. This time, a legal one.

“Rocks. I’m talking huge ones.” Bo said this from behind the wheel of his camper van as he drove Randall and me from one end of Salt Lake Valley to the other, from one stone wholesaler to the next. This was December 2007, the first holiday in our new life, when we’d come from Munich to hibernate with family for Christmas. Everything, even the Christmas lights draped haplessly on the front lawn trees in the yards of homes in my childhood neighborhood, sent piercing darts into my self-protective casing. Hurt was everywhere.

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Bo had asked us months earlier if we’d thought of erecting a monument. The idea planted, we’d begun working over the fall with my brother Aaron on some ideas. “Put one up there that blocks the entrance to Monkey Rock,” Bo and Aaron had suggested, almost in a duet.

“And even if you can’t block I totally,” Bo had said in a later phone conversation between Salt Lake City and Munich,“then at least you can write something that warns people.”

Before we could add anything else, Bo added, “I’m paying.”

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Bo pulls up in the snow-crusted gravel parking lot of the last Utah stone distributor on our list, and shoves his camper into park. Within thirty-seconds, we can see our breath, swimming like light grey phantoms between the three of us. Randall is in the front seat, I’m in the back. I remember Bo has his dark coat collar pushed up to his jaw line as he turns all the way around in the driver seat so he can talk to both of us.

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Right hand, left hand, he pulls off his gloves and flops them across his lap, turning to look at us with those sharp eyes of his. They are brisk and as potent as a swig of Tabasco, those eyes, and expressive – scarily perceptive, intellectually vigorous.  They are windows to a mind usually spinning with an insight so slicing or a joke so hilarious, its owner can make a whole room choke in unison on their quesadillas. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve had to perform the Heimlich, thanks to him. Any moment a bit too sanctimonious or, heaven forbid, sentimental? Bo’s Heimlich-requiring humor does the trick.

This moment, though, his eyes aren’t sharp. They’re intense, but different.

“What I need to explain is. . .I did my research. I had to understand what you guys are going through. So I talked with professionals and got a bunch of my medical colleagues to send me everything they had on parental bereavement. You know, all the top medical studies.”

He smiles, lifting his brows as if asking us for permission to go on. Then he looks down at his lap. When he brings his head up, his eyes are softened.

“And I read it. I read it all,” he continues as we listen in total silence. “And after I did, I had to come to a conclusion: it’s too big. It’s plain too big for me. I’ll never be able to understand it.”

Bo is a thorough doctor, a fantastic Dad and I don’t care who you know, he is hands down the funniest person in the stadium. But right here, he is lost, undone, as solemn as someone slipping slowly off the edge of the horizon. And it is right here that I have to think that our Bo is at his very best: he is entirely in this with us. Cowering and confused in front of the stoney reality of our child’s death.

He looks at Randall, then at me, and he goes on; “I did understand one thing. I realized after reading all this that I’ll never again know the old you guys. Those people are gone. They’re gone.”

My cold, self-protective casing melts off in one sentence.

Just in time for Parker’s one-year memorial, these rocks with their brass plaques were installed in the small, raw parking area above Monkey Rock.

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Randall and I were standing here, in fact, one year to the hour from when a local ambulance had finally found its way to this place…

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…When paramedics had slid down an incline to the lagoon’s shore, and when they’d then hoisted our son’s lifeless body onto a stretcher, peeling sobbing and screaming students from his side, and had struggled to carry him, slipping several times up the slope to race off to the closest hospital where, 45-minutes later, a faint heartbeat was finally restored.

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Friends have been kind in stopping by these monuments on occasion. They alerted us when, a year after installation, someone had defaced the brass plaques and had apparently used the stones and even Parker’s face for target practice.

Then it was Bo who gritted his teeth, shook his head, and drove his camper van the five hours north.

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Lovingly – and legally – our faithful friend took correction into his own hands.

Sunset at Monkey Rock

Sunset at Monkey Rock

For another look at our friend Bo, read to the very end of this post, and enjoy the entire African post here.

16 thoughts on “Love Rocks

    • Susan, he is exceptional. And he’d be the last person to think he’s done anything much, just been there, being himself, doing the least he can. No fanfare, and no credit. Just a terribly sharp sense of what tragedy is. Inspiring to me.

  1. Wow. I never heard the story of Bo’s friendship before… I am moved and grateful for what he did for your family and to honor and carry on Parker’s memory.

  2. I know I made a comment and some how did it not show. I will try again. I hope I can remember what I wrote the first time. Growing up in park service/forest service my dad took advantage of it by letting us see beautiful spots and monuments. It’s so sad to see that some have no reverence for a place where death occurs, no matter if it is a sacred and hallowed ground. Your friend understands this.

    • Melissa, once again I find myself making up for lost time in reading your moving accounts of life during such a difficult period for you and your family. I have been executor for my beloved late father’s estate for the past six months and each phone call, each document executed, each account closed finalized too much like yet another piece of his life eliminated in business-like closure. Too, with each transaction, each directive, each reference to dad opens a floodgate of memories of our wonderful times together…and I see my late mom by his side, her radiant smile ever reassuring, comforting.

      My sister and I had received immediate home keepsake urns following dad’s passing. It has been six months now since dad’s passing and we continue to struggle with how best to memorialize dad’s life. Dad being the consummate man of practicality he did not want any lavish funeral service nor physical public remembrance of him. He had discreetly and in his own time and way scattered mom’s remains in a special place close to his heart and being a man of deeply private disposition when it came to any outward show of emotions undertook to do so in complete privacy absent even immediate family. This I understood and respected. Dad loved mom very deeply in his own way. He kept a fresh single red rose by his side at home in her memory until his own passing which touched our hearts.

      Some six months later our family still belabours how we would like to express the memory of dad, and mom too, what form that might take and what special place would best serve the remembrance of these two beloved souls. I want you to know, Melissa, that coupled with your words here and the images of Parker’s ‘Love Rock’ you have not only moved me deeply, as you so often do, but have given me renewed conviction and greater possibilities in terms of serving that lasting memory…and to do so bearing the names of both our loving and lost parents.

      Don’t ever underestimate the deeply personal worth of your each and every word to your readers Melissa. You obviously cherish the sharing of your thoughts, your experiences, the emotions, the hard times…you are doing something that was clearly meant to be, perhaps even through Parker’s own heart and soul. You are inspired by a son you deeply loved and cherished and continue to do so. That inspiration is touching others in ways you may not yet fully imagine…bless your heart for making our own family’s experience of loss and remembrance that much easier to come to terms with and move forward to the next step in the journey…a meaningful remembrance and validation of two lives, two souls whose lives are irreplaceable, whose memory will indeed live on in perpetual love, grace and dignity.

      That community in which you speak of may very well have substantially greater depth and meaning in terms of connection in such a deeply personal way than you could possibly have anticipated from the outset.

      • Don, My goodness, you pour out warm wisdom.

        Just today, I was considering the blessing it has been to have a community of writers/readers with whom I have shared the nature of our family’s tragedy and our journey through and with it. I realized ( with gratitude but also sorrow for the rest of my family) that I am the only one of us who’s had such a forum for open exchange. Neither my husband nor my children have had a safe place to spread the truth out on a table and examine it in the company of others.

        Imagine the power: people here in my blog and in other written venues actually “speak” my son’s name. The rest of my family members, on the other hand, rarely if ever “hear” or read his name shared by others.

        The impact of such a difference is having real repercussions even now in each of their lives.

        And so I thank you again for your presence, Don, and for the obvious thought and time you invest in giving so much to a fellow writer.

        God bless.
        –M.

      • Melissa, you are most welcome. We are all the benefactors of a relatively seamless cyberspace where we have the good fortune of sharing some of the most deeply personal experiences of our lives with each other and in immediate and real time.

        The commonality between us all extends to our natural instinct for survival and out of the great many aspects of our lives that cause us great fear it would seem that our own passing and the loss of loved ones presents a greater fear than most ever fully come to terms with. Your dear son Parker achieved tremendous respect not only from within his beloved family but the also the community that surrounded him through his years…and truly, how many can attest to the same?

        As writers we do indeed have the blessings of sharing our deepest emotions, our triumphs, our fears, our inquisitive natures, our losses and our lives lived to a much broader community than the confines of our family, our dear friends, our neighbors. We have a global community that comes together, reaching out in caring friendship and confidence when we experience pain, grief, loneliness, loss. We are able to engage life as it unfolds, able to shed tears in the privacy of our own personal space in front of our computer while others seek to console.

        Parker’s life and legacy are firmly entrenched in your family’s heart and soul. Life may bring us together but it can just as surely tear us apart. Your spirituality and love for each other, for Parker, for life itself will ultimately bring each of you peace. Embrace what Parker meant to yourselves and to so many that crossed his path during that relatively brief journey. Through your eyes, your voice, Parker lives on and has enriched our own lives having had a glimpse at the goodness he gifted his world, our world. All things happen for a reason and it would seem this is how it was meant to be. Thank you for all you share. Your courage and your story are truly inspiring.

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