Boy, what an emotional week it was.
As of today, there has still been no recovery of Rich’s body. Tomorrow they are sending a search party of 20 people. They were initally going to wait until Spring but the weather has turned cold again, which should make the conditions much safer. A mining company donated a metal detector that detects metal (his snowmachine) up to 40 feet. Rich is estimated to be at about 30 feet.
Wednesday night, Judy was helicoptered back to McGrath from Rohn. Susie and Todd held a potluck for the family, who was waiting at the airport to greet her. Wanting to keep our distance, we stood at the doorway of the cafe and watched the helicopter land. Within seconds of the propellors stopping, I heard Judy’s wail of grief. It was heartbreaking. I had to go back inside. My heart couldn’t handle it.
The village seemed to be in a state of shock. What surprised me was how much Howard and I were affected as well. We realized we spent many Friday nights sharing a beer with Rich, been to many bonfires this winter doing the same thing. He shopped in the store a lot. We realized we’d gotten to know him better than we thought.
Another thing we realized is how close-knit, McGrath really is. The outpouring of love and support was touching and inspiring. Howard and I realized how proud we are to call this village our home. We are honored to live here, to know and interact with these wonderful people on a daily basis. McGrath is truly a special place.
I think my heart hurt more for his family than anything else. Who, I might add, handled this with amazing strength and grace. His parents were more reflective than anything. They acknowledged the risk Rich took in his adventures and accepted it stoically. Judy, who was one of the first people to welcome us to McGrath and really has been a big cheerleader for us, was just as strong, but she was there when Rich died, she was a bit more in shock. She and Rich’s parents came down to the cafe, the store, and everywhere else to thank everyone in person. I wish I could be that strong.
On Friday night, the radio station dedicated a four hour show to Rich. Everyone called in requests, and there was an eclectic blend of music, which we’re sure Rich would have loved. Howard and I dedicated “Highwayman” by Johnny Cash, “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas, and “Touch of Grey” by The Grateful Dead. His family appreciated it all. When Rich was up in Rohn, in those gorgeous mountains at the time of his death, he kept saying he was in “Big Rock Candy Mountain”. That song was requested many times and played as many times as requested.
Saturday afternoon, a “Celebration of Life” was held. Much reflection was done, a lot of his family and friends told of their favorite memories of Rich. Fittingly, his closing song was “Big Rock Candy Mountain”
Afterwards, we had a community potluck and after that, there was a bonfire in the yard shared with his beloved Judy. The beer and conversation flowed well into the wee hours of Sunday morning. We feel we made him proud.
He was a nature lover. He always said his favorite place in the world was in the woods. In fact, he called his place “Beyondo”. He was an avid outdoorsman. Many times on the weekends, that’s where he’d be. In his boat in the summer and on his snowmachine in the winter, but always out and about in nature.
Just weeks before his death, he wrote about “Beyondo”…his words were printed on the program from his service. I know Howard and I certainly learned a lot this week. One lesson being that losing a loved one obviously takes its toll. But we can choose to remain sad and bitter at the passing or we can be grateful for the time we had knowing that person and try to spend the rest of our lives allowing that person to live positively through us. Richard’s family is the perfect example of that.
Rich, you left an indellible imprint on this tiny village. You took the life God gave you and really TRULY lived. You were never afraid. We know you’re in your “Beyondo” forever now. Rest in Peace, good friend.
“Beyondo is a place in the woods where no one can find us, it is a place where we are at peace with each other. Beyondo is where we go when life is at it’s toughest. The safest place in the world. THE WOODS!!” -by Richard C. Strick Jr. 04/20/1959-02/14/2006