Death and Disappearance

A friend of mine, Steve Morris, disappeared last week. He was in the Trinity Alps on my church’s annual men’s backpacking trip . On Saturday he and a few other men took a day hike to a nearby peak. On the way down, Steve got separated from the others. He never came into camp. Search parties have been looking ever since, using dogs, helicopters, GPS mapping. They scoured the area, which is not that large and not that rugged. (I’ve hiked there.) They found not a trace. Nothing. Not a footprint, not a water bottle, not a trail for dogs to follow. The sheriff called off the search this week, there being nowhere left to search.

It’s extremely unnerving. Steve is an experienced backpacker. He wasn’t despondent or depressed. Where has he gone? Why can’t they find some sign? Where is his body? Death itself is devastating to family and friends. Disappearance is worse. Earlier this year I read Rick Atkinson’s three-volume history of the western theater in WWII. He mentions how difficult it was for family and loved ones to deal with soldiers who went down in a ship or were shot down out of the air–who went missing. Family longed for some tangible proof of death, or at least a grave where they could mourn. Steve’s disappearance is worse by a factor of ten. No one saw him go. No one can say how he left.

I’m not sure I understand why disappearance is so upsetting, but I think it’s probably related to the insult that death poses in all its forms. It’s not just adolescents who expect to live forever. We all do. It’s really impossible to imagine that we will cease to be. Me! A known fact! My death seems as impossible as the moon blinking out one night.

At least when we see the body there’s some story of continuity we can tell ourselves. But it’s not a very convincing story. One moment, personality in full flower. The next, nothing but meat and bone. You are gone. That’s the aching surprise that greets anyone who watches a loved one die. They really are gone. That body left behind is not them, not much. It reminds you of them. But in reminding you, it reinforces the reality: they are no longer here, and you do not know where they have gone.

Is it easier to lose Robin Williams because we can still watch his funniest moments again and again on video? I don’t think so. I think it makes it harder. They remind us of him. They remind us that he will never again walk into a room.

Steve’s disappearance makes us feel this in a different, more bewildering way. We have nothing to mourn over, no focal point for our desolation. Truthfully, though, we never really do. Death obliterates all that in an instant. There is life, then there is no life. If you cannot believe in resurrection life, you are left with no reason to get up in the morning.

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6 Responses to “Death and Disappearance”

  1. llamapacker Says:

    As a retired search and rescue person I understand some of the feelings. We always tried desperately to bring “closure” as best we could, knowing that in a fatal incident, having a body helped the family and friends some.

  2. Linda Albert Says:

    I didn’t know Steve Morris but I’ve thought of him a lot these past few weeks as well as his wife and daughter and all of you who call him friend. Words of consolation fail me but I hope it helps to know that there are those who stand beside you in your heartache and bewilderment … praying, hoping and loving you all.

  3. Kadaze Says:

    Thank you for your blog. I look at the internet everyday searching for a new article or answer. I have experienced thinking I seen Steve and of course its not. I feel the hardship is there is a possibility he is alive and how will he be found or maybe we’ll see him again one day. I know one thing for certain he would want all of us to keep moving forward as hard as that is he would want to see his Daughter go to College and live a wonderful life and his wife to let go and live a wonderful life, as well as family and friends. His mission in life I felt was to help all people live a full happy life. I am going to miss his appetite his love for food and his bold since of humor. We shared a passion for food and many laughs he is missed. Many prayers will continue for Steve, his family, and friends, and hopefully we can feel some closure by supporting each other as time progresses. Thanks again for your blog.

  4. Carrie Morris Says:

    Hey, Tim…Thought you would want to know that a private helicopter with trained search and rescue pilots will volunteer its’ time tomorrow (Wednesday) to scour the very craggy, disintegrating granite cliffs and crevasses of Billy’s Peak. If they don’t find Steve tomorrow, then they will probably return Sunday.

    There is also a search and rescue team out of Marin which is trying to pull together a level I team (basically rock-climbing-qualified, with plenty of technical equipment to allow for traversing the cliffs and all of those areas inaccessible to the more mid-level teams that were up last week.) We are praying that they will be able to deploy soon, if the helicopter is unsuccessful in spotting and rescuing him.

  5. David Graham Says:

    Well put: disappearance is so unsettling, as there is that element of uncertainty. Even more than 3/4 of a century after her disappearance, we still ask, “What happened to Amelia Earhart?” The answer of “probably died” still doesn’t satisfy.

    If Steve Morris is ever found, I hope you’ll give us the news in a follow-up blog post.

  6. Cathe Says:

    Thank you Tim, for putting into words, the intangibility of disappearance. You are always left with hope. But always, partially frozen in time. You can not really say “It’s over…”

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