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Remembering John

Last weekend, Tom and I flew to Maryland for the funeral of one of his oldest friends, John Merrill.  As is often the case, the details are sad.  John was killed in a landslide while hiking in Colorado with his dog Oof.  His dog refused to leave John’s body when other hikers arrived on the scene of the accident, and ended up staying all night on the mountain with his beloved companion until the SAR folks were able to recover John’s body.  Oof has since been adopted by one of the SAR workers.   His wife was pregnant.


These are the details.  The facts reported over and over in the papers.  Somehow they seem so empty.   They say nothing about the intelligent, kind, complicated man that John was.  That there was so much more to his life than the way that he died.  I only knew John for a short time, but I will remember him as a funny, quirky guy who danced in his kilt at our wedding.  I will remember how much he loved show tunes.  I will remember how much he loved America, Guatemala, animals and wild places.  I will remember what a good friend he was to my husband. 


In the past three years I have lost two friends to the mountains.  People who do not hike or climb always ask, “Why were they there?  Why were they climbing?  Why were they hiking?”  And the simple truth, for me, and I believe for those who I have lost, is that we climb, and we hike, because we must.  It is a necessity of our lives.  To be out in the wild is where I find my peace.  It is where I find myself. 

As John’s mother said at his memorial, quoting her son, “I climb the mountains to get closer to God”.

We will miss you John, but we will always remember you in the high, wild and beautiful places in the world.

For more information:

Tom’s Blog post:

Photos: Don Mears Photography, Jane Merrill, Amy Alphin

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  1. Last year we lost a member of the UVA med school family, John Jones, in a caving accident in Utah on Thanksgiving. His daughter was a little over a year old. He and his wife Emily had just announced to their family that they were expecting their second child. Emily was an acquaintance of mine, and a good friend of many of my friends. Your friend’s passing seems so similar to John’s.

    John Merrill sounds like he was a great guy. He looked great in a kilt too.

  2. Beautifully put, Amy. Exploring the mountains can be dangerous, but it also makes life so much more worth living (thank you for introducing me to it).

    My heart goes out to you and all of John’s friends and family.

  3. That is so sad, Amy. I’m sorry to hear that another one of your friends has been killed in the wilderness.

    This website is written by a woman who was widowed young, perhaps it might be a good place of support for your friend’s widow too:

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