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It was the last day of February in 2014, and my family had just arrived at the Glacier Wilderness Resort, just outside of Glacier National Park in Montana. My stepdad Tom had owned a week in a cabin there since the beginning of the resort’s existence. He was one of the first, and he had even engineered the indoor pool there and had been instrumental in getting the board to agree to place hot tubs on the porches of each cabin.

The log cabin our family owned for a week every February had two bedrooms (one in an upstairs loft), two bathrooms, a kitchen, fireplace in the living room, and a private hot tub on the porch, just like all the other cabins. All guests had access to the indoor swimming pool that, at that time, was open for use 24 hours a day. And it was great because whenever you wanted to use it, especially at that time of year, you could usually count on having the whole pool room to yourself.

My mom and Tom met and married just after I graduated college, so I hadn’t always been a part of the whole Glacier Wilderness Resort experience, but when I became part of Tom’s family, he was excited to share this place that he loved so much with me and my family.

On that Friday in February, we had all just arrived at the cabin: Tom and my mom, my husband Hank, my daughter Mallory, my daughter’s friend, and me. Tom and my mom would be up there for the whole week, and my family and I would only be there two nights since Hank and I were teachers, and Mallory and her friend were both in sixth grade. On Sunday, my family would have to head back into town, about an hour’s drive, so we could be ready to get back to school on Monday.

We were all busily unpacking our vehicles and getting everything put away in the cabin. Tom walked in the door and set down a small box on the dining room table. It was an old model car he had been working on building for years. Tom was a man of many interests and hobbies. I specifically remember him saying, out loud–but more to himself, “Maybe I’ll finish this this year.” Then he walked over to the fridge where I was unloading kitchen supplies. He shut the door to the fridge, gave me a hug and said, “I’m so glad you guys could come up here.”

Tom loved nothing more than spending time with the people he loved, and he also loved showing off the places that brought him so much joy. Tom would not finish that model car. In less than 24 hours from that moment, Tom would be gone.

After we got everything unpacked, my mom made a delicious homemade macaroni and cheese for dinner. We ate dinner and then played some competitive games of Pictionary and Uno Attack with the fire crackling in the living room behind us.

Some of us sat in the hot tub before bed. I can’t remember who did and who didn’t. I know Mallory and her friend did because I have the pictures. Then Hank and I turned in for the night, and my mom and Tom and the girls stayed up and watched a movie for a bit.

The next morning, we had a big breakfast, and then my husband and I realized that we had forgotten the large chuck roast that we bought for dinner in the fridge at home. Hank was planning on making Hungarian Goulash for dinner for everyone, which had been the tradition, and we couldn’t make it without that roast. We decided to make the two-hour round-trip drive to go get it. It would be worth it. Hank’s Hungarian Goulash was that good!

Mom, Tom, Mallory, and her friend decided that they wanted to go to the pool for a bit. We promised to join them when we got back.

When we returned with the roast, we changed into our suits and headed over to the pool. Mom, Tom, and the kids had been playing water polo in the pool for hours. We joined in, and it was quite the competition. I was on Tom’s team with Mallory’s friend, I think. And Hank, my mom, and Mallory made up the other team…or something like that. It was cold and snowy outside, so playing in the pool inside was a good plan.

We were making quite a ruckus in there with all the laughing and screaming. Tom was beaming because he loved that place so much, and he was so happy to see kids enjoying the pool, just like his own kids (my stepbrothers) had done for so many years when they were growing up.

Suddenly, Tom said he needed to take a break and walked over to the steps of the pool and sat down. It was unlike him to need a break from anything, so it struck me as unusual in that moment, so I was watching him. Then it happened. Tom appeared to be having a heart attack or something. His face contorted and his body spasmed, and suddenly, he slumped over in the pool. We were all by his side in a second and held him up, so he didn’t go underwater.  My mom was about to run to the other room to call 911 because there was no cell service where we were and only a landline in the clubhouse attached to the pool house. But Tom came to for a moment. We said, “Tom, we’re here. You’re going to be ok. We’re going to get help.”

He started to say, “No.” Like he didn’t want us to call 911 or that he thought it wasn’t necessary, but then the same thing happened again, and this time, he did not come to.

My mom ran to call 911. Mallory and her friend ran barefoot and in swimsuits to the manager’s cabin to get help.

Hank and I were able to lift Tom out of the pool onto the pool deck and started performing CPR.

The managers came over. They had a portable phone so we could talk to the 911 responders, and they could give us directions on what to do.

A first responder arrived. He directed Hank and me on the compressions and took some turns himself. He made my mom sit down. He was probably afraid she would faint. She was in such grief and shock. While I was waiting my turn to give more compressions, the first responder asked me if I wanted to go sit down or help. My leg was shaking uncontrollably. I said I was fine. I wanted to help.

Good news. The ALERT Helicopter was on its way, but they weren’t sure there would be a space large enough for them to land.

More good news. They did land, and suddenly the room was full of people trying to save Tom.

They worked on him for a long time. I can’t remember, but I think I heard I was at least an hour. The details are fuzzy, but I do remember they gave him shots of epinephrine to try to restart his heart, I believe. And they also used an AED to shock him. There was not an AED in the pool house at that time. Now there is one.

Finally, they had to stop. Everything they had tried was not working. They called his time of death.

I will never forget the agony in my mom’s sob that followed. We all gathered around her and cried.

The EMTs gathered up their equipment and each expressed their condolences before they left. At some point, arrangements had been made with the funeral home for them to send a hearse to come pick up Tom’s body.

They asked us if they wanted someone else to wait with Tom’s body or if we wanted to stay. We said we would. Eventually, Hank and Mallory each kissed Tom’s forehead goodbye, and Hank took the girls back to the cabin because the wait would be long, and they could all start packing up because we obviously wouldn’t be staying any longer.

Mom and I sat on the cement next to Tom and talked to him and to each other. My mom also completed the devastating task of calling Tom’s sons and giving them the news.

It seemed like hours until the car got there. When it did, they came in and gave us instructions and expressed their condolences. They said we could gather Tom’s belongings and keep them with us.

We gave Tom one last kiss on the forehead before they moved him to the car. I collected Tom’s things that he had brought to the pool house: his boots, his coat, his hat. Then, I held my mom’s hand as we walked behind the hearse on its way out. It went straight, and we turned left to go back into the cabin to figure out what needed to happen next.

It’s been ten years since that fateful trip to Glacier Wilderness Resort. In that time, somehow, this week up at the cabin came to belong to me. My family and I are the only ones who live in the area full-time anymore.

Some would never want to come up to the cabin again after that weekend. But we did. We all came up the very next year and even went swimming in the pool. Tom taught me many things in the years that I knew him, and one of them was to live for the day because you never know when your time is up. Tom would be heartbroken if we had allowed this place to become a haunted memory. He loved it so much.

So now Mallory has gone off to college. All throughout her middle school and high school years, she brought different friends up to enjoy the cabin with us. Now she’s in another state, so it’s just Hank and me. And we’re still teachers, so we can’t spend the whole week up here, but we save up our personal days and stay here from Friday to Wednesday. When we retire, we’ll be able to stay the whole week.

I’ve grown to love this week. At first it was hard with the memory of what happened so raw, but now this place has gone back to being a place of joy, family time, and relaxation. I love sitting in the hot tub with my mimosas in the morning, especially when it’s Monday morning and all my colleagues are back at work.

Maybe I’ll finish some things this year. Like writing my blog post, putting together photo albums, a puzzle, the slippers I’m knitting, the book I’m reading. I also plan to do lots of skiing, swimming, playing games, watching movies by the fireplace, and eating delicious foods and drinking cocktails whenever I feel like it. I’m not driving anywhere, so why not?

Maybe I won’t finish some of my things this year, and that’s OK. Like Tom, I hope to live my life with goals for the day, the week, the year, up to my last days, just like he did. He was interested in people, places, things, and ideas, and that was true his whole life. And I think that is a beautiful way to be.

Here is a poem I wrote on the one-year anniversary of that fateful day.

The Day You Went Away

I never will forget the day

When we went to the pool to play

From that day on, they all would say

“One of the good ones” has gone away


Outside was snowy, bright, and cold

Inside the pool house, young and old

Played games for hours, so the story’s told

On the day you went away


You said you needed to take a break

I watched your face, the looks you’d make,

I saw the last breath you’d take

On the day you went away


The moments then went quickly by

Call 911, no time to cry

Compressions, breath, try…try

On the day you went away


Help came, to our surprise

But I could see the look in their eyes

I heard my mother’s anguished cries

On the day you went away


We waited with you in the end

Our stepdad, husband, grandpa, friend

Kissed your forehead as if to send

Them with you on the day you went away


The time had come, we had to go

I held your boots, your hat your coat

My mother’s hand felt soft and cold

As we walked behind the car that came to carry you away


Today’s the day, it seems unreal

One year we’ve had to think, to feel

It’s going to take more time to heal

From the day you went away


When I think of Heaven, I think of you

With my sister, grandma, and your dad too

I know that you’ve had much to do

Since the day you went away


As for us, we’ll all be fine

We still have hope, and dreams and time

Life is short, we must remind

Ourselves as we go on from the day you went away


Some will say, forget, move on

The past is in the past, he’s gone

But remembering will make us strong

That painful day you went away


I never will forget the day

When we went to the pool to play

We love you just as much today

As we did the day you went away